We’re Getting the Brand Back Together
Implementing your brand the right way will inject life and interest in your business
By Chris Mesigian
As the marketing and sponsorship manager for a major bicycle brand I was tasked with coordinating and promoting our professional triathletes. The sport of triathlon is a unique animal in that unlike the major sports (football, hockey, baseball, basketball), the pros that make a living at it aren’t household names. More similar to golf and tennis, triathletes don’t just show up at every race looking for trophies and accolades, but to earn their living through prize money and incentives.
But what truly separates this sport from any other I’ve ever worked within, is that the very events at which the pros compete for their livelihoods, are the same exact ones you and I circle on our calendar to tackle bucket lists, accomplish fitness goals, or to just do with a bunch of friends for fun. It was at one particular race where we had a couple of our pros visit our expo booth and interact with the public where this dynamic truly came into focus, and it forever changed the way I leveraged these partnerships on behalf of the brand.
You hear the word “brand” thrown around all the time, but what does it really mean? Especially for the likes of a local service provider such as physical therapy. A brand, whether it’s a business, a line of clothing, or even an athlete or performer, is a distilled down representation of your company’s personality and values. As such, you should treat it like a living, breathing presence in the room. Don’t create a logo and leave it at that. Give it life. Cultivate it, nurture it, and protect it, and you’re far more likely to connect with the right people along the way.
What I witnessed at that expo wasn’t purely an exchange of admiration or rubbing elbows with fame between athlete and fan. While those things certainly existed, what was at the root of the interaction was mutuality. A bond. What it made me realize is that these aren’t just human billboards. A place to display and spread a logo. They are an important extension of our brand. Who they are matters. What they say matters. How they interact and represent the brand matters. So it was up to us to make sure the right message was in place and they were representing it accordingly.
First impressions can make the difference between a casual passer-by and a lifelong customer and advocate, and how you establish, implement, and ultimately represent your brand dictates those first impressions.
BRAND CONSISTENCY: BRANDING IS MORE THAN A LOGO
Some people confuse their brand with their logo. They sponsor a local event or buy an ad somewhere, slap their logo up, and call it a day. While yes, your logo is a key component to brand recognition, it is not in and unto itself your brand. Your brand goes deeper. It’s a personality; a voice. If you can’t dedicate additional resources to leverage a partnership or advertisement, think twice about the investment. Target marketing initiatives that allow you to truly tell your story and engage with the audience, not just flash a logo in front of people in hopes that they recognize it again someday.
Along the way, make sure the story you are telling is consistent no matter where it’s told. Don’t conform based on what you think each audience wants to hear. It sounds somewhat elementary, but be yourself. Eventually, inconsistent or inauthentic stories will catch up and bite you.
While on the topic of logos, in the spirit of consistency, be diligent in how yours is used. Consider developing a brand guideline which provides people direction on proper ways to use your logo. This can be as simple as a one-page PDF showing approved logo variations based on different applications. Don’t send off a file and leave it to someone else’s discretion to be worked into a t-shirt, program, or ad however they see fit. Follow through. Insist on seeing designs before they go to print. Defending and maintaining consistency is critical in establishing and preserving a recognizable brand.
Sometimes our athletes had very specific color schemes for their racing kits that were completely different from our standards. We would work together to create acceptable versions of our logo that worked for both ends.
BRAND MESSAGING: EMPOWER YOUR EMPLOYEES
While our athletes have logos on their racing kits, not to mention on the bikes they race and train on, we went out of our way to ensure we were sponsoring individuals who shared and exemplified our values, and we also trained them to speak directly about them. When someone approaches them at a race and says “Cool bike,” it’s not enough for them to say “Yeah, it’s totally fast. You should buy one.” That feels cheap and is often a turn off. We want them to engage the person and convey our values. Impress upon their followers how we have a team of engineers working behind the scene to ensure our bikes are designed specifically for the demands of the sport. Or how we don’t just sell out to the lowest manufacturing bidder and stand by the quality and durability of our bikes.
Your employees are your biggest brand representatives. They are in essence, your “sponsored pros.” Build time into your training to ensure every employee who works for you understands what your business represents. Every interaction matters. On the flip side, like it or not, these individuals don’t just represent you when they are treating clients or sitting at a reception desk, they represent you as they go about their daily lives and interact online. While you can’t fully dictate what and where employees post things online, you do have the right to put certain social media policies in place. Consider doing so and make sure they understand what the appropriate lines are and the consequences of crossing them.
BRAND REACH: CUSTOMER GENERATED MARKETING (CGM)
My athlete anecdote was back during a time when social media was in its infancy. The idea of a professional “influencer” was years away. Facebook and Twitter were largely where you interacted with friends, not celebrities and brands. Instagram wasn’t a thing. We relied on these on-the-ground, face-to-face interactions to impact consumers and work on our message, and that message was much easier to control.
Fast forward 5-10+ years, and while in the triathlon market these in-person interactions still occur, much of the relationship you build with your tribe exists in a digital landscape. For smaller businesses that don’t have a department of social media or public relations professionals, that can be a tricky world to navigate.
Nowadays, everyone is a potential influencer. Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most important, effective, not to mention, efficient forms of marketing out there. Not every industry has “paid” influencers, but the idea of word-of-mouth is as important as ever, especially in a digital ecosystem. Today, to suggest that everyone has a platform is an understatement. But what’s more important to note, is that everyone also has reach, and like it or not, self-given permission to use it. Gone are the days when people were just talking to their aunts and former high school classmates. With the likes of Google reviews, Yelp, and Reddit, there’s more and more opportunity than ever to talk to — and influence — strangers. It’s inevitable that the individuals in your inner circle are going to talk, so what becomes important as a brand manager (and yes, as a business owner, you are also by default Chief Brand Officer), is maintaining some kind of control as to how they’re talking about you.
CGM is exactly as it sounds. This is when your customers create content linked to your business and spread it around. CGM can be super valuable and is often an untapped resource, but it can also be difficult. Let’s face it, physical therapy isn’t exactly as glamorous as, say, posting selfies from a Taylor Swift concert, so sometimes you have to give people a reason to spread your word.
In his book Unleashing the Ideavirus, Seth Godin coined the phrase “sneeze marketing,” basically suggesting that your customers should be at the center of spreading your message. This isn’t a new concept, but I’ll reinforce one point here. Just because you say it, doesn’t mean people will spread it. “Five Exercises to Strengthen Your Core,” while important and relevant to what it is you do, isn’t likely going to excite people into sharing. Consider blending some brand personality with your concept to further excite your reader. So this is where you need to get a little creative. Find ways to align your business with other initiatives that support your values, whether health and fitness related or not. The point is, keep (appropriately) pushing your values in ways that are worth people’s energy to spread.
BRAND STAMINA: KEEPING IT FRESH
I’d be remiss to not at least touch on rebranding. It’s inevitable for any brand to get antsy and want to freshen things up over time. My bike brand has been around for over 100 years, and there have been five or six logos used over that time. You may eventually ask yourself when or if it’s ok to change things. After all, you don’t want to lose all the recognition and cache you’ve built up over the years.
Rebranding can be very effective, but you need to execute it smartly. You don’t want to send the wrong message. The first step is really defining why it is you want to change and what elements support those goals. If you’re moving in a different direction either with your mission or services, a complete departure from what you’ve been doing may be the best option. If you just want to liven things up, a simple logo and design scheme update might be in order. Whatever the case, it’s always best to be transparent with your audience. Don’t just quietly work it in as if you’re hoping no one will notice. Own it, celebrate it, and people will embrace it.
Building a brand around your business is a great way to generate excitement, both for your employees and your clients. It makes people feel like they are a part of something bigger, and that is a powerful marketing tool.
1Newberry C. “42 Facebook Statistics Marketers Need to Know in 2023.” Hootsuite. Published January 17, 2023. https://blog.hootsuite.com/facebook-statistics
Chris Mesigian has over 20 years experience in the marketing and digital media fields with various companies including Fuji Bikes, Media Proper, and as an independent brand consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.