The reality of building a brand

by Rebecka Freels

When business leaders talk about rebranding, they often think a makeover will fix whatever ails their operation. But charismatic and iconic brands are meticulously crafted from self-knowledge.

But let’s start with what a brand really is. A brand is whatever differentiates you from your competition. It’s not just a logo, product or the color of your packaging – it’s a set of perceptions and images that represent a company. It’s the essence or gut feeling a person has about your product, service, or organization.

Motivator Jim Rohm put it very simply: successful communication (and that includes branding) is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.

Amazing brands resonate with both customers and employees because they are clear in what they deliver. Brands that work do so because the entire organization – from the shop mechanic, to the dispatcher to the fleet drivers – know exactly who the organization is and how their function helps deliver that experience.

Branding is so much more than having a nice logo, in an attractive color, typeface, and so on. To be truly ‘on brand’ means all the people in the organization know exactly what the brand values are and deliver the brand promise every single time.

Research, research, research

Organizations that delve into branding (or rebranding) often fail because they don’t bother to do their homework. Leaders mistakenly believe that a fresh coat of paint is all that is required. They too quickly jump into picking a color and typeface for their logo and then dream up a new tagline or slogan.

Branding/rebranding requires a great deal of hard work. There simply are no short cuts. The first step involves deep reflection. What is it you want the organization to be – what is the organization now?

Then you need to conduct extensive research – and that means lifting up every rug and opening every closet door and looking inside.

How do internal and external audiences currently view your brand? You need to ask your employees what they think the brand is. Ask them how they think the company’s customers view the brand.

Then go ask your stakeholders (customers, even regulators and competitors) what they think you are.

Then talk to the people who aren’t doing business with you and ask them what they think your brand is.

The only way you are going to obtain this information is from research conducted on your behalf via a third-party. Surveys and focus groups administered by a neutral party are critical.

Just asking your board, your staff, and your existing customers doesn’t cut it.

These groups are inherently biased. Possibly because they don’t want to damage an existing relationship or they want to be kind – only a third-party will unearth the real truth about how your organization is perceived.

This is no time to take shortcuts. Your brand is at the core of your organization.

If you skip doing the in-depth research required, chances are you will miss uncovering meaningful insight that will lead to a great new brand.


Rebecka Freels, former CTA and OTA communications director, operates a Calgary-based marketing, communications, and events practice with clients in the transport industry. Reach her at

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