Horizontal Brand Integration – The DNA of Successful Business

Public relations, integrated marketing and strategic branding are traditionally separated. In reality, they should all work together in harmony.

There have been many discussions about the relationship between public relations, integrated marketing and strategic branding. How do they connect? What makes up a brand? Is branding part of marketing or public relations or the other way around?

From my experience, a brand is the heart of an organization. It should operate at the core of all undertaking and inform business related decisions. Along with that, strategic branding elements, visual and written segments, should be weaved into all corporate communications and public relations outlets.

Branding is DNA

Though a common buzzword, the term brand seems often simplified. A brand is not just a logo and a brand department is not a function standing on its own. It’s quite the opposite—a brand is a complex composition of elements and true reflection of the entire organization.

As an integrated function, branding should stretch horizontally across a business, creating consistency through carefully constructed identity guidelines. Brands can’t “just be part” of an organization—they should touch everything. From business strategy decisions and financial investments, to human resources, the retail environment, corporate communications and in-market activations, the same brand and messaging should be present across all internal and external channels. A brand should fuel all parts of an organization, just like the DNA in the human body.

Why a Brand is More Than a Logo

Logos are important but only one part of the complete package. I would even argue that a brand should be recognizable without its logo having to be visually present. Consumers should be able to touch, feel and experience a brand.

That means being able to recognize a brand by—for example—the same visual elements such as colors, font systems or graphical elements, consistent types of service and/or experiences, similar triggers of emotions such as happiness, satisfaction and excitement. A brand is not only about a logo or a well-designed corporate identity.

It’s to an equal extent about the little details that make up an experience—the small attributes and components that convince us, impress us, make us feel comfortable and sometimes and finally let us become fan of one brand over another.

The Way a Brand Interacts with Consumers

Every organization has a brand and an image. Over time, it becomes associated with values, a certain level of credibility, quality and positive or negative sentiments in the consumer’s mind.

Analyzing the experience millions of people have with airlines, as an example, illustrates the various interaction points of a brand in that sector. All of them have the power to shape their brand and create a perceived connection with the consumer.

Here’s how this example plays out in the real world (using airlines as an example):
First, an appealing advertisement or clever composed creative catches our attention. Should we decide to visit the airline’s website, the way it is laid-out and navigated decides whether we have a positive or frustrating experience. And even more important, influences whether we will end up looking for an alternative or follow through and book a flight.

Further steps are the way the check in procedure is explained online, the words the personnel uses to greet one at the airport, the tone of the safety video, the interior design of the plane, the services on board—all those little details are carefully chosen and decide whether one will have a positive or negative perception and connection with a brand, among other factors.

A Brand is a Complete Package

That’s what a brand is: a complete package. Yes, a logo and corporate design often serve as the key visual elements of a brand but successful businesses create their brand, their identity to tell stories, to engage their consumers in honest relationships and stay relevant over time.

Your brand is what people recognize you for, what you stand for. That’s why you need to define it—that’s why it should be horizontally integrated in an organization and present across all channels.

It needs to be considered in every, single touchpoint and possible consumer interaction. Your brand is your platform—it ensures attracting the right consumer base, empowers business and opens the gate to successful communication.

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