The fantasy and fallacy of courses in brand is that consultants work like The Wizard of Oz.
You think we stand behind a curtain, flipping switches and pulling levers, cogitating and ruminating. Until, like a pregnant woman, our water breaks. And a fully-formed, living, breathing brand pops out into the world, ready to "rock and roll" and accumulate more and more equity on behalf of its creator.
The truth is, we consultants - client-side or consulting-side - are nothing more than teeny, free-floating space stations in an infinitesimal galaxy of stakeholder planets.
And there are many planets in your galaxy, even more than you know. Every time a resident of one of them utters a breath, your brand has been not just represented but re-created.
It's like a giant game of Operator. And the impact is magnified by every action these stakeholders take. Remember, it is the experience that defines the brand image in the customers' mind - talk is cheap, actions matter and people judge you by what you do, not just what you say.
Every supervisor, to staff. Every salesperson. Every chatty customer service rep. Every supplier, every distributor, every recruiter, every partner, every Wikipedia maven who edits your entry, every journalist and graphic designer and copywriter and public relations rep and subject matter and hired hand for the trade show.
All these people, all of them are the ecosystem of your brand. It is the least informed among them who will make the strongest impression.
So what then is the role of the brand specialist?
It is to bring together the various stakeholders and unite them around the cause. It is to shepherd the meaning of the brand among all its various interactions.
The chief brand specialist is always the leader, whether they like it or not and whether they know it or not. For your brand, that means you. For the nation, it means the President of the United States. For a company, the CEO. This is the person who stands under the spotlight at all times, whose every action is examined microscopically and from whom meaning is extrapolated to the larger group.
This person obviously cannot do it alone...being the star of the show they need a solid supporting cast. That is where you come in, if your job is explicitly defined as brand. You don't think up things and issue orders and snap your fingers to make the brand appear and dance a jig.
You serve the Chief Branding Officer.
And if you think that you can limit your role to anything in the realm of communications - branding, marketing, advertising, PR, sales, digital engagement, etc. - you are sorely wrong, wrong, wrong.
In this role you function much more like a senior business advisor, you must work together with the functional chief of staff or equivalent at the leader's roundtable. It is your job to look across the entire organization, to see where the business itself is working or where its effectiveness is blocked.
And you make sure that the functional issues are attended to, while also making sure the fundamental communications bases are covered, quietly supporting the leader in being consistent and relevant and credible. Working with the experts who actually know the work of the company, to make the message accurate. De-cluttering it visually and verbally to ensure it is simple and punchy and clear.
So your day-to-day life is not exalted, you aren't in a think-tank and you don't stand around brainstorming "concepts" most of the time.
The truth is you're just another worker bee, and if you're with the right brand you are swept up by its meaning, its potential to make a real difference in the world.
Holistic brand management is a process. You learn it by studying a little, and doing a lot. Your reward is having been a part of the journey.
All opinions my own. Photo via Wikipedia.