Developing your brand identity? Think about your favourite band!

Composing a great brand strategy is like composing a great piece of music. Brands and music have a lot in common: tastes vary to a great extend, they underlie or confirm our values, they evoke emotions, they are used to identify ourselves and create frames of reference.

Music is an amazing phenomenon. Tastes vary widely, from classical music to dub-step and from hip-hip to JPop. What they all do is engage their listeners in a way very few other tools can do. People are inspired to pick up an instrument and spend hours practising, pay money to go to concerts and feel betrayed when “their” band quits. Rivalry over music has been immense from both a business perspective and on a personal level (“This is my songs!”). Indicators of ultimate happiness (weddings) and extreme sadness (funerals): music articulate in an intangible way what keeps us busy.

Brands, though often not as engaging, evoke the same responses. Nike or adidas, Mercedes or BMW, KFC or Burger Kind: our choices in brand define our identity (high quality or laid back), our lifestyle (adventurous or stable) and our ambitions (family oriented or global). There’s an entire website dedicated to describing “the Walmart person”, showing to what extend brands help us create a feeling not only products or services, but frames of references which we use for testing our life’s values, understandings, ambitions, and so forth. Orchestra1

The similarities are quite surprising and the lack of a (decent amount) of research between music and branding is remarkable. If anyone has found any interesting views or research on this topic, let me know in the comments. One explanation is the intangible nature of branding (and music). Sure, you have your brand document, cooperation with the marketing department, visual management guidelines and so forth, but if you’re asked to point out the one KPI that’ll make or break your brand, you won’t be able to.

Why not? Because a brand is greater than the sum of its parts. Put differently, synergy drives brand perception. What are the parts that drive this brand perception?

Different departments have different pieces to play

Just like an orchestra (or band, whatever you prefer) performing a single piece of music, it takes different departments to realize a united, fully performing outcome. Strings, brass, percussion, flutes: everything has to be aligned, timed and properly tuned. Every department has a different role to play (literally): base, effect or lead melody. The departments need to understand who’s doing what, and why. In addition, the departments have to have an overview of the full picture, but also have to know when to “tune in” (this analogy is perfect for word play). They have to work together as well as having their internal organisation up and running.

Different departments need different instruments, too. Marketing needs a combination between analytics, creativity and a commercial mindset. The financial department needs secure and reliable accounting software and IT needs an in-house programmer in order to immediately deal with problems when they arise. Once they have the tools, they need the knowledge and right mindset to operate accordingly to one or a few values. Orchestra_hall

If the CEO publicly announces to target a niche market of high-cost/ high-performance customers, the marketing department releases ads featuring a average income family, and the customer support department explicitly mentions that the (reasonable) request of high-performance customer X cannot be personalized due to cost aspects, the company has problem. Playing out of tune ruins the brand image like it ruins a musical performance.