How to give your brand a heartbeat?



By Janine Bensouda, President and Founder, Bensouda Consulting


Does a brand need a heartbeat to come alive and connect with its customers? We can all agree that when it comes to delivering a service; doing it with heart is certainly an advantage!

Then again, how can an inanimate, intangible name or object like a ‘brand’ have a heart, let alone one that beats? And more importantly, what for?

Let’s explore some of the reasons why making a brand truly vibrant reaps benefits for all who come in contact with it.

So what exactly is a brand? What is its ‘heartbeat’ and what is the value in all of this?


If we study some of the world’s most valuable and powerful companies, we find that they have succeeded in clearly defining their purpose and in communicating it to their teams and their customers, building loyal relationships throughout.


In the words of Chris Halliburton, one eminent marketer, ‘a brand is more than just a company or product, it’s the embodiment of the feelings that it generates’.[1] Therefore, when we describe a brand as having a heartbeat; we are referring to the expressions and resonance this has on employees and customers. The beat reflects the harmony within the firm that created something great; and the rhythms that are echoed outside. There are good reasons why people queue up for hours, sometimes for days ahead of the release of new products from Apple; why families travel from near and far to experience the magic of Disney; why people take offense if they are served Pepsi rather than Coca Cola (or vice versa), or that 83 years after its invention, and despite the digital revolution, Lego is still a very popular toy for children. When brands trigger those emotional strings, they render consumers’ hearts to beat faster and this typically translates into buying patterns, referrals and ultimately profitability for the organisation.

So what brands have heartbeats with the loudest thumps? There is an internationally recognised standard on brand valuation known as ISO 10668. The latest report on the world’s most valuable brands by Brand Finance ‘The Global 500’ may not surprise you. Apple is ranked first with $ 128 billion, followed by Samsung at $ 81.7 billion and Google at $ 76.7 billion. The most valuable brand in the Middle East is Emirates with a value of $ 6.6 billion.


What does it take to build such highly valued brands? Let us take a look at the structure behind the heartbeat. How do you take the letters in your brand off the page and transform them into a pulsating line with the baddum…baddum sounds that signal life, hope, future and growth? Let’s take a look at a few best practices. We will pre-suppose that your organisation’s purpose and values as well as your brand attributes have been well defined. Now we have a good starting point.


Personify your brand - put a face on it!

Most brand science gurus agree that brands are multifaceted and ethereal, which makes them hard to pin down. It is far easier for people to connect with images, words and characters. This is why the personification of the brand is such a powerful tool. Think of the amiable green gecko that represents GEICO insurance company, or the undeniably agile, skilful and passionate Ronaldo - the face of Nike, amongst many other successful sports persons. Or how about the exciting, exploratory stories and experiences of individuals represented by Emirates and their new brand ambassador, Jennifer Aniston. By associating the brand with an individual or a character, whether real or fictitious, we are adding the personality and rendering the brand much more tangible and relatable to consumers. By doing so, the brand can transform into a character that people want to interact with, befriend and from whom they will buy products. Ultimately relationships are about a connection.


Translate – make it clear what is expected from people, products, processes and policies

So the question is how do you actually build a recognisable personification of the brand? The answer: translate the brand into defined ways of how it thinks, what it says, how it responds to situations and how it behaves and operates. If you shop at Zappos and encounter a problem with your order or are dissatisfied in any way; the response will be consistent – you will be shipped a new product immediately without requiring proof of or justification for your complaint. Most often you will even be asked to just keep what you were originally sent. Why? Because the brand has been translated into a tangible working practice; a way of doing things clearly articulated across every functional area in the organisation. Every department understands their role in giving the brand a heartbeat. How can your company do this?

To get started, answer the following;

How does the brand think? What is the mind set be? And what decisions does it make? How does it react and respond to certain situations? What are things it should say, and never say? How should it behave with colleagues and customers?

These questions relate equally well to, and need to influence people, process, policy and procedures.


Synchronize - align your organization and beat one rhythm

A closer look at some of the most powerful brands in the world reveals certain traits about how they operate. How processes work, staff behave and products are designed and delivered; are all set in clear coherent structures. Our interactions with these firms are all consistent to the brand promise. Wherever you go in the world, when you walk into Sephora, the promise to you is that you can try on make-up, take samples and feel confident about your choice of purchase. When you walk into an Apple store, you are expecting the staff to be geeks and to spend time enthusiastically helping you. It surprises nobody that Google’s offices look like social clubs and that staff can be found going down slides, playing pool and doing whatever it takes to be creative.

These are all examples of how organisations have succeeded in hiring and retaining talent whose hearts beat in synch with the brand. Why is this important? Because it is these people who then ensure that the customer experience is consistent with the promise. This is the moment your brand comes to life and has an audible heartbeat. It takes integrating the whole infrastructure of an organisation around the brand to give the brand a heartbeat.


Collaborate – communicate and stay connected


Connecting with your key partners; staff, customers, shareholders, suppliers and the community, is a critical lifeline for your brand’s heartbeat. All the greatest brands, from Microsoft to Red Bull, the Ritz Carlton to R0lex have established formal and informal channels for constant dialogue, feedback, ideation, collaboration, innovation and continuous learning - internally with employees, as well as externally with the world. 

Being active on social media and digital channels is no longer a subject for debate, rather; the brands with the loudest and strongest heartbeats are inventing new ways to engage. Taking the customer arena as an example, Coca Cola has a proven track record for creative ideas to connect with the community. As part of the global ‘Where will happiness strike next’ campaign, a branded goodwill effort took place in Dubai in 2014. A ‘Happiness Machine’ was set up near labour accommodation in Al Quoz. Workers exchanged bottle caps for 3-minute international calls; a luxury for most. Also extremely successful is the “Share a Coke” campaign where the public can choose to print their own names on cans. That resulted in a 7% increase in sales. It also earned a total of more than 18 million media impressions, and increased traffic on its Facebook site by 870%!


Monitor your heart rate and take your pulse


So in this way, we have personified the brand, given the brand a language, a look, a mind-set and a set of ways in which it behaves.

In quite the same way that we recognize people we know; the brand now becomes distinguishable amongst all the other brands that may even look like it.



Stay true to yourself - tell your 

Brands with a recognisable heartbeat know who they are and equally importantly; who they are not. The latter often being the harder to identify. And this should be evident to the world.

The brands with the strongest heartbeats act in synch and in ways that are true to their values even when tested by life’s unexpected twists. By personifying and then defining how this person, this brand, thinks, talks and behaves, a defining story can be told. It is this collaborative culture driven by dialogue that binds the organisation’s key stakeholders and builds meaningful relationships that need to be measured and monitored. The outcomes; loyalty and profitability. 

So, why does your brand need a heartbeat?

Quite simply; without a heartbeat, your brand is dead.

[1] Chris Halliburton, Branding – A Key Strategic Asset – How Well Are you Managing Your Brands?




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