Branding a Department

Everyone understands the need to brand a product…well, not everyone. Some companies do a great job of branding deliberately, others succeed almost by accident.

Nonetheless, all of us – every person, company or product – has a brand. That is, an image and a feeling that occupies the mind of people who have encountered us. That is our brand. The question is: do we pro-actively build our brand in the best way possible?

Much of my paying work is helping pharmaceutical companies plan and develop effective training strategies. Sometimes, however, we wander into the creative ground of creating a “brand” for the department. Needless to say, I enjoy those times!

When a division of a company wishes to brand itself in some fashion, it is vital to have a clear goal and set of deliverables when going through this exercise, so that something of enduring value is created.

Let’s look, first off, at several reasons why a department might seek to more effectively brand itself. One or more of these might contribute in any given case:

Create a more consistent visual presentation

Seek to crystallize and communicate the purpose and goals of the department

Build esprit de corps among those within the department

Create the sense that the department is a valuable “destination” for potential recruits

Elevate the identity and value of the department within the corporation

Put forth a distinct message separate from (but not in opposition to) any overall corporate branding

Next, let’s consider 3 potential levels of “branding” that might occur at a department level:

  1. Presentation (basic look/feel) – this is less a true branding exercise, than an attempt to arrive at consistent visual standards. Often, this will involve a logo of some sort, and some graphical/color standards that are designed and enforced in all production (e.g., a stylized T&D with a red and grey scheme).
  2. Message and Presentation – this includes the above, plus the addition of some sort of defining and aspirational message that truly represents the aim of the group.
  3. Identity, Message, and Presentation – this involves a more thoughtful process of seeking to articulate the value, culture, outlook, and goals of the department, now and for the future, and crystallizing this in clear summary statements and messages. In this case, an exercise of “brand-storming” precedes development of messages and presentation element, since those are the outflow of identity definition.

By and large, outside assistance in brand definition is very helpful, as those on the “inside” often are too immersed and invested in the department to objectively analyze it, and tease out the distinctive elements.

Here is how I put it in a post a while back:

Ironically, sometimes the key business stakeholder is the person least able to distill things down to the core, and identify the key differentiating message. I was meeting with a business partner just yesterday morning, and as she showed her new marketing approach, it was quickly clear that all the bullet points spread out in front of us did not contain a unique or compelling message. Because she was so immersed in the trees, it was far more difficult for her to step back and see the forest – yet for me, in a matter of minutes, the solution was plain. However, for that very reason, the hardest assignment I’ve taken on has been my own business! Too many trees, all of my own planting…far easier to objectively analyze someone else’s forest!

Sometimes, of course, “the point” of a business is actually there – it’s just not been clearly identified and effectively expressed. Those are the most exciting opportunities – an entrepreneur or business that has a great offering, but just hasn’t figured out a compelling and “sticky” message.

Many divisions of a company are virtually invisible, and sometimes, that cannot be avoided. But when there is an opportunity to create a distinct “brand” within the company, carpe diem!

Other web resources I’ve written on the theme of brand definition:

Bullet point Branding

How to be Unremarkable

Better Branding (from

What is Branding?

Brand DNA

4 Responses to Branding a Department

  1. Guerrillero says:

    Yes, IMP = Identity+Message+Presentation – this is what counts in branding. Thanks for the post!

  2. Steve:

    Given that there may be some short-term value for morale if you “branding” a department , but I believe this is a bad precident for two reasons.

    First it is apt to cause confusion within the ranks about the “brand”. The corporation should be aligning all employees around the corporate brand. By establishing a sub-brand call HR or process control just divides attention everyone need to devote to making sure the corporate brand promice is fulfilled.

    Second, this type of “emprie-building saps the energies of employees. It causes, or is a symptom of, office politics. It promotes “us against them”.

    Now I know there’s no way for me to stop it, but as a CEO I’d certainly discourage it.

    Sorry, good friend,


  3. Pingback: If I were CEO, I would discourage departmental brands |

  4. Martin,

    I actually don’t disagree with your reasoning. It takes companies of a certain size and culture to be in a position where a “sub-brand” is created (at a dept. level), and for many companies, it’s not feasible. I tend to work with very large, siloed companies where it can occur. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it universally – only where it is appropriate.

    – SW

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