How to answer a curveball branding question in an interview

By Chris Chatfield

So… you’re in an interview for the job of your dreams. You and the interview panel are getting on like a house on fire, so much so that the only thing that could improve it would be a cellar full of fireworks for extra whizz-bang-ery. Surely it’s in the bag. Then, suddenly, one of the panel asks, in an off-the-cuff manner: “One small thing, what do you think about our brand?”

<Gulp> (!) There’s a loaded question if ever you heard one and it feels like there might be a problem with the brand that they’re hoping you’ve noticed. Now, as much as the sound of silence worked for Simon & Garfunkel, it’s not going to work here. Clearly you’re going to have to ask ‘Could you expand on that?’ but how are you going to answer whatever they throw at you next? Well, allow me to give you some extra ammunition to reignite the pyrotechnics, in the form of some common problems, and possible solutions.

Problem: Our brand’s lost momentum.

Your answer: Let’s discuss what made it excellent to start with and whether that’s still relevant. Then you may just need to reincorporate that message, or strengthen it, in the brand strategy so everyone from senior management to the concierge understand. You may then discover an update to your visual identity would help reinforce this. You should also ensure your staff’s individual values are aligned with the company’s. Plus, how about finding ways to help remind staff they can feel proud of the brand they work for?

Problem: Everything we produce looks and sounds different.

Your answer: That’s clearly a problem because your customers won’t understand why you exist, how you work, what you do, or where you want to go. And if they don’t understand you, they’re not going to trust or buy from you. One solution might be to ask users of your brand guidelines if they: a) know they exist; b) understand why they exist; c) understand how to use them, and then fix the issues that arise from that.

Problem: Our name doesn’t match what we do.

Your answer: Is there any equity in the name? Do your audience know and trust it? Do they call you something else? If yes, maybe you just need a tweak to stop it holding you back. However, if there’s no equity, you could consider a name change. This is a big step though because, to name just a few issues: lots of names are taken; trademarking a new one can be hard; SEO can be lost in the transition; and existing clients might be lost.

Problem: People keep confusing us for another company.

Your answer: Maybe the brand’s not obvious enough. You could look at how you articulate your messages so everybody understands what you do better, and your staff feel more proud of working here. Or you could look at emboldening the logo or other aspects of the identity to make it visually more obvious who you are. Or you could rethink where you advertise yourselves to ensure you’re in the right places and on the right social channels for your audience.

Problem: Somebody here did something stupid.

Your answer: This requires a tricky solution. Revamping a brand from the ground up can be as hard as starting one from scratch. If you need to do it, you’ll have to go back to basics and focus on what you’re really good at so you can create a new brand strategy (ensuring it fits with the business strategy of course). You’ll also need to consider whether you need a new name and visual identity.

Problem: All our brands are competing with each other.

Your answer: You could consider consolidating and getting rid of the ones with no equity. Then, you could ensure there’s a recognised structure in place to help people understand why they exist and how to use them. Or you could take it one step further and consolidate all of them to create a monolithic, one-brand structure. Whichever route, you need to be conscious that some staff might be quite attached to their sub-brands, so you should approach it sensitively, explaining why the change and offering help in any transition.

Problem: A shiny new company has popped up and stolen our customers.

Your answer: Firstly, don’t panic and throw all your proverbial toys (read, brand) out of the bath. You’ve been around a while and those (proverbial) rubber ducks have floated well until now. Despite this disruptor’s appeal, there’s probably a way to counter this. Ask yourselves why have they been able to do this? How is this new company satisfying your customers’ needs better? And what do you need to do to counter this? After you’ve done your research, you may decide you’re big and rich enough to buy them, that would be an easy route, right? For a lot of companies though, money can’t be the solution so maybe it’s a case of innovating or adapting your brand by making a change to the product you sell, or the perception of the product you sell. And while you’re at it, take a look at what other disruptors or issues may be on the horizon, and deal with them at the same time, before they become a problem too.

Problem: Our logo looks ridiculous.

Your answer: Firstly, is this a singular, subjective opinion (yes, bevels and drop shadows, I’m looking at your effect on people) or a universal one? The organisation’s performance is going to suffer if everyone’s quietly cringing at the logo they represent or buy from but not necessarily if it’s just one person’s stance. Secondly, has this opinion been considered in terms of whether the look reinforces or undermines the brand strategy? If the logo is undermining the strategy or if everyone dislikes it, then you certainly need to consider a visual revamp. Plus, are there other considerations here, such as whether the current logo works on new media channels that may not have existed when it was created.

Problem: Something is holding back company growth.

Your answer: If you suspect something about the brand is putting customers off us, then consider what about them, or the culture surrounding them, has changed that would cause them to distance themselves from you? It might be something obvious, such as a new study linking one of your products to an unhealthy lifestyle (sugar anyone?), or it may be something more subtle, such as one of your suppliers being linked to an undesirable political party (no names mentioned…). Also, it’s worth looking forward to avoid this happening in the future. For example, try implementing brand tracking metrics to measure how customers perceptions change over time, to identify and address what’s putting them off before it becomes an issue.

Problem: People just don’t like our brand any more.

Your answer: It sounds like you haven’t kept up with your customers’ needs and desires. Try researching what’s motivating them now. Then, look at the brand strategy to see if it’s already addressing those motivations. If it is, the message isn’t getting through so you need to change the language, design, and way your people interact with customers, to better inform them and regain their trust. And if the strategy isn’t addressing those motivations, you might need to realign the strategy and product(s) to better satisfy your customers so you can get customers back, and not lose any more.

So there you go. Obviously there are a multitude of other problems you might be hit with, and there’s always a multitude of solutions. But at least these will give you something to start with so, hopefully, the rest of your interview can go off like the Harbour Bridge on New Year’s Eve.