Some people think branding is just “window dressing” for a KM program, but they’re wrong. A strong brand clearly conveys what KM is all about and why employees should care. An outstanding brand gets people excited and helps them feel personally connected to the KM effort. But as a quick Google search of “brand fails” will tell you, branding can be tricky. Big brands have made some major missteps in recent years. I won’t recount specific incidences here, but it’s easy to see the root cause behind most of them: not understanding the target audience.
KM professionals must apply a thoughtful and proactive approach to the language, look, and feel of their programs. After all, there’s no such thing as a KM program without a brand. If you don’t purposely brand KM, employees will develop their own sense of what it’s about—and you may not like the results. If you don’t want to end up as “that intranet thing,” you need to start thinking about your KM brand.
Start with Words
The first step in branding your KM program is choosing words to describe knowledge, KM, and associated activities and platforms. Which words will work best depends entirely on your organizational culture and target audience. Some KM programs use standard KM terms like “knowledge management” and “communities of practice,” but in others, this jargon just doesn’t resonate.
When this happens, you need to keep looking inward at your company culture and end-users. Consider words in your company’s vision, mission, and strategic objectives that can connect to the KM effort. You may also want to appropriate terminology from another program that employees already know well, like organizational learning. Talk to a diverse range of stakeholders to identify language that will work at your organization. In this step, it’s also important to identify any words not to use. Certain words may have baggage as a result of current frustrations or past projects gone awry.
Add Visual Appeal
A unique logo helps people recognize KM right away. Once you have a logo, you can stick it everywhere: portals and sites, newsletters and other communications, and physical swag like coffee mugs and keychains. At APQC, most KM logos we’ve seen build on the company’s overall brand by incorporating the organization’s color scheme and other visual elements. Working with your marketing department to create a logo is a good way to ensure the logo is not only cool and distinctive, but is also “on-brand” for your company.
People support what they help create, so get employees involved in developing your KM brand. You can ask end-users to submit names or logo ideas or ask them to vote for their favorite among a list of options. This helps people feel invested in the brand even before it launches.
KM programs have many brandable elements—every tool, platform, activity, and community could have a unique name and/or logo. You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) brand everything, but it’s important to remember you have a lot of options. Corporate rules may restrict your ability to involve employees in branding the entire program or certain tools, but you can still involve them in branding some of these other elements.
To Be Corny, or Not to Be Corny, that is the Question
“There’s a fine line between stupid and clever.” I always remember this quote from Spinal Tap when I see branding fails that result from trying too hard to be unique, cool, and relevant. We see these a lot in the consumer space: mascots “dabbing,” companies engaging in meme wars, egregious use of emojis. The funny thing is, some brands can pull this stuff off. But many cannot.
A lighthearted, fun, and even humorous KM brand can work at some companies—and when it does, it’s amazing. But before you start branding your KM ambassadors as “knowledge ninjas,” take a step back and think carefully about your corporate culture. For many organizations, a no-nonsense approach that frames KM in relation to internally accepted business terms is best.
To learn about how best-practice organizations create and leverage compelling KM brands, see APQC’s Communicating About Knowledge Management research.