Standing out amid a massive chorus of competitors is a challenge for any company in today’s business climate. Want evidence? Look at any magazine, TV show or surf the Internet. The number of offers and sales pitches one receives on a daily basis is simply staggering and increasingly ineffective. It’s no wonder, then, why businesses are seeking new and more effective ways of increasing the influence of their brand strategy in the marketplace. A strong brand strategy can increase the awareness of a company and its offerings in such a way that establishes strong feelings and reactions and a favorable view towards the company as a whole. To create this sort of “brand awareness” in your market, it takes skillful Brand Strategy know-how.
Successfully out-branding your competitors is a continuous battle for the hearts and minds of your customers. The proposition your brand strategy makes must be very compelling, attractive and unique among competitive offerings. The proposition must also be consistently reinforced throughout all phases of an organization, from senior executives to customer service, research and development, business development and even your business partners.
What entails a comprehensive and effective “Brand Strategy process?” That’s a much longer answer than what we have space for here, plus it varies from industry to industry, but here are some very basic guidelines about what makes a good Brand Strategy.
Brand Strategy—what’s the big deal?
Brand Strategy is nothing new. Yet, the expectations consumers have for a product or service they buy is stronger than it’s ever been. This is why companies interested in long-term success must create the most promising, targeted brand experience possible.
Whether you know it or not, you already have a brand and your customers are having a “brand experience” when they interact with you, whether it be with your products and services or the people in your company. In order to craft this “brand experience” in a calculated way that is beneficial for your company, you must have a strong understanding about what exactly a brand is.
Brand is the Alpha and Omega
In other words, brand is the totality of your company and its business.
“A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly and the off-strategy,” says Scott White, one of the nation’s leading branding consultants and a valued expert companies like Sun Life Financial and Franklin Sports rely on. “It is your best and worst product. It is your best and worst employee. It is communicated through award-winning advertising as well as those ads that somehow slipped through the approval cracks and sank anything riding on them. It is your on-hold music and the demeanor of the receptionist who puts that valued client or prospect on hold. It is the carefully crafted comments by a CEO as well as negative buzz by the water cooler or in chat rooms on the Internet. Brand is expressed through written, audio and visual content. It is interpreted through emotional filters every human being has—where anything can happen. Ultimately, you can’t control your brand. You can only hope to guide it.”
The Road to Branding Success
Building on the inherent values of a brand should be the core of any branding strategy. If they’re not clear, get a good grip on them first. Is the brand about honesty or integrity? Quality? How about excellent communication and customer satisfaction?
Knowledge of a company’s values, at least in a literal context, is typically an internal matter; yet, those values become evident to everyone in contact with the company, from customers and prospective customers to business-to-business relationships and employee relations. Consistency is the key here. If members of the organization aren’t accurately representing the values of the brand, steps must be taken to rectify the chink in the armor. And unlike a brand’s key business proposition, values should never change even though the landscape in which the company operates and even its products may.
Winning brand strategies starts with top-notch research
With values set, a brand proposition is ready to be established. Objective and comprehensive branding research are the keys here. At a minimum, both must be done to establish clarity on the brand’s strengths and weaknesses, the target audience and the competition. If possible, branding research should also be done on the brand’s industry, its history, the status of the market and possibilities for future expansion.
Your target customer will determine your success
If it’s only possible to do one body of brand research, discover as much as possible about your target customer. Find out who they are and what their needs and desires are. Make it your mission to get as detailed information as possible on their age, gender, income, shopping habits (online and off) and anything else of relevance you can determine. If you’re targeting a business market, these criteria will differ, depending on the industry. Understanding your target market and what they want is key to developing a winning brand. Knowing these things should also give you an idea for what communication medium and content would work to engage your market.
Other research you might want to do is find out what your competitors’ offerings are like. How do your offerings stack up? What can a customer get from your product that they can’t get from anyone else? Find out these things, and you have the seeds for a winning branding strategy, not to mention great fodder for an ad campaign.
What does your brand promise?
The brand statement, often called the brand promise or proposition, is a derivative of branding research. It states the benefit of buying and using your company’s products or services. For clothing, it could be about style or comfort. For a car, it could be about safety or reliability. Whatever it is, it must be clear, engaging and presented in a context relevant to the customer. One example of an effective brand promise is that of BMW’s. It’s stated right in the company’s tagline: The Ultimate Driving Machine.
Your promise should be golden
If your company’s products and service don’t live up to their brand promise, new customers will become lost customers and loyal customers might leave, too. Simply put, your deliverable, what ever that is, must follow through on the promise—in fact, it would be best if it actually over-delivered.
Your promise should be unexpected, but welcome
Don’t reuse something a competitor has already promised even if it works for your product or service, and don’t be vague in trying to position your company favorably against your competitors (such as saying you’re “the best pizza in town.”). Be specific because specific is exponentially more memorable. Besides, people expect you to be good. Otherwise, they wouldn’t give you their business.
Hearts and minds first, wallets later
Creating a positive emotional association in your market for your product or service is key. It can create want and desire by the mere mention of your brand, product or service name. Needless to say, that’s powerful. For instance, the mere mention of Ben & Jerry’s conjures up images of numerous unique premium ice cream flavors and with the anticipation for your favorite (in my case, Cherry Garcia). Such positive emotional associations are built over time through good branding practice and a time-tested relationship between you and your customer based on intrigue, trust, understanding and support.
To create a brand promise that creates such emotional connections, it should be:
- Grounded in the brand’s core values.
- Clearly relevant and engaging to your target market.
- Able to create some sort of positive emotional attachment beyond just being “good”.
- Repeated internally and externally within your organization.
- Adaptable to the business climate.
- Continually reinforced.
- Consistent across advertising and marketing mediums.
- Known and echoed by business partners.