What makes some brands stand out while others burn out? What makes some brands loved, and others overlooked? The answer lies in what leading brands already know — brand strategy — the often undervalued not-so-secret secret that brings stability and focus across a business no matter the size.
At it’s core, brand strategy serves as a roadmap to all stakeholders. But in more turbulent times, brand strategy becomes even more crucial for business stability. This was highlighted in a 2020 Gartner study amid the COVID-19 crisis where CMOs ranked brand strategy as a top marketing priority for the year ahead, ranking above marketing analytics and marketing operations. This was a stark contrast to 2019’s results where brand strategy appeared close to the bottom.
What this reveals is that in unstable waters we reach fast for an anchor. So how do all sized businesses go about brand building to not just stay alive, but to thrive?
Responsiveness and Relevance
This is more about approach than a to-do list. Relevance and responsiveness have never mattered more, and stems out of people and culture, and requires nurturing as a company-wide philosophy. Strong brands remain relevant, and are nimble in change, even if they’re big corporates.
Examples that spring to mind include Dove’s ad at the height of the pandemic when soap was in short supply, their message quickly pivoted to ‘we don’t care which soap you use’ as long as you stay safe. Aldi continued on their low price platform while bringing some humour to the toilet paper stockpiling crises. And in the wake of the BLM movement, Ben & Jerry’s reinforced their commitment to social justice and racial equality. These kinds of relevant brand messages that respond smartly and with sensitivity to current issues can catapult a brand’s status and equity.
While this is sometimes a starting point, any time is the right time to ask what problem your brand solves, and for who? This helps clearly define your product attributes and benefits, as well as your target market.
Then think about the ultimate value your product or service brings to your target customer’s life. Empathise with your customer on their journey and understand their pain-points. Then look at your competition. Plot where you currently rank in terms of your competitors. And then determine where you’d like to be positioned.
To get the most out of this brand-reflection exercise, ask customers and employees what they think — even a small sample can reveal invaluable insights. Remember, how you would like your brand to be perceived versus how your brand is perceived may not be the same. The good news is that this perceptual gap can be narrowed and resolved — but you first need to know what it is to start.
Determine your USP and be single-minded
Now you need to determine your Unique Selling Point (USP). This positions your brand relative to competitors and differentiates your brand based on customer value. Good old fashioned X-Y axes grids work wonders to determine your brand’s positioning relative to competitors — where your brand is, and where you want to be.
Marketing mastermind Seth Godin explains the purpose of this exercise in his blog titled Different or remarkable? “The goal, then, isn’t to draw some positioning charts and announce that you have differentiated your product. No, the opportunity is to actually create something that people choose to talk about, regardless of what the competition is doing.”
Brand identity is a complex and intertwined DNA tapestry; a combination of many things, and includes deliberate and strategic choices. You need to consider brand personality and values — try describing your brand as a person. Also look at your distribution strategy. If your brand is easily accessible it’s more likely to be perceived as open and responsive, compared to a niche brand which can be perceived as rare and exclusive. Pricing also feeds into your brand identity i.e. high-end or mass.
Whatever your decisions, don’t try to be all things to all people. If you’re a niche brand, double down. And if you’re mass market, you’ll need to tap into shared psychographic values to carve out your customised message.
No thing is one thing. Your brand is many things, an interconnected ecosystem, where every part matters, and at times, some things matter more than others (which is another branding exercise worth doing). The way your brand interacts with your customer – from logo design to packaging to website load speed to blog post headlines, all mould together to form your customer’s brand perception.
In his book Brand Now, Nick Westergaard speaks about brand touchpoints and likens them to light dimmer switches: “Think of your brand structure as a light switch with dimmers…for every possible brand touchpoint. You can turn some all the way up and others all the way down – while others can be left partially up or down.”
Delight through Empathy and User Experience
Beyond satisfying a need, it’s about connection, trust and aspiration. Your customer is always right – even when they’re not, because they pay your salary and keep your business going. So walk in their shoes and seek to understand. Never engage in customer warfare – there’ll only ever be one loser because according to an HBR article on customer churn, it’s anywhere between five to 25 times cheaper to sell to an existing customer than to attract a new one!
So even if you think you’re not in a service business, you’re in a service business. When there’s a heartbeat, there’s a heart, and when there’s a heart, it requires love. Service is ultimately about your customer feeling loved and understood through their experience with your brand touchpoints – even if you’re in a B2B business.
HubSpot’s Brian Halligan writes about this point in that it’s not enough to just have a great product. Businesses also need a great customer experience. Because an unremarkable customer experience allows an agile new competitor to leapfrog you. “Most companies have a great product and a disjointed customer experience. To avoid disruption from a nimble new competitor, or to become a disrupter yourself, you need a great product and a great customer experience.”
People and Culture
So it all starts and ends with people. Engage and connect – with all stakeholders. From employees to suppliers to shareholders. All people count – and they can be your brand’s greatest ambassadors. The ripple effect of happy staff cannot be overstated. Positive word-of-mouth is one of oldest and most valuable marketing tools (from campfires to Facebook likes). Pride and belonging to something meaningful are incredible human connectors and motivators.
Test, Measure and Evolve
Your brand is a work-in-progress. Its journey is fluid and incomplete. So there will be bumps on the road, imperfections and failure – embrace it all. But start somewhere, start small, but start. Set a goal, or goals, and then test, review, measure, learn (with necessary dusting off in between), and then move forward, even in tiny steps. First get clear on your brand strategy, and then start building your brand, even if you start with just one thing.
Creative Mix helps clients build brands through a blend of modern marketing solutions. To chat more about brand strategy, copywriting or content creation, make contact today.