The Internet, free trade and global economy have changed the landscape: markets became wider and deeper, communication channels – diverse and unexpected; customers – empowered and mobile. The more businesses begin to realize that the traditional marketing efforts don’t yield the same results as they used to, the more they start turning their gaze towards the brand strategy.
Fundamental Brand Strategy Components
The fundamental constituents of a strong brand strategy have always been intuitively attended to at most companies. Such activities as competitive analysis, positioning or visual identity were usually distributed across different departments: sales, marketing, product design; but had never been gathered under one banner. Designers wanted nothing to do with marketing people because “what the hell do they know about the design”. Marketing always knew better than the sales folk did – “Duh”. Sales champs would know how to push but couldn’t care less about how the product is “PO-SI-TIONed” and so on. This kind of detached process doesn’t work anymore.
It has always been the management’s job to bring all the arguing parties together and eventually impose a decision on how to move forward. This basically meant having to trudge through conflicting ideas, mutually exclusive statements and muddled proposals, coming up with a half-stitched pseudoplan and, as a result, leaving someone feeling stupid and incompetent. Forceful actions always produce resistance and resentment.
Imagine how things could’ve been better if every department would work in unison and collectively present coherent options for the management to consider. That is where the brand strategy comes into play. It is meant to bring all of the parts together, organize and align them to work in an assembly to pursue a common goal. The actions around and towards the goals devised by the participants themselves provide a sense of ownership and meaning, making everyone involved feel proud and willing to put in more effort. There is no place for a brutal power play when everyone is in voluntary agreement.
In order to come up with a meaningful framework the company has to pay attention to the following fundamental brand strategy elements and engage in cross-divisional discussions. The goal is to provide each employee with a pair of tinted spectacles for them to put on and be able to see their work in the same light and filter out everything irrelevant.
Key brand strategy activities:
- Formulate brand values, compose mission and vision statements;
- Identify the target audience and ideal customers;
- Analyze competitive landscape;
- Differentiate and devise a positioning strategy;
- Craft an archetypal brand personality, tone and voice
- Create a messaging framework;
- Develop a brand awareness plan.
Deep Brand Strategy
Having always been profoundly interested in solving real business problems, helping customers achieve their goals and building brands, made me search for something beyond the outlined key brand strategy elements. Turns out, “he that seeketh findeth” works. I have stumbled upon several missing pieces that make brand strategy sessions more comprehensive and valuable.
Key Deep Brand Strategy activities:
- Finding the Purpose and Meaning;
- Compartmenting the Target Audience;
- Designing a Best Friend;
- Assembling the Tribe;
- Becoming Uniquely Different;
- Making an Unbreakable Vow;
- Being the Judge;
- Getting Unstuck
The Purpose and Meaning
When companies formulate their brand vision statement, they think about how things could/should be – the WHERE question. When they draft a mission statement, they focus on what day-to-day activities are important for the company and customers today – the WHAT question. When stakeholders contemplate on their brand values, they are trying to answer the WHO question. Brand strategy helps putting these elements in alignment.
The only missing peace is the WHY question. What is it that makes everyone wake up in the morning and get to work? Come hell or high water, there must be a valid reason beyond making money that strikes the cord and makes the key members do whatever it is that they do. And, boy, getting by is way easier when people have a purpose.
Target Audience Compartmentalization
Many companies believe that target audience consists of three types of customers: existing, churned and potential. Existing customers are often divided into bad, alright and ideal customers. This approach is helpful but it’s missing a big chunk of the actual target audience. It isn’t only about the customers.
Let’s look at one example. What would a traditional target audience look like for the software that offers a learning management platform? The customers are the schools, obviously – they write the cheque. But who exactly is responsible for making the purchasing decision: the board of directors, the teachers, the parents? Not the students – that is for sure. If we were to look into this issue with a deep approach, we would be able to identify the following constituents of the target audience: students, parents, teachers, management, other schools and government regulators.
Students alongside with teachers would be the most frequent users of the platform but neither of them would actually pay for the system. If this is a private school then the parents might have a strong influence over the tools used to educate their children. Schools tend to use the same tools other schools use, so, that will have an effect as well. There might be state regulations that could prevent the management from procuring the software, so, taking that into account wouldn’t be such a terrible idea either. The target audience should always involve anyone who can influence the purchasing decision.
Design a Best Friend
Brand strategy workshops have very useful exercises that facilitate the identification and creation of ideal customer personas. When you know the demographics and psychographics of your ideal clients you are actually capable of recognizing them wherever they happen to be – social media, forums and even on the street.
To go beyond the mere recognition of an ideal customer brands have to create them. That doesn’t mean nurturing kids and turning them once they get a job at your competitors’ but it does mean tapping into hopes, desires, fears and frustrations that haven’t been fully articulated or understood and committing to attaining the positives and getting further away from the negatives. Among your ideal customers who would you help first if not your best friend?
Best friends are great because they want nothing but the best for you; they will gladly forgive your mistakes; they’re always ready to help you out; they will find you no matter what – that is the best customer any company could ever dare to dream of. And that is what your company can become to some of your most valuable customers. Valiant companies can imagine who their best brand-friends might be and create a suitable environment for these people to express their views.
Discover the Void
A properly executed competitive analysis helps to understand rivals’ strengths and weaknesses, figure out who is targeting which segment of the market and who represents the biggest threat. It also asks these questions: what is being overlooked; what might be missing in the market? When identified, these market gaps become the perfect business opportunities. The only problem is whether these gaps are gappy enough.
If the company comes across a crack in the market, they have to figure out whether there is a potential for the void. As the market shifts, cracks tend to either expand or shrink. Businesses need to find an expanding gap that could become big enough to be able to fill it and thus sustain the business. Otherwise, what is the point in going after a niche market that would shrink into a cranny?
Here is a great example: there are companies that sell “ugly” fruits and vegetables. They have been able to identify the huge problem in the market – almost half of the farmer grown foods are rejected by grocery stores due to being “unattractive” and as a result end up in dumps. Those companies are targeting eco-conscious consumers who are concerned about the food waste problem and are looking for healthy affordable food. That’s what the void in the market looks like.
Assemble the Tribe
When the business has formulated its mission, vision and purpose, gathered the best brand-friends (BBFs) and created the space for them, they can embark on a journey of building their tribe. Every company wants to have a strong loyal customer base. The best friends are the company’s 12 disciples that go around the world and kick ass: they confront those who oppose your core values and convert those who sympathize. People who share the same ideals gravitate towards each other. Together the company, best brand-friends and loyal customers form a tribe and create the brand.
Become Uniquely Different
Differentiation is an extremely important brand strategy exercise because it helps answering the HOW question: how will the brand present itself to the customers and how will they be able to juxtapose it to the competition. Brand strategy sessions are meant to assist in extracting the core distinct properties that make the company distinguishable from other players in the market.
Doing things better aren’t enough because someone will find a way to make things cheaper, faster and easier to use. Unless the company does something profoundly different, anyone can improve and outmatch the “betterness”. Companies have to design a unique solution to customers’ problems – a totally new way of tackling things – something that no one else is capable of.
When travelers are aiming to get from one continent to another via an airplane, businesses would compete to make bigger, faster, cheaper airplanes. A uniquely different company would make a spaceship that goes to higher altitudes with lower air resistance and expedite passengers to their destination not only faster but providing a totally different experience.
The Unbreakable Vow
There are companies that can make a promise and stick to it. No matter what. People love it when they can rely on someone and hate it when promises are broken. Brand promise is a very powerful asset that should be articulated to the target audience. The message should be loud and clear. But in order for everyone to know that the company is serious about it, the brand has to make an unbreakable vow as well. Promises are given to customers; vows are accepted by companies as a responsibility. This is a two way street that makes the bond invaluable.
Being the Judge
Any company that sets out to create the brand will have to become the Tribe’s leader at one point or another. Leaders articulate ideas, formulate group values and draw paths toward a better future. The moment the company assumes the role of the chief, its values immediately act as a moral compass of the tribe and thus unwillingly and inevitably the brand becomes the judge.
Every member of the tribe knows this on a subconscious level – if they fall short of the expectations they will be judged. There is an element of etiquette among Harley-Davidson riders, for example, to cruise alongside another Harley for a while before passing. This bikers’ community wouldn’t appreciate anyone doing otherwise.
Being the judge also implies authority and order, but too much of that can degenerate into tyranny. It is up to the leaders of the company to decide on being either benevolent or cruel towards the “stray souls”. The tribe can forgive many transgressions of the chief, but there is always a tolerance threshold. Companies should remember: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Development of an action plan is the primary focus of the brand awareness activities. The business goals have to be in alignment with company’s values, vision and mission and resonate with the target audience’s identities and aims in order to create a compounding effect where the whole is greater than the sum of all parts.
Companies tend to get stuck, avoid taking risks, stop innovating and become cumbersome and bureaucratic. Staying in the same place is a bad idea. Markets are shifting all the time. Competitors are not sitting still either. Even if the company will eventually figure out that it had been moving in the wrong direction, it is by a large margin better than spinning the wheels in the mud. Getting unstuck is super important.
Whenever there is a purpose, there is a sense of meaning. The pursuit of meaningful goals produces positive emotions. It is not the attainment of goals that brings positive emotions; it’s the excitement of anticipation and movement towards the desired outcome. Those companies that decide to stay put are setting themselves up for a miserable future. Those brave enough to move forward will have the time of their lives.
A deeper involvement in brand strategy requires a lot of effort, but when the company is serious about the business and its customers it is totally worthwhile to dive into the deep brand strategy workshop. Here is a summary of the nine proven reasons why companies should invest into brand strategy.
- Justified reasons for existence make daily struggles meaningful. Reveal your brand’s purpose.
- The target audience is everyone who might have a substantial impact on the purchasing decision. Categorize your audience rigorously.
- Find the gappiest gap in the market that could grow into the void capable of sustaining the business.
- Imagine and create the best friends your brand could ever have.
- Assemble the tribe to secure a solid foundation of loyal customers.
- Don’t be better than competitors, be uniquely different.
- Customers like promises kept and cherish the vows made. Make an unbreakable vow.
- The brand is the judge; the company will become the chief of the tribe and it implies serious responsibilities that should not be taken lightly. Be a responsible chief.
- Pursuit of worthy goals produces positive emotions and makes people want to move forward towards the attainment of set business goals. Get unstuck.