Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.
Are you the innovative maverick in your industry?
Or the experienced, reliable one?
Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option?
You can’t be both, and you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target customers want and need you to be.
The foundation of your brand is your logo. Your website, packaging and promotional materials–all of which should integrate your logo–communicate your brand.
Brand Strategy & Equity
Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you advertise is part of your brand strategy. Your distribution channels are also part of your brand strategy. And what you communicate visually and verbally are part of your brand strategy, too.
Consistent, strategic branding leads to a strong brand equity, which means the added value brought to your company’s products or services that allows you to charge more for your brand than what identical, unbranded products command. The most obvious example of this is Coke vs. a generic soda. Because Coca-Cola has built a powerful brand equity, it can charge more for its product–and customers will pay that higher price.
The added value intrinsic to brand equity frequently comes in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes, hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it’s not just the shoe’s features that sell the shoe.
Defining Your Brand
Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions below:
- What is your company’s mission?
- What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
- What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
- What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?
Do your research. Learn the needs, habits, and desires of your current and prospective customers. And don’t rely on what you think they think. Know what they think.
Because defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be complex, consider leveraging the expertise of a nonprofit small-business advisory group or a Small Business Development Center.
Once you’ve defined your brand, how do you get the word out?
Here are a few simple, time-tested tips:
- Get a great logo. Place it everywhere.
- Write down your brand messaging. What are the key messages you want to communicate about your brand? Every employee should be aware of your brand attributes.
- Integrate your brand. Branding extends to every aspect of your business–how you answer your phones, what you or your salespeople wear on sales calls, your e-mail signature, everything.
- Create a “voice” for your company that reflects your brand. This voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated in the visual imagery of all materials, online and off. Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it ritzy? Be more formal. You get the gist.
- Develop a tagline. Write a memorable, meaningful and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand.
- Design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials. Use the same color scheme, logo placement, look and feel throughout. You don’t need to be fancy, just consistent.
- Be true to your brand. Customers won’t return to you–or refer you to someone else–if you don’t deliver on your brand promise.
- Be consistent. I placed this point last only because it involves all of the above and is the most important tip I can give you. If you can’t do this, your attempts at establishing a brand will fail.
The 12 Principles of Brand Strategy
In a situation where you’re selling to multiple personalities, it’s best to first connect everyone on a common ground then articulate clearly what’s in it for each of them.
The goal is to stimulate an engaging conversation that allows us to change perception, diagnose expectations and bring clarity to the dialogue.
That’s the essence of developing a brand strategy – the foundation of your communication that builds authentic relationships between you and your audience.
It is by defining your brand strategy that allows you to utilize marketing, advertising, public relations, and social media to consistently and accurately reinforce your character.
Without defining the core strategy, all channels of communication can often become a hit and miss expense.
Here are 12 brand strategy principles I believe to be the key to achieve business success.
1. Define your brand
It starts with your authenticity, the core purpose, vision, mission, position, values, and character. Focus on what you do best and then communicated your inimitable strengths through consistency.
There are many examples of companies acquiring other brands but only to sell them off later because they don’t fit within the brand and its architecture.
Microsoft acquired Razorfish in 2007 when it bought aQuantive, a digital marketing services company, for about US $6 billion then sold it a few years later for $530 million.
Simply put, Razorfish isn’t a good fit with Microsoft’s brand strategy.
2. Your brand is your business model
Supports and challenge your business model to maximize the potential within your brand. Think of personal brands like Oprah, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, and Richard Branson.
These individuals practically built their business right on top of their personal brand; everything they offer is an extension of their brand promise.
3. Consistency, consistency, consistency
Consistency in your message is the key to differentiate.
Own your position on every reference point for everything that you do. President Obama focuses on one message only during his campaign, CHANGE. BMW has always been known as the “ultimate driving machine.”
4. Start from the Inside out
Everyone in your company can tell you what they see, think and feel about your brand. That’s the story you should bring to the customers as well, drive impact beyond just the walls of marketing.
That’s an example of how Zappos empowers employees to strengthen consumer perception on its brand.
5. Connect on the emotional level.
A brand is not a name, logo, website, ad campaigns or PR; those are only the tools, not the brand. A brand is a desirable idea manifested in products, services, people, places and experiences.
Starbucks created a third space experience that’s desirable and exclusive so people would want to stay and pay for the overpriced coffee.
Sell people something that satisfies not only their physical needs but their emotional needs and their need to identify themselves to your brand.
6. Empower brand champions
Award those that love your brand to help drive the message, facility activities so they can be part of the process.
If your brand advocate doesn’t tell you what you should or should not be doing, it’s time to evaluate your brand promise.
Go and talk to someone that works at the Apple retail store or an iPhone owner and you’ll see just how passionate they are about Apple. It’s a lifestyle and a culture.
7. Stay relevant and flexible
A well-managed brand is always making adjustments. Branding is a process, not a race, not an event so expect to constantly tweak your message and refresh your image.
Successful brands don’t cling to the old ways just because they worked in the past; instead, they try to re-invent themselves by being flexible which frees them to be more savvy and creative.
Here is an example: when the economy tanked this year automaker Hyundai came out with an assurance program that lets you return your car if you lose your job with no further financial obligation and no damage to your credit.
As of the end of February, only two buyers have taken advantage of this program but it has boosted their sales by 14% year-over-year in Q1, only one of the two companies increased revenue while companies such as Honda experienced a drop of more than 30%.
Follow by that campaign in July, as gas prices expected to push higher during peak summer travel months, Hyundai came out with another program that guarantees a year’s worth of gas at $1.49 per gallon on most models.
8. Align tactics with strategy
Convey the brand message on the most appropriate media platform with specific campaign objectives.
Because consumers are bombarded by commercial messages every day, they’re also actively blocking out the great majority of them.
Invest your branding efforts on the right platform that communicates to the right channels.
Social media may seem cheap but it takes time, resources and may not give you the desired outcome.
9. Measure the effectiveness
Focus on the ROI (return on investment) is the key to measure the effectiveness of your strategies.
Often times it is how well your organization can be inspired to execute the strategies. It could also be reflected in brand valuation or how your customers react to your product and price adjustments.
Ultimately it should resonate with sales and that means profitability. But don’t just focus on increasing sales when you could be getting a profit boost by reducing overheads and expenses as well.
Give yourself options to test different marketing tactics, make sure they fit your brand authenticity and aligns with your strategy.
10. Cultivate your community
The community is a powerful and effective platform on which to engage customers and create loyalty towards the brand.
In an active community, members feel a need to connect with each other in the context of the brand’s consumption.
We all want to be an insider of something, it excites us to tell people which community we’re part of and what knowledge we possess.
In many ways, it’s our ego that prides us to be part of a sports team or a professional group.
Guess what car would members of the Porsche club consider first when it’s time to purchase their next vehicle?
Brand communities allow companies to collaborate with customers in all phases of value creation via crowdsourcing such as product design, pricing strategy, availability, and even how to sell.
11. Keep your enemies closer
Even if you have the most innovative, highly desirable product, you can expect new competitors with a superior value proposition to enter your market down the road.
The market is always big enough for new players to improve what you deliver better, faster, cheaper. Call it hyper-competition or innovation economics, competition could be good for you believe it or not.
It challenges your brand to elevate the strategy and deliver more value.
Just look at how the Big Three (automobile manufacturers General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) got crushed in the past decade by competitions from Germany and Japanese.
Not only do their competitors make a better product, but they’re also more efficient doing it and command a higher brand loyalty.
In 2008, Toyota overtook GM while Honda passed Chrysler in US sales.
12. Practice brand strategy thinking
Essentially it means to not just settle for the choices currently available but to think outside the box without being limited.
This concept actually applies to your brand strategy creation process that I called brand strategy thinking.
It’s always easier to execute tactics than coming up with a strategy because it implies the possibility of failure.
It’s much faster to emulate what worked for your competitor than to come up with something original and creative.
But the truth is, that’s not you and it violates the first principle of brand strategy. Brand strategy thinking is about creating the right experience that involves all the stakeholders to foster a better strategy.
The take away:
Having a brand strategy will bring clarity and meaning to your brand so you can focus on making, creating, and selling things that people actually care about.
If you could do that, your brand would be unique and memorable on its way to become an esteemed brand.