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How To Define Your Brand’s Market

December 26, 2016

Market vendor.jpgI’m often surprised to find that many otherwise savvy business people can be stumped when you ask them to define their market. Sometimes, when things seem obvious to us, we don’t think too much about them at all. As a result, we find ourselves lacking when it comes time to find the words to describe them. To prevent this kind of mental drift, every business should conduct formal, periodic studies to really look at what their market actually is. Assuming no major strategic shifts in the business, I’d recommend making that study once every two years or so. More often, if you’re working in a dynamic field with lots of change. And again every time the business merges with another or undergoes any other kind of strategic move. A change in the business can often mean an important change to the market, one you don’t want to miss. It doesn’t take long to define a market but it always shines a bright light on your marketing efforts. You’ll quickly see if you’re missing the mark somehow and need to adjust your messaging. So how is it done? Start with the realization that, from a brand positioning point of view, your market is more than just your clients or customers.

Markets are comprised of constituencies, defined as any group whose perception of your brand is important to the future success of your business. We’re talking about more than stakeholders here. Stakeholders are constituents, yes. But not every constituent is a stakeholder. For instance, your employees are stakeholders in that they do well if the business does well. They have a stake in its success. At the same time, they represent an important constituency in that their perception of your brand will reflect in all they do and actually contribute to – or detract from – that success. The press is also an important constituency. Your business fares better when the press holds a positive perception of your brand. But the press is not a stakeholder. They’ll happily write about your business whether it’s succeeding or failing.

To define your market and determine your optimum brand positioning, focus on your constituencies. Below is a list of typical examples. Choose all that are relevant to your business. You may wish to organize them differently. For instance, it won’t make sense for every business to separate out C-suite officers, Middle management and Rank-and-file employees. For some, it will be more logical to combine them all under Staff. Do what seems right in your situation. The important thing is to not leave anyone out. After you consider the entire list, below, think of any other constituencies that are unique to you and may not be on the list.

•  Customers or clients
•  The President, CEO and/or founder
•  C-suite officers
•  Middle management
•  Rank-and-file employees
•  Financial backers like bankers, angel investors, venture capitalists or rich uncles
•  Vendors
•  Board of directors
•  Advisory boards
•  Competitors
•  The press
•  Regulatory agencies
•  And more?

You don’t have to name every vendor, one by one. You just need to define the groups and make sure you don’t miss any. Once you’ve completed that, congratulations! You’re done. (See, I told you it doesn’t take long.) That’s your market. These are the people who think about your brand almost every day and whose perceptions of it shape its future – whether for good or bad.

shipyards-market-nsgm-984x500.jpgOnce your constituencies are identified, it’s important to canvass them to learn what their perceptions actually are. Then look at your messaging. Are you putting a single, clear brand promise out there? One that will resonate positively with every constituency within your market and get them to unify their perceptions? If not, then it’s time to make the required adjustments.

One more note about learning from your constituencies. The president, CEO or founder – especially the founder – is a constituency of one. His perception of the brand is vitally important. He has immeasurable influence over the brand’s future success. His knowledge of the brand is the only one that’s absolutely comprehensive, knowing, after all, where all the bodies are buried. But, for all that encyclopedic knowledge, the CEO/founder’s point of view is also totally isolated. Nobody thinks about a brand the way the founder does. Sometimes, it turns out, the founder’s perception differs significantly from the rest of the market. Which point of view, then, should get the focus?

Sometimes I think the art of branding is the art of remembering. We get so wrapped up in our day-to-day activities. We’re constantly responding to emergencies, putting out fires or adapting to a world of rapid change. When just running the business becomes the goal, in itself, it’s a good bet that the original purpose of the enterprise is already forgotten. A modern business has to make a routine out of taking the time to remember. We need to remember our purpose and remember to define the market we serve. That’s how we build a brand.

Best Branding Reads – Week of December 26, 2016

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Shared Part 1 last week. But you can link to it – and to parts 3 and 4 – from here. 

How to Harness the Power of Your Organisational Brand
Excellent article on how to lead a larger organization to adopt and champion a single brand positioning.

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