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Strategy – Charting a Course to Brand Performance

September 12, 2016

Two_ships.jpgWhat is a brand strategy, really? When one does the research and analysis required, and, of course, writes the final report, one is actually making a business case for why a product, service or company should be positioned in a particular way, vis-à-vis the competition. This is an important first step in any branding or rebranding effort.

First of all, it’s a vital tool to get buy-in from the organization’s senior management. With a written brand strategy, one can assure nervous execs that the branding initiative they’re funding will have some basis in fact. It can be made evident that this is not a change-for-the-sake-of-change situation. Any changes will be driven by actual needs, as indicated by market feedback, and not by someone’s whim or individual need to make a mark. Secondly, when the brand strategy is fully articulated, it serves as a guide for all the creative work that is to follow. All the names, logos, websites, etc. can be designed to be integrated with one another and “on-brand”, presenting a unified, consistent face of the business. The products of all the creative will actually work for the business and not be mere decoration.

A brand strategy also spotlights exactly who are the customers that you can serve better than anyone else in the competitive landscape. Once you know who and where they are – let’s call them your perfect customers – you can also see the path to best reach them. Better yet, they can now see how to get to you.

Once a brand strategy is adopted, your perfect customers see who you are, why you’re valuable to them and how to reach you. Pretty ideal scenario, wouldn’t you say? So what goes into a brand strategy?

You have to carefully examine four aspects of your business

  • Your products and services
  • Your customers’ experiences
  • Your competitive environment
  • Your internal values

Whatever market you’re serving, you’re trying to meet the demands of a certain customer base. But are you delivering exactly what that base wants, and in the way that they want it? Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” But, of course, when he looked deeper, he could see what his market really wanted was more speed. He had a solution for that. A strong brand strategy has to carefully examine the customers’ worlds, identify their true pain points and measure how well the organization’s offerings alleviate them. Can you improve the solutions you offer the market? Can you innovate a newer, better solution?

Customer experience has always been a key ingredient in establishing a strong bond with a market. But, these days, it is ever more crucial. And, soon, the way your customers experience your business on mobile platforms will be the most important of all. Recent research from Sirius Decisions reveals that, even in the B2B world, 80% of customers base their buying decisions on customer experience, not on price. So it’s vital that the customers’ journey is optimized at every touchpoint, starting from when they first start searching online for a solution to their need – before you even know they exist. At every point along their way, they should encounter an organization that is consistent, helpful and ready to add value.

Your relationship with your market does not exist in a vacuum. Competitors, direct and indirect, are always hustling to push you aside. A strong brand strategy examines how your competitors are positioning themselves. What differentiators do they claim? What are their weaknesses?What open territory are they leaving for you to exploit?

One_ship.jpgEvery business has a code of ethics, either written or unwritten. And that code reflects the internal values of the business. Markets have values too and it’s important for the businesses that serve them to stay in alignment with them. A recent example is Sea World’s decision to end their practice of keeping orcas in captivity. For decades, Sea World’s market was happy to attend live circus acts featuring performing orcas. But, as the customers’ values shifted, Sea World had to shift along with them. A strong brand strategy ensures the business and the market share the same set of values.

In most cases, all of the above can be determined by qualitative research. It’s simply a matter of asking the kinds of questions that will reveal useful insights. You can’t be satisfied with the “faster horses” answer. You have to get under the skin of your market and find out what all of its constituencies – customers, employees, vendors, etc., everyone whose perception of your company is important to its future – hold to be true. That’s actionable intelligence.

When armed with all the facts, you’re ready to do some careful analysis and build your brand platform. Typical planks in the platform: Your purpose statement, your mission statement, your positioning statement (including your unique, differentiating brand promise), your value proposition, etc. When all this is incorporated into a formal brand strategy, it’s pretty remarkable how the next steps in the marketing process become clear and obvious.

When asked to describe, in one word, the most valuable take-away our clients gained from working with Boardwalk, the word most often cited was “Clarity”. Because, once that brand strategy is finalized, it’s as if a light switches on and a direct path to success is illuminated.

Best Branding Reads – Week of September 12, 2016

Three Things A Strong Brand Positioning Must Do
A perfect companion piece to this week’s blog post on brand strategy.

The Best Salespeople Do What the Best Brands Do
Your brand sells for you before your sales people ever meet your customer.

How to Reinvent Your Brand
Michael M. was a Boardwalk client when he was at Disney Synergy. Great job at Flex, Michael!

Brandspeak: The Importance of Using Emotion in B2B Branding
At the end of the day, in commerce, someone has to sell something to somebody. And all sales are driven by emotion.

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Any of these designs seem right for gender-neutral loos?

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I always thought Dell’s skewed E represented a floppy disk. So I’m surprised they kept it.

UPS Drives Global Growth Through Expansion, Logistics and Sustainability
UPS shows how a mature brand can keep innovating, improving.

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