My background as an artist and graphic designer led me to my entire approach to brand strategy. I work with my branding clients the way I do because my background and experience brought me to my unique methodology. I see brands as the shared relationship between marketable assets and their markets. Brand strategy is the art and science of defining and managing that shared relationship for growth and profit. But then I wondered, what is the difference between that and an overall business strategy? So I set out to learn all about business strategy. I fired up the ol’ Google machine and started clicking and reading. It turns out a lot has been written on the subject of business strategy – apparently, all by people who have never talked to one another. I can’t exactly say that the articles I read on the subject often contradicted each other. But they all put emphasis on different things and, often, even omitted different things. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to attempt to describe how brand strategy fits into an overall business strategy. But, readers, please be aware. I’m going to use a definition of business strategy that makes sense to me but it may not be the one that makes the most sense to you. But, hopefully, you’ll see how brand strategy fits into your definition as well.
Remember this guy? Jared Fogle. He became a celebrity for losing more than 200 pounds by eating nothing but Subway sandwiches – for a year, I think. Subway made him a spokesperson for the brand and he appeared in ads that ran from 2000 to 2015. The ads were very successful and Subway only ended their association with Fogle when he was indicted for sexual offenses against minors. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars. I’m thinking of Jared Fogle today because of a conversation I recently had with an attorney who represents several cannabis businesses. Cannabis is a commodity, as you know. So all growers are looking for ways to differentiate their crops and tell a compelling story. They need to build brands. The idea is to amass markets, of course, but also to attract the fat-cat buyers – big tobacco and big liquor – who are eating up the sector. A stronger brand means a higher sell price. According to this attorney, every grower’s dream is to attract a celebrity spokesperson as a shortcut to brand stardom and a massive exit package. But they should tread very carefully when making such a move. In a flash, Subway’s association with Fogle turned from profitable to toxic. There is a right way and a wrong way to use celebrity endorsers.
Every business has a brand whether it wants one or not. Every business has a relationship to its market and that relationship is its brand. It’s partly a recognition thing. What does the business look like? What does it sound like? It’s partly a reputation thing. What is it known for? What does it stand for? It’s even partly a legal thing. What trademarks or copyrights does it own? Today, we think of it as a total experience thing. How does the market experience this business? How do the two parties relate to one another? How do people feel about this business? Most small- and middle-market business owners put very little time into thinking about their brand. They commission a logo design, launch a website and leave it at that. They let their brand grow wild from there without ever considering what it might grow into. Shrewd business owners, however, create a strategies for their brands. They decide how they want people to experience their business and they take steps to ensure that they do. They shape their relationship with the market and guide their business to a positioning that affords competitive advantage. The market leaders in every category do this. In large part, that’s why they became market leaders.
While at breakfast with some new friends this past week, I happened to once again relay the tale of the six blind men of Hindustan, a famous Indian folk tale. In it, six blind men use their sense of touch to “see” an elephant. I was using the story to illustrate how different people experience brands in different ways and how it’s important to craft brand strategies that will address all those points of view. One of the people at the table very kindly complimented me on the metaphor. And that inspired me to notice that it’s been two and half years since we discussed brand constituencies in this blog. Time to rectify that now. Our tale begins in ancient India …
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