Return on investment. Buy low, sell high! We all know the basic objective of business. Cover your costs, earn a profit and generate wealth. And repeat. It sounds so simple and yet thousands of businesses flounder and die every year. How do businesses fail? There are too many ways to count. But some fail because they focus solely on making money and forget they exist to serve a purpose – a purpose to the market. Some forget, or never realized in the first place, that they have a brand promise to keep. The market expects them to deliver on it and, if they don’t, the market will not reward them with repeat business. That’s a recipe for tepid sales or, at worst, a going-out-of-business sale. But how does a business, even one that has formalized its brand strategy, know when it’s staying on-brand? How can it keep from drifting into territories that will dilute its relationship with the market? With the ROI/ROBP grid. That’s how.
Every company has a brand. B2C companies tend to take their brands seriously. They know how important it is for them to establish a rapport with consumers. They know their customers buy based on emotional factors. So they take care to wrap their messaging in the right kind of emotional triggers, using the right colors, fonts, imagery, etc. that will evoke the desired response from their target market. B2B businesses, on the other had, are notorious for ignoring their brands soon after giving birth to them. I’ve heard all the arguments. “We don’t need branding because we only have 25 potential customers and we know them all personally.” “Our customers set up purchasing committees to take all emotional connection out of the procurement process.” “Our customers buy on specs and price alone; they won’t respond to a fancy logo.” “Our products don’t sit on store shelves. We don’t need branding.” There are hundreds of excuses like this. And they’re all horse crap. If anything, the successful branding practices that B2C businesses use so successfully are even more effective when imported into the B2B world. That’s now more true than ever and it’s trending ever more rapidly in that direction. Because today, all businesses are operating in more and more of a B2H – business-to-human – world. Let’s take a closer look at that.
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.
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