This may sound obvious but how people feel about your company significantly impacts how much they’ll spend on, or refer your products or services.
If you want customers or prospective customers to feel positively inclined towards your brand, or indeed to become enthusiastic brand advocates, then you need a really solid and consistently applied brand strategy to make it happen.
Ryanair and their change in brand strategy with a ‘customer charm offensive’ initiated earlier this year is a great case in point. Michael O’Leary, CEO of Europe’s largest airline Ryanair, infamously said “If I’d known that being nice to customers was going to be so good for my business I would have done it years ago.”
An effective brand strategy is a blend of science and art that engages customers, meets their needs, solves their problems and strengthens brand affinity by making them feel good about choosing your brand. In a nutshell it’s the action plan for putting your brand to work effectively in the market place to generate a positive return.
When developing and executing your brand strategy it must be centred around your core brand vision, values, promise, personality, story and customer brand experience. You need to ensure you’re clearly engaging with your audience congruent with what your brand stands for, so that it authentically resonates with them. Consequently, if what you do and say is true and believable while meeting the needs of your customers, solving their problems and enhancing their lives, your customers will increasingly value everything that makes your brand worthwhile.
Conversely it’s also important to note that haphazard or inconsistent brand activity can sabotage the context of what your brand is all about. To use industry jargon, ‘off brand’ activity can in fact dilute or undermine the credibility and impact of your brand, together with your connection and engagement with your primary audience and the perceived value and benefits your brand offers from a customer perspective — all of which can ultimately undermine your brand’s profitability.
Getting Started with Your Brand Strategy
Assuming you haven’t inadvertently done any significant brand damage, through engaging in branding activities without a well thought out brand strategy, you can get back on track and put your brand to work to best effect.
However it does takes time and thought to build a strong brand strategy that your ideal customers are attracted to and can identify with, and most importantly, believe in. It’s also really important to identify what success means i.e. your desired outcomes and goals, and measure what’s working best to achieve those results. This is a key part of brand strategy development and an area we delve into with considerable depth when working with our clients before supporting them in executing it consistently.
The following are seven primary factors that can help you develop a strong brand strategy. Each piece works together to create the engine that supports your brand’s external and internal culture and perceptions. Like engines, brand strategies need regular maintenance to keep them running smoothly and achieving the required results and should be reviewed on a regular basis. Consider this your brand strategy tune-up.
1. Your Brand Strategy Must Align with Your Products or Services Offered
A brand is much more than a single product or a clever logo. Remember your brand logo is just your visual identifier, not your brand! However they must all work congruently together. Your company possibly evolved around one product initially or a set of similar products, so it’s typically worth including this heritage in your brand messaging, assuming it’s still relevant and a valuable part of your brand equity.
Most importantly your brand strategy needs to be customer centric – focussed around how you can add perceived value for your customers, how your brand more than meets their needs and helps your customers overcome their challenges and so forth. It needs to have a well developed and distinctive brand personality that engages your target customers, highlights your products or services offered and enhances your customers’ interactions with your brand.
Your brand profile or personality is developed using a system like our bespoke Personality Profile Performer™ System. Customers will be confused and wary if your brand attitude, marketing and messaging don’t feel right and consistent with how your brand expresses itself.
Occasionally we see marketing strategies that break away from what the brand is all about, expressing themselves inappropriately or in a way which isn’t reflective of the brands’ true personality or feel. These strategies typically perform poorly and at best, do little to help grow the brand, or worse still can actually damage the brand so are best avoided.
Apple is one of the most well-known examples of how a brand has built massive success on delivering, not only leading edge products technically but by making their brand strategy totally customer centric — making customer interaction and how the brand enhances their customers lives integral to their products and business models.
When someone talks about Apple, they typically do so in an emotive way, associating the brand with how easy and intuitive it is to use and how it enhances various aspects of their lives. Unless someone has geeky inclinations, you’ll rarely get a customer talking about their love of the brand in technical specification terms!
Regardless of the product or model purchased, be it Apple Watches, iPhones, iPads or MacBooks the overall brand experience and strategy is consistent across all of its various product lines. Apple’s products are elegantly designed and intuitive, their brand strategy reflects these attributes and amplifies their message in a way which is also elegant, and emotionally engaging, and which most importantly enables the brand to reach beyond any single device.
Coca-Cola does the same thing with a brand strategy which is built on triggering and associating with moments of “happiness”. It’s a brand that’s more about celebrating all the different moments of happiness in our lives and bringing people together, than selling sugary soft drinks to satisfy a thirst. Heightened emotion — happiness in this case — is what makes it memorable and compelling. That’s why its adverts work even when there’s no product shown.
For small brands, it’s vital to align branding and products. Orabrush, a tongue cleaner, is a great example of how even startups can capitalize in this space.
Orabrush has been able to create a personable brand that highlights very personal, somewhat wince-inducing experiences, around a product that is extremely personal, through social proof.
They’ve built a brand from very humble beginnings to worldwide distribution using YouTube videos exclusively, most of which is user generated. To build the brand, Orabrush gave away a first product for free and invited people to try it out and post their response on YouTube.
Image via www.orabrush.com
This very small company with just one product, until recently, has more online viewers than P&G, Crest and every other product in the oral healthcare sector combined!
2. Make a Keep Your Brand Promises
Every successful business makes promises and commitments to its customers. These are at the heart of your brand strategy because keeping promises, and indeed exceeding them, is what keeps customers coming back.
Orabrush’s brand promise is to get rid of the bacteria and other unsavoury coatings on your tongue that are responsible for 90% of bad breath. The promise is entirely personal and requires trust for people to believe it. That makes the brand strategy of social proof through public endorsements especially effective.
By using ordinary people that the audience trusts to pitch their product, Orabrush demonstrates a commitment and delivery of its promise building trust before many customers even try it for the first time.
The important part of branding around your commitment is to be consistent in the execution. Make a promise and deliver every time; and if you can’t, apologize quickly so customers can see you’re human and working hard to fix things fast.
Keeping your commitments to everyone, not just the final customer, is important. The restaurant chain Arby’s has a deal with Pepsi to feature its soft drinks in at least two Arby’s commercials each year. Last year it forgot and almost failed to live up to the deal. Campaigns were already made, so the brand needed a new commercial.
Its mea culpa was public and heavily touted Pepsi – definitely worth the 30-second watching – and did great things for the brand. The commercial had high sharing volumes on social media, got a lot of press coverage and the majority of comments on news stories were positive.
Taking responsibility builds trust and improving trust enhances bottom lines. We’ve seen clients achieve stronger results when their brand promise is integral to their brand strategy and consistently delivered, and when the occasional glitch has occurred, being willing to own up to their mistakes quickly.
3. Leverage Public Relations as Part of Your Brand Strategy
If you choose to use public relations within your brand strategy then it too must also be built on, and congruent with your overall brand strategy. Done well, it can help you amplify, build and leverage your company’s brand reputation and establish the perceived market leadership you need to build or maintain that image.
A good PR strategy helps your brand tell its story relevantly, coupled with highlighting its industry, social and public successes. It can be especially effective when you don’t have a large advertising or media budget but it must be executed effectively and consistently to get the desired results.
4. Online Marketing
Brand strategies, large and small, can include a range of channels to show your primary audience exactly who you are, what you stand for and what you offer in a way that’s most relevant to your customers. Most effective brand strategies today must include digital in the mix. These elements need to be fully integrated, with a look and feel that is consistent throughout your communications and appropriate to where your customers interact most. A professional services brand might include their primary focus on their blog, YouTube and Linkedin while an FMCG brand might favour Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube.
Brands with a clearly defined and articulated mission and purpose — communicated consistently in both their offline and online dialogues — develop much stronger brand identities, all of which results in enhanced brand perceptions and most importantly increased profitability.
A good online brand strategy team can also help you stay current with what’s happening in your industry by tracking digital information e.g. what the competition is up to and where customers see gaps in service. Attentive listening can help you identifying weaknesses in a competitor’s offer and then use it as an opportunity to present your brand as the solution that meets your customer’s needs. It can also help you develop new product solutions driven by what your customers are specifically requesting or looking for.
From 2006 to 2009, Apple ran a solid campaign against Windows with 66 different “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” TV spots. Adverts were built specifically around the complaints in the PC space and presented Apple as the alternative choice with a solution that solved all those issues.
Apple had a strong team that was listening to people, conducting interviews and cataloging competitor problems. Consequently Apple’s commercials were built around how they solved the problems identified in the competitor brand.
It was all done with a humorous touch, which also helped increase Apple’s customer rapport, creating an overall brand perceived to be reliable and intuitively easy to use. It was a strong campaign that led to growth throughout its run. The adverts were shown on TV as well as on YouTube, enabling them to be accessed and shared across a wide variety of social media sites and channels.
One of the most important reasons for having an integrated offline and online strategy is that some of your customers want to shop in person and others want to shop online. Lines between the on and offline worlds are becoming more and more blurred so your brand strategy needs to consider meeting the needs of your customer through a fully integrated solution for both.
5. Make Customer Recognition Part of Your DNA
The success of a company is built on many different people and customers. Strong branding strategies incorporate recognition of people both within the business and loyal customers externally because it makes a business more productive and profitable. It’s also conducive to better company morale, stronger brand culture and enhanced customer relations.
Recognition enables your customers to feel like they’re part of your brand; it makes you more human, trustworthy and engaging.
Discounter T.J. Maxx is a good example of using customer recognition to build brand engagement. It built its recent brand strategy around how their core customer thinks and shops. Adverts highlight its customers as fashion-forward and able to pull off stunning looks, while still saving money. The branding started with adverts and its “Maxxinista” push, which it promoted on social networks.
It really stepped up its game when it began sharing all of the shopping hauls customers were posting online, providing instant recognition to loyal customers. The retweet and share efforts were so successful that it built an entire site dedicated to recognizing its shoppers.
6. Track What You Do
It’s a mistake to leave decisions about metrics and analytics till after a campaign has begun. You need to know what you’re aiming for with your brand strategy to achieve the required outcomes or evaluate what success looks like. Brand owners who evaluate their objectives and set clear goals early on in their brand strategy process, and determine how to track those targets achieve far more than those with a less structured approach.
Search is also another way to start the process. Start tracking organic and branded searches before a campaign and continue through the full cycle. If you record an increase after the campaign starts, you’re building attention. If you maintain that growth momentum through the end of your campaign, you’re building a broader recognition and fan base.
Metrics also let you know when the message isn’t working. So if your campaign isn’t showing the desired increase in activity or you’re not improving how long people spend on your site, it’s probably time to change gears.
7. Be Rigidly Flexible
The final part of a high performing brand strategy is to establish limits and boundaries. You have core brand values and a brand promise, which are sacrosanct but sometimes your strategy and execution may have to adapt to meet the changing needs of your market or your customers.
A brand needs to have a strong brand personality, developed through brand profiling and positioning, with highly recognizable characteristics and unique ways of expressing itself so that your brand strategy has a clear road map from which to base its communications. Without this your brand strategy lacks much needed strategic direction and coherency. When you develop your brand profile using a system like the Personality Profile Performer™ you establish the do’s and don’ts of your brands’ behaviours and characteristics, all of which are used to underpin your brand strategy.
Define and articulate this solid centre to your brand and also establish what parts of your brand identity can be flexible or negotiable and what parts must never be compromised, otherwise you’ll lose your way and your brand will get lost in the competing noise.
If you shift too often, your customers may get confused and won’t necessarily trust you, and that can undermine profitability too. On the other hand, if you’re too rigid you can lose your edge and get left behind as trends and markets change. The best brand strategies work with well-defined boundaries of what can and what can’t change. It all requires a delicate balance and brand profiling provides that much needed strategic direction to hit the magic tipping point for your success.
Change doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Clearly define where you’re willing to compromise and your branding team will have a clear roadmap to keep your brand on track and your brand’s image safe. Brand strategies that anticipate market changes or roadblocks can adapt without losing their core identity.
Like all successful brands, many of our clients have had to evolve their brand strategy and image over the years, and the greatest successes come when everyone understands and can articulate their core brand DNA. This then empowers them to make choices around where their brand can be evolved to move forward strategically and meet the needs of a constantly moving market place. The secret lies in having a well developed brand strategy and then also being able to evaluate when, where and how to best adapt to stay relevant — to be the brand leader within your niche in your market sector.
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So, what do you think?
• Does your branding strategy congruently reflect your products and personnel?
• Are your customers being recognized and rewarded? Could a rebranding strategy which includes recognition increase your customer engagement levels?
• Do you conduct brand audits of your campaigns to ensure they’re achieving the results you want?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!