Being heard amid the roar of your competitor’s voices is a daunting task in today’s crowded marketplace. We find this to be shockingly true each time we read a magazine, watch the television, or surf the web. As a result, businesses are now seeking new and more effective ways of increasing brand awareness and more importantly, create brand loyalty. One of the most important tasks involved in ensuring a brand’s success, is to develop an effective branding strategy. (article continued below ...) To successfully position your brand above your competitor’s continuing fight for your customers, you must develop a brand proposition that when conveyed in marketing and advertising campaigns, will provide an attractive, unique, and relevant message to current and potential customers. In addition, this proposition must be realized and consistently echoed by senior executives, customer support, R&D teams, marketing staff, sales staff, and strategic partners. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of an effective brand development process and is not meant to be comprehensive or represent strategic brand development in its entirety.
Why is Successful Branding So Important Today?
Though brand development is by no means a new idea, today consumers have more access to information and more choices than ever before. The result is higher expectations, and the brand’s message must captivate the consumer immediately. Companies seeking to experience long-term success will have to create the most compelling, relevant, and consistent brand experiences for their customers. Remember: “You can’t escape your brand. Either you make the customer experience, or it gets made without you.” Prophet Corp. In order to successfully develop the most effective branding strategy, a firm understanding of what a brand is must first be answered.
The Brand Is Everything
Scott Bedbury is a leading branding consultant that has worked closely with companies like Nike and Starbucks, has written a book titled, “A Brand New World”, published by Viking Press. In it he gives excellent thorough definition of what a brand is. “A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off-strategy. If is defined by your best product as well as your worst product. It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that have somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee-the shining star in the company who can do no wrong-as well as the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet. Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such you can't entirely control a brand. At best; you only guide and influence it.”
The Brand’s Creed
The development of a branding strategy must begin with identifying the brand’s (the business’) core values. These are qualities which an organization deems most important. For instance, an organization or business may identify its core values to include: honesty, integrity, excellent communication, and client satisfaction. Though these values are usually never revealed to the public, they are evident in every aspect of the organizations’ business routine, from customer service, to direct marketing, to website design, to teleconferences, to the treatment of its employees and strategic partners. This conveys a consistent perception to the target audience in every medium of communication that is used. Consideration for these values should not be taken lightly for these values represent the “creed” for the business and become the cornerstone for developing the brand’s proposition. And though the brand’s proposition may change from time to time, the brand’s core values should never change.
Great Strategy Begins with Great Research
Once the brand’s core values have been identified, the road towards effective brand proposition development begins. To ensure a successful outcome, comprehensive and objective research involving at the minimum, the brand’s strengths and weaknesses, the target audience, and the competition will be conducted. If the resources are available, research should also involve extensive observation into the brand’s industry, its history, the current market picture, and potential growth and direction.
The Target Audience Holds the Keys to Your Brand’s Success
If I had to choose only one area of research to focus my efforts on, it would be to identify first who the target audience is and second, what their needs and desires are. This information should be as comprehensive and exact as possible. Applicable factors such as; age, gender, income, and shopping habits (online and off) are good places to start. Of course if your target audience is another business, your research will involve different factors. Truly understanding your target audience, in addition to having a realistic assessment of what your product offers, is invaluable in assisting you in the development of a successful brand proposition. This information will also provide insight into how to convey this message in an engaging, relevant, and consistent manner. Some questions to consider during this process are: who is your target audience (be specific & use more than one example if applicable), what does the target audience currently need and desire? What does your competitor currently offer? How does your products/services fulfill this need better? What needs or want may be fulfilled by your product or service that isn't currently being offered to them? If your competitor offers a similar product/service, how is yours better? Do your advertising campaigns provide a more engaging, unique, and consistent message than those of your competitors?
Developing a Brand Statement (Brand Proposition)
From the research, development of the brand statement, often referred to as a brand proposition, commences. The brand statement is a promise. It states that if you use our services / products, we promise that this or that will occur, whether it is the satisfaction from wearing well designed clothing, to the comfort of choosing the services of particular financial planner. The brand proposition must be clearly understood, engaging, presented in the right context for relevancy, and offer a solution to the target audience’s current wants and needs. “Dude Your Getting a …..” An example of effective brand propositioning can be found in a well known computer company’s line of television commercials. The commercials successfully convey the brand's statement that goes something like this; if you buy our PC’s, we'll customize the computer to fit all your needs, you'll have access to our award winning customer service, you’ll have less hassle to worry about, and best of all, you'll be cool. The brand’s promise is easy to understand, engaging, unique, relevant (to the target audience), and consistent.
A Promise Is a Promise
Of course all of these promises are just that, promises. If the company’s products, services, and customer support didn't support these promises, the initial surge of new customers would quickly come to a screeching halt and the brand would fade into obscurity along with the company. Providing a Brand Proposition that is engaging, is easily understood, and offers an emotionally positive solution to needs and desires only serves to enhance the current customers’ perception of the brand and will get new customers to look your way. Following through with an excellent product/service and customer support will put an indelible mark in the memory of your existing customers; one that will create brand loyalty through good and bad times; a sure sign of a brand’s strength.
Deliver the Unexpected
When developing a brand proposition, never let your brand’s promise be one that is already expected; this is a sure way to NOT stand out from your competitors. Advertising efforts that utilize adjectives like “good”, or “nice” are sure to fail when seeking to be both engaging and unique. How many times while driving, have you seen restaurant or dry cleaning signs, that announce “good Chinese food”, or “good dry cleaning service”? The answer is probably more times than you can count. These businesses are able to survive because they are often the only game in town. But for businesses and organizations that are competing for a larger market, this type of advertising is sure way toward obscurity. Remember, you must convey an engaging, unique, relevant, and consistent message to your target audience. Consumers already expect “good service” from you. This isn’t an engaging message nor is it unique. This message doesn’t lead towards a strong positive emotional relationship.
Winning their Hearts and Minds
An important aspect of brand development is to create a positive emotional attachment to the brand which creates a response in its audience without the audience seeing the product or directly experiencing the service. Again from Bedbury’s book; “think Godiva chocolates for a moment: the very name, perhaps even the logo, conjures up an image of sinful indulgence. Yes, it represents chocolate or ice cream, but it is the feeling and the anticipation of that feeling that the brand conveys most compellingly.” Positive emotional bonding comes from a mutually beneficial relationship built on intrigue, trust, understanding, and support. These are qualities that often separate colleagues from friends, and friends from family. Build your brand promise on the basis that your product will deliver positive, relevant, and unique emotional qualities. And of course these qualities will be dictated by the current needs and desires of your target audience. This may be the most difficult and often overlooked aspect of successful brand development. This is also where a lack of comprehensive research into identifying the target audience’s needs and desires can either make or break an attempt at developing a positive emotional attachment between the brand and its audience. If not done effectively, a seemingly insurmountable communication gap will develop between the internal brand perception and the audience’s actual perception. Your brand proposition should convey a message that is:
1 Aligned with the brand’s core values
2 Clear, Engaging, Unique, and Relevant to your target audience
3 Able to incorporate an element of positive emotional attachment that is better than just "good”
4 Echoed within your business, internally and externally
5 Consistent across multiple marketing and advertising mediums (print, online presence, etc)
6 Continually reinforced within the organization so that your employees consistently deliver what is promised
7 Echoed by strategic partners
8 Able to adapt to a changing marketplace