Branding is the keystone to effective marketing
Your brand definition IS your business plan
Effective branding demands hard work but the payoff is enormous. It has been the keystone to effective marketing for generations, never more so than in the digital 21st century.
In my August 29, 2013 blog on the importance of brand identity, I reported that –
- studies show companies are unlikely to achieve a Return on Investment (ROI) without first establishing a brand identity;
- by contrast, “…brands that convey a coherent, positive image over time establish powerful, emotionally-charged loyalties among their customers;” and
- the same principle applies to your personal business success – because to advance professionally you need to clearly convey the unique combination of passion, principle and competence that sets you apart from others.
Synching your brand identity and public image
In assessing your target demographic’s needs and preferences, first consider your current brand Identity. How has it evolved over time with changes in technology, products / services, and competition? How do you see your business now? In the near future? Do your logo, tag lines, overall design aesthetic and written content (including style and even font design) accurately reflect where your business is headed?
What of your brand image? That is, how do others perceive you? What emotion(s) color your company’s public image? Is your public reputation for product and/or service what you want it to be? If not, what can you do to shape and mold that image to attract more business? It should come as no surprise that about 90% of consumers say company reputation is a tiebreaker between equal products.
The difference between branding and marketing
P&G recently formally announced a shift from marketing to brand management. That decision highlights their commitment to actively promoting the strength of their corporate brand in direct coordination with the 24 distinctive brands of their product portfolio.
Successful brands accumulate value with their customers over time. By contrast, a high quality, competitively priced product that lacks a clear brand image can easily fail.
Brand management is critical for companies regardless of size
Branding is just as important for small and mid-sized organizations as it is for corporations like P&G and Coke. However, generating and sustaining customer loyalty is now much more challenging than it was before the digital marketing age. Customers follow brands that inspire their trust and make them feel valued. Their purchases are powerfully influenced when persuaded that a brand’s products and services synch with their values, lifestyle and sense of purpose/meaning. All strong brands tell a carefully crafted story (e.g., P&G’s “Thanks, Mom” campaign).
Branding strategies that most Marketing Managers/CEOs fail to implement:
Continually Search for New Ways to Communicate with Your Customer
Periodically tweak your messaging while safeguarding your brand’s reputation for quality and reliability. In fact, it’s a good rule of thumb to refresh your brand once a year, not every 3-5 years (the old standard. Refresh your brand with straightforward messaging infused with forward thinking that encompasses emerging social change and demographic preferences.
Establish a Consistent, Easily Understood Unique Value Proposition (UVP)
At the same time, be careful to avoid complicating your unique value proposition. JCPenney, for example, changed its UVP in recent years so often that they lost their identity and customer credibility along the way.
Inspire and Educate Your Customers
Your band is a lifestyle platform that needs to inspire and educate. For example, Pampers.com, not only informs parents about the benefits of their product, it also provides extensive information on infant care. This platform has given P&G an opportunity for transparent dialogue with their customers, helping them fine tune their Pampers brand over time.
Innovate and Introduce New Products/Services with Flawless Timing
Do all the required research to ensure the timing of any new product/service is in synch with customer needs and expectations. Once you’ve established a reputation for excellence, you can pre-sell your products by building customer anticipation. Consider Apple’s enviable record and the current buzz surrounding the iPhone6.
Reward Customer Loyalty and Demonstrate Social Responsibility
Share the success of your brand your customers and the public at large! Customers expect companies to demonstrate commitment to helping make the world a better place. As government influence wanes, the private sector is expected to fill in the gap. If you’re a small company with limited resources, at the very least express your appreciation to your customers for their support.
Social media crises are clearly on the rise.
Coordinating your brand’s message across internet platforms
Branding in the Internet Age no longer follows the dynamic of one-way business to customer marketing the way it did in the 20th century. The brands that advertised the most used to win. In some cases, the positive effects of that old strategy have been long-lasting, e.g., Coke. By contrast, in our now well-established digital media culture, customers provide continual feedback about their experience with products and services – the tenor of which either strengthens or undermines a brand’s credibility and ROI.
User experience design (UX / UXD / EUD) defines digital media
UX is the process of building customer satisfaction and brand loyalty by improving all aspects of the user interface with a product or service. This encompasses a website’s design, written content, navigation, ease of purchasing process, and product information. All supporting social media need to stay on message. This includes across-the-board consistency of written content as well as simple design elements – down to details like font style and page format parameters.
Some consumer product brands will adopt an informal, even humorous tone that slyly communicates competitive dominance. Financial and legal enterprises, by comparison, need to create a more conservative, yet friendly message focusing on superior customer service. Finally, those in the non-profit sector, or who represent a business that has had bad press, as with BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster – may want to pitch their dedication to broader community/social causes.
Essential branding strategies
To ensure positive outcomes, everyone on your staff needs to understand and support your brand’s underpinning values and style. Again, create a ‘voice’ that clearly and consistently communicates who you are across all media, ranging from how your employees answer the phones to incorporating your logo onto all your email and stationery.
Ask yourself the following:
- What independent social platforms are your customers using? What, specifically, are they saying about your brand, products, and service? First check standard customer platforms like FB, Twitter, and Instagram. Don’t neglect less widely known sites like Medium, Chirpify, and Snapchat. Solicit feedback, share helpful information and discounts / special deals – or anything else that might motivate your target demographic to consider doing business with you.
- Are there influential bloggers or consumer advocates that you might benefit from reaching out to? Why? Brands need a social media strategy for un-owned and earned channels, not just social channels over which your company has control (e.g., your website).
- How quickly can you create and post brand-related content? Social media crises are clearly on the rise. Do you have processes in place to identify, acknowledge and counter negative events/comments on social media – including routine critical customer feedback?
Above all, research and consistently affirm your customers’ social identity and lifestyle. With ‘values-based’ brand messaging, you can then equate your products/services with those shared interests. This, in turn, can forge the kind of long-term customer loyalty that helps you build your long-term market share.