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Branding strategy

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Q. What is a branding strategy?

A. A branding strategy is a plan devised in advance with the intent to increase a company’s brand visibility in the consumer market place. By doing this a company increases it’s brand equity and consumer trust. Strategies may include integrating brand into letterhead, envelopes, advertisements, and promotional items.

Q. What are the 7 components that comprise of a comprehensive brand strategy?

A. Your brand’s strategy should be based on company goals. And just like James Bond wouldn’t have gotten too far without a plan, your business will eventually hit a wall without a cohesive brand strategy. Sure, maybe you can finagle a big sale or trick a Russian spy or two, but one day you’ll wake up and have no idea how your company got from A-to-Q — it’s supposed to go from A-to-B, remember? And skipping steps is not how a great company that stands the test of time is built.

Brand strategy is the how, what, when, and to whom you plan on communicating your product or service. Having a clear and concise brand strategy leads to stronger overall brand equity — how people feel about or perceive your product, and how much they are willing to pay for it.

It’s the stuff that feels intangible, but it’s that hard-to-pin-down feeling that separates powerhouse and mediocre brands from one another. So to help you rein in what many marketers consider more of an art and less of a science, we’ve broken down seven components of a comprehensive brand strategy that will help keep your company around for ages. So is your company’s brand strategy smooth like Bond? Or will it leave your company shaken harder than Bond’s martini?

  • Tie Your Brand to Your Business Model

Let’s clear up the biggest misconception about brand strategy right now. Your brand is not your product, your logo, your website, or your name. It’s what your customers perceive about you, and how you make them feel. Chances are you’re not the only company out there selling your product or service. Figure out what your company does best beyond what you sell, and make it a part of your brand strategy.

For example, Apple doesn’t just sell computers and music equipment; it sells well-designed products that are easy to use. Are they the best computers on the market? No. (Well, I guess that depends on what side of the Mac-PC debate you’re on.) But Apple sells a lot of them at twice the price because of the way Apple positions its brand in the market. This goes beyond your product itself — it’s about selling the problem you are solving. 

Don’t claim to solve generic problems; your customers have specific problems. Play the word game. Volvo = safe; Coke = refreshing; Disney = magic; HubSpot = All-in-One. What does your brand equal? You always knew Bond was going to get out of a pickle, but you wanted to see howbecause he did it with resourcefulness and flair. Decide which aspect is the most important about your product or service, and make it a part of every aspect of your brand communication.

  • Be Consistent

Now that you have decided your key brand attributes, make sure it is clear and understood through all your communications — especially inside your own company. Don’t talk about things that don’t relate to or enhance your brand. Added a new photo to Facebook? What does it mean for your company? Does it align with your message, or was it just something funny that would, frankly, confuse your audience? If it doesn’t tie back to your brand’s message, you will have trouble differentiating yourself from competitors.

To reinforce the message, in your company meetings, over coffee or lunch, or just chatting at your desk, encourage the feelings you want your brand to evoke in customers and your employees. When employees start to talk the talk and walk the walk — especially those on the front lines — the messaging is consistently reinforced with leads and customers, too.

You might be thinking, “Volvo doesn’t say safety, safety, safety all the time, though.” But listen to how Volvo describes its cars and how long they last, as well as how it describes features. It all ties back to Volvo’s underlying brand theme of safety, and customers know what they will get when they buy that product.

  • Connect Emotionally

Customers can either think rationally about your product or service, or they can think emotionally about it. How else do you explain the person who paid thousands of dollars more for a Harley rather than buying another cheaper, equally well-made bike? There was an emotional voice in there somewhere, whispering “Buy a Harley…open road…tough.” It’s the way the brand makes you feel. You feel like you belong, like you’re part of a larger group that’s more tight-knit than just a bunch of motorcycle riders. Where do you think HOG came from? Harley Owners Group.

Find a way to connect to your customers on a deeper level. Do you give them peace of mind? Make them feel like part of the family? Do you make life easier? Connect with your customers on this point before and after a sale. Answer their questions and concerns on social media. A little goes a long way. Batman doesn’t have any real superpowers, but whenever that signal lights up the sky, people trust that he will be there — because he always is.

  • Reward and Cultivate

If you already have people that love you, your company, and your brand, don’t just sit there! Reward them for that love. These customers have gone out their way to write about you, to tell their friends about you, and to act as your brand ambassadors. Cultivating loyalty from these people early on will yield more returning customers — and more profit for your business.

Sometimes, just a thank you is all that’s needed, but great brands also tend to give more than that. Write them a personalized letter. Do you have some extra special swag? Sent it to them. Ask them to write a review, and feature them prominently on your website. For example, Porsche reached 1 million Facebook fans quicker than any other automotive brand, so to thank its fans, Porsche made a wraparound for its GT3 Hybrid that included all 1 million names. No doubt the car company also received an extra bit of buzz for it. And showing how happy your current customers are with your product certainly helps your sales organization, too, because it shows the positive end result of becoming a customer.

  • Measure

Just because you come up with a campaign to reinforce your brand strategy, doesn’t mean it will work. There have been plenty of schemes and plans that have ended with our beloved heroes in the clutches of an evil foe. How the Penguin catches anyone, I don’t know, but if it can happen to Batman, it can happen to you. Watch your return on investment as you implement new campaigns to strengthen your brand. If your brand isn’t resonating with enough people through the campaign, you have not given them a good enough reason to love you.

At the start of each new campaign, check your marketing analytics for branded and organic search. If it goes up when you launch your campaign, it means people are hearing about your campaign and becoming interested in your brand. They are searching for you — often by name — because you have provided them with enough compelling content that they want to know more. Just don’t get stuck on one tactic or campaign. By staying agile, you can better measure whether your tactics are aligning well with your overall brand strategy, and if they don’t, you haven’t invested so much that you can’t re-evaluate.

  • Be Flexible

Speaking of agile inbound marketing, in this fast-changing world, marketers must remain flexible to stay relevant. On the plus side, this frees you to be creative with your campaigns. Old Spice generated quite the buzz over the last few years because it took its old brand and made it relatable to a new generation. Old Spice still held true to its brand; they just did it in a different, buzz-worthy way that opened them to a new customer market. I’m still talking about them, and that horse left the barn over a year ago.

So if your old tactics aren’t working anymore, don’t be afraid to change them just because it worked in the past. Take the opportunity to engage your followers in fresh, new ways. Are there some out-of-the-box partnerships your brand can make? Are there attributes about your product you never highlighted? Use those to connect with new customers and remind your old ones why they love you.

  • Watch Out for Competitors a Little

You know that part in the movies, just when you think you’re safe? When Indiana Jones gets through all the booby traps only to discover an army of guards waiting there as he turns around? Your competitors are like that. Just as soon as you think you have them figured out, they throw a curve ball. This will never end. And it can seem disheartening until you realize it is helping you improve your brand in the process.

Take the competition as a challenge to improve your own strategy and create greater value in your overall brand. You are in the same business and going after the same customers, right? So watch what they do. Do some of their tactics succeed? Do some fail? Tailor your tactics based on their experience to better your brand and company. For too many years, American car companies ignored their foreign competitors. But they finally realized they needed to change their model for the changing times and tout a more fuel-efficient agenda to keep pace with foreign competitors.

That being said, don’t let your competitors dictate each and every move. I started this blog post talking about why you’re in business. Sure, you probably sell a similar product or service as many other companies. But you’re in business because your brand is unique. By harping on every move your competitor makes, you lose that differentiation. And soon your customers won’t be able to tell you apart, making it even easier for them to leave you. Keep your eye on your competitors when experimenting with your brand strategy — just not a hawk’s eye.

Q. What are the 12 principles of Branding?

A. The twelve principles of marketing are as follows:

  • Define your brand

It starts with your authenticity, the core purpose, vision, mission, position, values and character.  Focus on what you do best and then communicated your inimitable strengths through consistency.

There are many examples of companies acquiring other brands but only to sell them off later because they don’t fit within the brand and its architecture.

Microsoft acquired Razorfish in 2007 when it bought aQuantive, a digital marketing services company, for about US $6 billion then sold it a few years later for $530 million.

Simply put, Razorfish isn’t a good fit with Microsoft’s brand strategy.

  • Your brand is your business model

Supports and challenge your business model to maximize the potential within your brand. Think of personal brands like Oprah, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart and Richard Branson.

These individuals practically built their business right on top of their personal brand; everything they offer is an extension of their brand promise.

  • Consistency

Consistency in your message is the key to differentiate. Own your position on every reference point for everything that you do. President Obama focuses on one message only during his campaign, CHANGE. BMW has always been known as the “ultimate driving machine.

  • Start from the Inside out

Everyone in your company can tell you what they see, think and feel about your brand.  That’s the story you should bring to the customers as well, drive impact beyond just the walls of marketing.

That’s example how Zappos empowers employees to strengthen consumer perception on its brand.

  • Connect on the emotional level.

A brand is not a name, logo, website, ad campaigns or PR; those are only the tools not the brand.  A brand is a desirable idea manifested in products, services, people, places and experiences.

Starbucks created a third space experience that’s desirable and exclusive so people would want to stay and pay for the overpriced coffee.

Sell people something that satisfies not only their physical needs but their emotional needs and their need to identify themselves to your brand.

  • Empower brand champions

Award those that love your brand to help drive the message, facility activities so they can be part of the process.

If your brand advocate doesn’t tell you what you should or should not be doing, it’s time to evaluate your brand promise.

Go and talk to someone that works at the Apple retail store or an iPhone owner and you’ll see just how passionate they are about Apple.  It’s a lifestyle and a culture.

  • Stay relevant and flexible

A well managed brand is always making adjustments.  Branding is a process, not a race, not an event so expect to constantly tweak your message and refresh your image.

Successful brands don’t cling to the old ways just because they worked in the past; instead, they try to re-invent themselves by being flexible which frees them to be more savvy and creative.

Here is an example: when the economy tanked this year automaker Hyundai came out with an assurance program that lets you return your car if you lose your job with no further financial obligation and no damage to your credit.

  • Align tactics with strategy

Convey the brand message on the most appropriate media platform with specific campaign objectives.

Because consumers are bombarded by commercial messages everyday, they’re also actively blocking out the great majority of them.

Invest your branding efforts on the right platform that communicates to the right channels.

Television may be expensive but it has a broader reach, wider demographics and can produce instant impact.  On the other hand, social media may seem cheap but it takes time, resources and may not give you the desire outcome.

  • Measure the effectiveness

Focus on the ROI (return on investment) is the key to measure the effectiveness of your strategies.

Often times it is how well your organization can be inspired to execute the strategies. It could also be reflected in brand valuation or how your customers react to your product and price adjustments.

Ultimately it should resonate with sales and that means profitability.  But don’t just focus increasing sales when you could be getting a profit boost by reducing overheads and expenses as well.

Give yourself options to test different marketing tactics, make sure they fit your brand authenticity and aligns with your strategy.

  • Cultivate your community

Community is a powerful and effective platform on which to engage customers and createloyalty towards the brand.

In an active community, members feel a need to connect with each other in the context of the brand’s consumption.

We all want to be an insider of something, it excites us to tell people which community we’re part of and what knowledge we posses.

In many ways it’s our ego that prides us to be part of a sports team or a professional group.

Guess what car would members of the Porsche club consider first when it’s time to purchase their next vehicle?

Brand communities allow companies to collaborate with customers in all phases of value creation via crowdsourcing such as product design, pricing strategy, availability, and even how to sell.

  • Keep your enemies closer

Even if you have the most innovative, highly desirable product, you can expect new competitors with a superior value proposition to enter your market down the road.

The market is always big enough for new players to improve what you deliver better, faster, cheaper. Call it hyper competition or innovation economics, competition could be good for you believe it or not.

It challenges you brand to elevate the strategy and deliver more value.

Just look at how the Big Three (automobile manufacturers General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) got crushed in the past decade by competitions from Germany and Japanese.

Not only do their competitors make a better product, they’re more efficient doing it and command a higher brand loyalty.

In 2008, Toyota overtook GM while Honda passed Chrysler in US sales.

  • Practice brand strategy thinking

IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown calls design thinking “a process for creating new choices.

Essentially it means to not just settle for the choices currently available but to think outside the box without being limited.

This concept actually applies to your brand strategy creation process that I called brand strategy thinking.

It’s always easier to execute tactics than coming up with a strategy because it implies the possibility of failure.

It’s much faster to emulate what worked for your competitor than to come up with something original and creative.

But the truth is, that’s not you and it violates the first principle of brand strategy.  Brand strategy thinking is about creating the right experience that involve all the stakeholders to foster a better strategy.

Leverage the ecosystem that includes your employees, partners and customers to help you articulate your brand strategy so they sync together.

The take away: Having a brand strategy will bring clarity and meaning to your brand so you can focus on making, creating, and selling things that people actually care about.

If you could do that, your brand would be unique and memorable on its way to become an esteemed brand.

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