Take Brand Strategy Beyond Marketing to Create a Sustainable Competitive Advantage
There was a time when all it took to be successful was a quality product or service. Not anymore. A seemingly endless array of quality options makes it difficult for anyone to choose. Often, the deciding factor has nothing to do with the product or service at all, but rather how someone feels about it.
It's estimated that 90% of all purchasing decisions are made subconsciously. But appealing to the emotions of today's savvy buyers is no small feat.
Your brand is your secret weapon.
What is a Brand?
Despite 'brand' being one of the most misused and abused words in marketing, it's one of your most valuable business assets, and its importance cannot be overlooked. It's not just a part of your marketing plan – it's the foundation of your business.
Many people use the term "brand" interchangeably with "design," but the visual identity behind a Brand is just one component. A brand actually isn't any 'one' thing at all.
Seth Godin sums it up nicely:
"A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer's decision to choose one product or service over another."
Simply put, your brand is how your business is perceived.
Why is Brand Development Important?
Brand development is the process of learning about and promoting unique traits. In highly competitive industries, it's often the brand itself – not the product or service – that creates differentiation.
When brands are firing on all cylinders, they are rewarded with customer loyalty, a distinct competitive advantage, and the ability to charge higher prices. Brand-oriented businesses also enjoy:
Trust within the marketplace
Stronger company culture
Support for marketing & promotional efforts
Increased business value
Brand Truth: Your brand is an asset with strategic value.
It doesn't matter if your buyer is another business, an individual consumer, voter, donor, or fan– if they don't pay a premium, make a selection, or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that buyer.
"Strong brands are perceived to deliver more value to customers" (Aaker, 1997)
What is Brand Strategy?
Brand strategy affects all areas of a business – not just marketing. It brings operations, culture, and marketing together in one cohesive approach aimed at creating sustainable competitive advantage. It is well-researched and includes specific goals.
Brand strategy is the most vital marketing capability in 2020, overtaking analytics (Gartner 2020 CMO Spend Survey)
Regardless of whether you're a solopreneur or a large corporate employer, a defined plan to shape perceptions and grow your brand is not a 'nice-to-have,' it's essential. Many forgo investing resources in brand-focused strategy because they aren't convinced it will result in immediate financial rewards—others may not understand the mechanism that links brand development efforts to performance.
Brand Strategy Best Practices
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to brand development. Strategies can vary based on the industry, size, and needs of a business. While large companies may focus heavily on research and getting input from inside and outside the organization, startups often start with a basic strategy that they can refine over time. In both cases, the brand strategy becomes the framework that guides all business decisions.
What Should a Brand Strategy Include?
At a minimum, a brand strategy should include:
A detailed view of the competitive landscape and how your business fits in
Your mission, vision, and values and how you use them as a framework to make on-brand decisions
Summaries of your ideal clients and how you're going to reach them
Documented guidelines for the words and art you use to communicate your message with clarity and consistency
A plan to create positive experiences and memories of your brand
When is The Best Time to Build a Brand Strategy?
In a perfect world, a brand strategy would be developed in tandem with the business strategy. Unfortunately, brand development is often not addressed until marketing challenges arise.
But rest assured, it's never too late.
Do I Need to Revisit My Brand Strategy?
Making strategic, intentional choices about what your brand is (and isn't) is not easy. It might be a good idea to consider or revisit your strategy, if:
You're launching a new business
You've experienced exponential growth
You're entering new markets
Business is slowing down
You aren't attracting and retaining talent
You feel 'out-of-touch'
There have been recent economic, social, or technology shifts
There is increased competition
Your 'look' is dated
Your values or goals have changed
Your clientele has evolved
Brand work takes know-how, time, and the ability to see without bias. Done well, it helps forge a clear purpose, vision, personality, and the systems to manage your relationships. Done poorly or ignored altogether, it can harm your image and your bottom line.
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