June 27, 2019

Marketing need a boost? Step back and nail your brand first.

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When it comes to marketing, don’t put the cart before the horse. If you lack a strong brand strategy, your marketing efforts will suffer, no matter how much time and resources you invest. So how do you create a brand that essentially markets itself? While it’s not easy, it can be done.

Research Matters
To build an authentic, genuine brand, you need to get to know your customer first. You can accomplish this through a variety of market research techniques like surveys, interviews, questionnaires, or even just simple observations. While gaining a clear understanding of your customers is paramount, it’s also important to research your competition to get a sense of why your customers may interact with competing brands. At the end of the day, your main objective is to uncover the truth. Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they, your customers, say it is.

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon

While you may claim your brand is “innovative and modern”, if your customers don’t agree, then it’s nothing more than fluffy marketing statements. Inauthentic brands rarely flourish. Your brand needs to be real and the only way to be real is to uncover the truth about how your customers really feel, on an emotional level.

Marketing vs. Branding
Branding is not marketing. Marketing is not branding. Your brand is your personality, message, and promise. Marketing consists of a variety of tactics to communicate your brand to your target audience. If you don’t have a solid, authentic brand, then you lack a strong base from which to market your products and services.

While you can set the tone and get the ball rolling, it is your customers that will ultimately define your brand. Even devoid of any intentional branding or marketing efforts, your customers have an opinion of your organization. Therefore, it’s important that you consistently deliver on your brand promise to help guide the direction of your brand within the minds of your customers. If you do nothing, your customers will create your brand for you, and you many not be pleased with the results.

To create an effective brand promise, you need to discover what makes you truly unique and different from your competitors. A brand promise is not comprised of features and benefits. It’s the heart and soul of your organization.

Sometimes, a brand promise, or part of a brand promise can appear in the tagline. BMW is the Ultimate Driving Machine. But truly great brand promises don’t need to be stated or even marketed – they are simply “felt” by the customer.

If you’re able to craft a compelling brand promise and consistently deliver on this promise, you will be able to create a strong anchor in the mind of your customer, thus you will maximize the effectiveness of all your marketing efforts moving forward.

Times are Changing
In the past, brands were able to dictate their position and maintain control over their image using a mix of traditional advertising and marketing techniques. As long as the products and services delivered on the brand promise, brands were able to grow and thrive in an intentional manner.

And then along came the Internet.

In today’s connected world, your customers have as much (or more) say in your brand than you do. Therefore, it’s vital to be nimble, flexible, and responsive to the needs of the marketplace. Driven by technology, the rate of change is much faster than ever before, and continuing to accelerate. Just ask Kodak and Blockbuster.

Don’t Fight Uphill Battles
Imagine your organization exists in a crowded marketplace, filled with dozens of other competitors who all offer more or less the same products and services. You’d likely need to commit a significant amount of time and resources to convince customers to pick you. You could have the nicest logo and prettiest marketing collateral, but you’re still offering the same thing as everybody else. Or perhaps you could be a loss leader. But there is ALWAYS somebody cheaper or faster. So what do you do? Get out of the trenches, find the white space, and take the high ground.

It sometimes requires significant organizational change to understand the needs of the market and offer products and services with little or no competition. Blockbuster failed to understand the need for a streaming video service until it was too late. Meanwhile, Netflix was able to dominate this new market with little of no competition for years. By the time Blockbuster started spending millions to enter this new arena, it was too late – Netflix had already filled the white space.

Point being, if you aren’t offering products or services that are unique, you are going to be fighting in a crowded ring. You’re going to be spending more time playing defense than offense and merely existing may feel like a struggle. No amount of “forced” marketing claiming you’re different is going to change that. Because you’re not actually different.

But if you can find the white space in the market and meet customers’ needs with truly unique products and services, then your brand will practically build itself and you can spend far less on marketing – yet achieve much better results. So step back and look at your current offerings. Do the necessary research to spot the opportunities before somebody else does.

Starbucks caught fire in the 90’s as they identified a need for trendy coffee shops that was not being adequately served. Bolstered by the strength of their brand, Starbucks was able to sell a cup of coffee at a premium price, while the rest of the competition was struggling to compete on price. A strong brand can give your organization a competitive advantage resulting in increased profit margins. In fact, your brand can and should become your company’s most valuable asset.

If you find yourself competing in an overly crowded marketplace, do something bold and drastic – create a new one. After all, if you don’t, somebody else will.

Keep it Real
Your customers can spot a fraud a mile away. If you create marketing materials in an attempt to shape perception not based in reality, you are destined to fail. Microsoft excels at providing enterprise-level solutions. In contrast, no amount of marketing was going to convince consumers that the Zune was cool.

If your marketing efforts are going to be effective, they need to reinforce your authentic brand position. Don’t attempt to use marketing to lie your way out of a poor position. If your research determines that your current brand is poorly perceived, then you have a lot of work to do BEFORE you start trying to shift perceptions with additional marketing efforts.

If you want to build a successful, sustainable brand, you have to start with your authentic brand story. For real… Who are you and why are you different (and better) than your competition. By uncovering this story and communicating it to your customers, you’ll be well positioned for sustained growth and success.

Take Action
While all of this may sound complicated and perhaps even overwhelming, it can be broken down into a few relatively easy-to-follow steps:

  1. Perform market research to establish your company’s authentic brand promise, as well as spot new areas in the marketplace
  2. Promise your customers something unique and deliver on it, thus forming an emotional connection
  3. Create marketing that bolsters and strengthens your position within the minds of your customers

If your organization can nail those three things, you’re well on your way to building a successful, thriving brand. Building or reshaping your brand takes time and often requires outside resources. But at the end of the day, a leading brand can deliver significant value and provide a solid foundation for all future marketing efforts.