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 how because 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
What are some ways you evaluate the effectiveness of your brand strategy?