Few business owners are always cognizant of their brand and how it’s doing. However, doing that is actually critical if you want your sales and marketing efforts to work, and your business as a whole to thrive.
Why is focusing on your brand — the public “face” of your business — important?
For one, your brand determines how profitable you are. It communicates the value of your products and why your customers spend their hard-earned money. Because profit is directly tied to customer behavior, the way your customers feel about your brand is the ultimate indicator of how much money you’ll bring in.
Second, your brand can determine the longevity of your business. People never forget how you’ve made them feel, and a great brand has incredible staying power in the minds of consumers.
Here, we’ve divided brand development and management into a four-part journey. On the road to developing an enduring brand, we’ll walk you through some essential things to revisit and solidify. Paying attention to these will help ensure your brand is here to stay...and with it, your business.
Part I. Know Who You Are — Revisit Your Brand Identity
The first step in brand development is to fully know who you are. That is, “who” your business is, as if it were a living, breathing entity.
Your brand identity can be thought of as a combination of the following elements.
1. Your positioning statement:
Your positioning statement encapsulates the basic meaning of your brand in just a few words. A good statement brings together your brand story (why you're in business) and your brand promise (why your products or services matter).
Keep in mind a few key principles as you refine your positioning statement:
You’re creating a customer.That’s ultimately why you’re in business. Take the Sony Corporation, for example, and the sensation once known as the Walkman. Even in the absence of a deep, painful “problem” to solve in the marketplace, Sony made a huge splash by channeling demand towards their innovative product..
You need both marketing & innovation to mover forward.Innovation is the creative force behind your products and services, and marketing is how you spread the word and attract customers. Is your product truly innovative? Does your marketing attract, even create, loyal customers?
Customers buy results, not products.The famed Harvard economist Theodore Levitt once astutely observed: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” Or, to take it a step further: people want a nice living room, which results from finally hanging a prized family portrait on the wall. Always think of the ultimate benefit you give your customers — that’s what will reliably boost the value of your brand and product positioning.
2. The brand experience
A second part of who you are is the brand experience, which follows from your brand identity.
Your brand experience comes into play as soon as a customer walks into your store, lands on your website, or hears your voice on the phone. One of the most important parts of brand development is how you make customers feel about you.
Make sure every customer interaction with your brand is pleasant and unique. Think about it this way: given the same used car at the same price, would you rather buy that used car from a run-of-the-mill lot with a sloppy salesman putting on the pressure, or a boutique dealership where you’re treated like a real person, with all your questions and concerns patiently answered by the staff?
In business, you’re not just selling a product. Your brand IS your product. That makes promotion equal in importance to your brand messaging. Keep this in mind at every touchpoint your customer has with your business.
3. Your brand essence
Whether it’s professional or quirky, laid-back or audacious, every business has a different tone or “flavor” and it’s a critical part to brand development. Whatever the case may be for yours, make sure it fits like a glove. It will be a big part of how customers perceive you.
What kinds of feelings do you want customers to walk away with? How do you want them to express those emotions to their peers? All of this contributes to a brand essence that permeates your market, wherever your brand is talked about.
4. Your unique value proposition
Your unique value proposition brings together everything that customers can expect in their experiences with your brand. That is, the quality of your services, the “feeling” you provide, and “intellectual capital,” or the sum total of information and ideas your brand contributes to the market.
Take Southwest Airlines, for example. They’re the leading low-price airline in the US. But they don’t just rely on low prices to build customer loyalty — it’s all about the fun, curated experience you only get by interacting with Southwest, be it online, at the airport terminal, or on the plane.
5. Your website, logo, and tagline
For most modern consumers, these are the public-facing symbols of your brand development strategy that jumpstart the customer experience. As such, there should be intentionality behind their creation.
The design of your website and logo offer instant visual cues of your brand essence. Your tagline is a catchphrase that ideally “jumps out” at the reader and expresses the personality of your brand in words.
Bear in mind that other elements of your brand’s existence, be it your brick-and-mortar store, or the experience you provide via sales or customer service calls, fall under the “symbol” category, too. Each one is a potential point of contact between a human customer and your brand, and the feeling they get is almost never neutral.
That said, the impression should be as positive and engaging as possible.
Putting together all of these elements, distill your brand identity into a simple, powerful positioning statement. It should take the form of a sentence or two about what you do, who you do it for, and how you’re new and different. Such a statement will keep your brand development activities anchored to what truly matters, and will provide a clear map for navigating the often-uncertain waters of marketing, product development, and customer relationships.
Identifying the type of agency that fits your needs, how to calculate a marketing budget as well as key questions to ask when evaluating agencies.
Part II: Know Who You Serve — Define Your Buyer Personas
The answer to the latter imagined by your promotions and brought into sharper clarity with each new customer. But for the former, you need buyer personas.Since you’re in business to create a customer, you need to have a clear before-and-after picture of that person. What do they look like before they come in contact with your brand, and what do they look like afterwards, once they’ve engaged with your business and bought something from you?
With buyer personas, you get to detail out the exact sort of person you’re trying to attract. You’ll start with a fictional character, and list their age, hometown, and relevant details of their lifestyle. You’ll sketch out their buying motivations, pain points, and where they go to learn. It’s a great way to understand your future fans before you meet them!
To put together a buyer persona that fits your brand development strategy perfectly, take these steps:
1. Start with market research:
Painting an accurate portrait of your customers starts with getting to know them. Enter market research.
You should use a variety of tools as part of a data-driven approach for defining your ideal customer:
- Surveys allow you to uncover your prospects’ thoughts and feelings about current products and services, and whether your offers are a promising alternative.
- Focus groups are, in a way, surveys on steroids. Her you get to interact in-person with your target audience, while observing body language, unfiltered thoughts, and other intangibles that reveal how they really feel.
- Social media is where people let their guard down and often talk about the visceral emotions evoked by brands and products — the good, the bad and the ugly.
- Online forums, especially in niche markets, are great places to find your target audience talking amongst themselves about common pain points.
That list is by no means exhaustive. Consider all forms of online and offline media your audience consumes, and look there for insights on the people you’re planning to sell to. And remember that humans are dynamic creatures, so your personas should accordingly evolve over time.
2. List demographics:
This is where you’ll list the age, location, education level, income, relationship status, and other basic facts about your ideal customer.
3. List psychographics:
Here’s where life gets interesting — particularly your buyer’s life. Make sure you touch on these crucial behavioral and psychological triggers:
- What are their pain points?
- What are their passions, interests, hobbies, and desires (in relation to your brand and products)?
- What motivates them to buy?
- Where do they go when researching a purchase?
- What is their “dream” customer experience?
- What makes your competitors’ brand and products appealing?
By using your research to answer these questions about your customers, you might immediately unveil some new brand development opportunities.
4. Interview your best customers:
The best possible clarity on your “ideal” customer will come from understanding the customers you already have. That is, those who have become faithful, trusting buyers. Individual customer interviews that dive deep into brand experience can yield priceless data for defining and refining your buyer personas.
These interviews are best done by a third party. You’ll have blinders on, even as you strive for objectivity, and you can miss important details by not raising the probing (even uncomfortable) questions that an impartial third party can get away with asking.
Once you have complete buyer personas, use them as a lens for examining your brand positioning. Don’t make the mistake of just using them to inspire your marketing collateral, even though they’re useful for exactly that purpose. In the context of brand development, your buyer personas can show whether you’re really poised to attract the right people, or whether a few adjustments are needed to get there.
Part III: Know Where You Appear — Spread Brand Awareness
Brand awareness is the aspect of branding that’s fulfilled by strategic marketing. And the first step in getting it right is focusing on marketing that goes a little deeper than just selling products and services.A brand only comes to life and exerts its positive forces on the market once people know it exists. Here’s where brand awareness comes into play.
Beyond creating ads and online content that just tells people what you sell, it’s important to approach outreach as a presentation of your entire brand and all that it implies. That should be the case whether you’re focusing specifically on building brand awareness, or you’re striving for any other marketing objective (for example, a certain number of leads, sales, or sign-ups).
Also, your brand must always be consistent and congruent, wherever it appears. All of your social media profiles should use the same logo, and posts should employ the same tone of voice across platforms (without dipping out of context). Online ads should deliver on expectations as soon as the user clicks through. The impression your website creates should match the one your customers get in person.
That said, here are some important components of a brand awareness strategy:
1. Media planning and buying:
Media is the vehicle for communicating your brand...so you’ll want to plan the right media mix from the start. The market research you’ve done to create your buyer personas, plus some extra research to identify relevant media outlets, can jumpstart your list of promising outlets.
With media planning and buying, bear in mind that your key goals are to achieve the greatest possible reach (achieving both broad awareness in the market and deeper inroads with your target audience) at the lowest possible cost, thus maximizing your return on investment.
- Which outlets — including online outlets such as websites and social media, and offline "mass market" outlets such as TV, radio, and print magazines — are most relevant to your target market; Where your most prominent competitors are advertising;
- What kind of advertising resonates with your market (Short or long messaging? Small space ads or feature articles? Video, anyone?);
- What your market has and hasn’t seen before (so that you know how best to stand out).
Once you have a long list of possible outlets, narrow them down to a manageable few by cost-effectiveness in providing the greatest brand reach and the greatest control over brand perception.
2. Online marketing:
Here’s where you’ll pick the online channels and campaigns that fit into your brand development strategy and will reach your audience.
For brand awareness campaigns, your positioning should guide the creation of attention-getting content. But even for campaigns designed around lead generation or a drive for new sales, it’s important that crucial elements of your branding — your positioning, tone of voice, and your customer experience — come through consistently in every piece of collateral.
For example, in your content marketing, your collateral should always remain consistent with company’s personality and values. Your social media marketing should be a natural extension of your website and brick-and-mortar presence. Any videos you produce should give customers a real, intuitive sense of what doing business with your company looks and feels like.
3. PR strategy:
With public relations, you get a chance to make a name for your brand, opening up your business beyond a limited customer base to a greater pool of prospects as well as potential influencers, partners, and investors, making it an extremely key aspect of your brand development strategy.
Great PR creates a palpable, can’t-ignore impression of your brand. Make sure that, in any newsworthy event you communicate via press release, your company values come across clearly. In the media outlets where you appear, your content creators and influencer partners should know what sets you apart, why you’re different from anything else in the marketplace, and how to get that message across.
4. Word of mouth:
Your brand, in fact, is what your customers say it is. Everything from how your products make them feel, to what you actually do as a service, will in some way be communicated by a customer to a prospect.
You’ll want to carefully consider the actual words customers use to describe your brand to others. (Herein lies another key way in which the aforementioned focus groups and customer interviews come in handy.) Do they describe you in ways that have even slightly negative or off-putting connotations? Do they simply put you in a convenient category, without sharing what makes you unique? Gather this data, put it under the spotlight of your desired brand perceptions, and adjust and refine as needed.
Satisfied with your brand development up to this point? Once you’ve nailed down your needs and strategies in those areas, set up some brand awareness campaigns. While it can be hard to tie a certain dollar amount in expected ROI to brand awareness ads, they are every bit as crucial as direct-response marketing for leads and sales. For your business to grow, you must establish market positioning within the minds of your audience, and brand campaigns let you do just that.
Finally, test and retest, as with any marketing effort. Before you start, you’ll want to set some brand-focused KPIs – such as impressions, views, time on site, user flow through website, and awareness level, to name a few that can be measured online. Look at vanity metrics (such as the number of website visitors, or the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers) in context with meaningful data, such as where those leads came from and what type of call-to-action piqued their interest. Split-testing can work wonders for uncovering the best buyer journey entry points.
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Part IV: Know How You'll Grow — Manage Brand Evolution
While you’re (probably) not a fortune teller, and you can’t predict the market forces that will act on your business, you can set your brand up for the best chances of surviving and thriving from one quarter, one year...even one decade to the next. It’s all in how you approach and manage your brand’s evolution.After building your brand development foundation, figuring out what kind of customers to create, and designing campaigns accordingly, it’s time to think about the long game.
While the deep, primal drives that underlie consumer behavior will never change, your market will change in terms of popular media outlets, “industry standard” products and services, and the way consumers generally do things with the products they buy. Thus, you’ll likely have to tweak and adjust your brand development strategy in order to keep up...but only when it’s warranted.
Here are the things you'll need to do to stay ahead of the curve:
1. Engage in reputation management
Because brands are largely built on the collective thoughts and feelings of consumers, you’ll need to pay extra attention to those sentiments as they appear in feedback form.
As customers leave you reviews, you’ll get a clear sense of whether your brand development and business processes are in healthy, symbiotic alignment...or whether you’ll have to zoom in and fix one or the other (or both) to keep the lights on.
Reputation management is a crucial part of managing your brand for the long haul — because once someone reviews your business online, it can stay there for years. To address reputation properly, you’ll need to take a series of steps:
Find what's being said about you.You’ll want to review literally every brand mention, as much as humanly possible. Both in places you’ve made brand awareness efforts and in those you haven’t, both online and offline. Social media, review websites (such as Yelp, Consumer Reports, and Google My Business), print magazines and even personal blogs are worth searching through.
Take the temperature.Run surveys in addition to gathering reviews to understand how customers really feel. If it’s mostly positive, it generally means you’re on the right track, whereas mostly-negative feedback could mean serious trouble.
Thoughtfully react.If you’re getting glowing, positive reviews, great. Acknowledge those loyal customers and treat them with special care. As for negative reviews, approach with caution. Whether this means tackling objections with empathy, owning up to mistakes, or taking a principled stand, make sure responses are in alignment with your brand development...and consider the afterlife of whatever you say.
Watch for opportuities.
Where are your competitors messing up, or simply not serving the market? Those are your chances to shine, and even attract and delight new customers.
Don’t just stop with gathering the feedback — real reputation management requires that you go deeper. Sentiment analysis, a systematic approach to extracting emotional content from the words reviewers use, is a great way to diagnose your brand’s likeability.
Another key method is to determine your Net Promoter Score (NPS), which helps determine how inclined your customer base is to contribute to your positive word-of-mouth capital. If your brand gets a fairly high score on the likelihood of being recommended, chances are you’re on track towards powerful organic growth. A low score, however, means that serious work is needed to stem the possible tide of negative brand perceptions in your market
2. Evaluate the "culture" around your brand
Stick around long enough, and your once conceptual brand development strategy will give rise to its own living and breathing culture — a way of thinking, operating and interacting that spreads within your “tribe” of customers, as well as among your employees, content creators you’ve partnered with, and the broader marketplace.
Sentiment comes into play big-time here, as well. If your brand is associated with careless service or an inconsistent customer experience, those attitudes can spread like a poison both internally and externally. But with a company built on integrity, commitment to values, and uniquely enjoyable experiences, your brand will continually attract like minds and even earn a shot at “influencer” status itself.
While we’ve already discussed the need for understanding the culture among your customers, you’ll want to look internally as well:
- The answers to all of these are pieces of the “culture” puzzle. Understanding them is key to matching the virtual world suggested by your brand to real-world positives for your business.Do your employees embrace all (or most) of the qualities that set your brand apart?
- Is your talent pool contributing to the vision in a way that broadens your brand’s intellectual capital and expands its reach?
- Do your employees naturally become advocates for your brand, or does it take a lot of incentivizing?
- Does your brand continually earn mentions in a positive “thought leadership” context?
- Are your competitors taking notice of your market strength — and predictably taking aim at your perceived vulnerabilities?
The answers to all of these are pieces of the “culture” puzzle. Understanding them is key to matching the virtual world suggested by your brand to real-world positives for your business.
3. Refresh your brand as needed through controlled experiments
Perhaps you’ve noticed that sales are dropping off, your brand perception is OK but not stellar, and your customer base isn’t as engaged and delighted as you know they should be. If that’s the case, it might be time to revisit your brand development.
Fortunately, the digital age has made it possible to control risks in this regard. Because of the ability to run simple split-tests and more complex multivariate tests in marketing campaigns — and even set up entire websites and social media profiles for research and testing purposes — you can refine your brand and source early feedback without putting your entire enterprise in jeopardy.
Some of the key aspects of brand development you might want to test are:
- Your positioning statement.
Does it say, in the most concise, indelible, and attention-getting way, why your brand exists and what it accomplishes for your customers?
- Your logo and design elements.
Do they give an impression of what your business once was, but has long since grown out of? Or, do they communicate a personality that no longer resonates with new prospects in your market?
- Your online content and social media strategy.
Could a different tone of voice, or a different mix of content types, garner better engagement?
- Your media and PR mix for brand awareness campaigns.
Are there new outlets that are a promising fit both for the market and your offers? Is there a chance to command attention where it was difficult, expensive (or even impossible) before?
The possibilities are limitless, and the businesses that watch for and act on brand development improvement opportunities will stand the test of time. Ask yourself the above questions, and supplement your answers with continual market research, customer feedback, and survey data. Time-limited and data-driven experiments with tools like Google Analytics or the testing functions of HubSpot are a great way to unearth new pathways for your brand.
Your brand is the most powerful asset of your business. It’s the fertile soil for the growth of your business as a whole. Committing to gaining an intuitive knowledge of who you are, who you serve, where you appear, and how you’ll grow — and paying attention to brand development as you grow — is perhaps the most surefire way to ensure your company’s lasting success.