It finally happened: the new brand strategy was launched with pride and with the hope that it would reinvigorate the organization’s image. But a few months went by and the hopes didn’t materialize. It all looked like a waste of money and effort.
It’s not uncommon for brand strategies to not deliver – or to be perceived as not delivering – concrete outcomes. The reasons for this can be varied, with the usual suspects being poor strategy or poor implementation.
But there is more to it than that, and often it comes down to the root cause of how brands are managed within the organization.
No matter how big or small your organization, whether you are a large financial services provider or a boutique firm, one of the most fundamental reasons for success or failure is the fact that branding is often considered separately to the business.
Brand strategies and their implementation should not be confined to the ability of the brand manager, the executive sponsor or the founding partner. Brand strategy is holistic by nature; it includes all areas of the organization, from communication to products and service delivery.
And this is the crucial point. Brand strategy does not sit on its own, in some remote corner office, nor does its implementation. It is required to be worked on throughout the organization and at all levels.
The brand strategy is what allows your organization as a whole to differentiate itself from the others: what you stand for, how you deliver value-add to your customers, what makes you special, and how you go about delivering it today, tomorrow and the day after.
So how do you build a successful brand strategy? There are five key elements to consider:
- A clear definition of vision and purpose.
- A leadership and culture that promotes the vision and purpose.
- A structure that supports the delivery of the vision.
- The integration of business intelligence to support the decision-making process. 5. An image and communication strategy and implementation that truly reflect the brand difference and speak the language of customers.
These five points cover how the brand is managed internally and how it is expressed to customers. It starts by defining a clear vision, a reason for being; defining what difference and value proposition the brand is bringing. It must be set in concrete terms, understood by everyone involved, unambiguous and achievable. This is not about a mission statement; this is about being clear about who you are (and are not), and where you are going.
The leaders of the organization must then share this vision, embody its value concretely and ensure that their teams are fully on board, irrespective of the size of the teams. This really means that the first aspect of branding communication is about internal communication, to create internal buy-in.
But this alone does not suffice. For the message to work throughout the organization, the structure must be supportive. People’s roles must be aligned to the brand promise; training and support must be provided in key areas, and effort allocation clearly defined. For example, if your value proposition is to provide the best-quality products and services in your category, your client services team must not be driven by the objective of closing all calls within three minutes!
OK, but where is the branding execution in all this, you may ask? Where is the new logo, the advertising campaign, the new collateral? To be able to embark on the communication aspect, you must not only be clear about your own vision and road map but you also need to understand your customers.
This is where insights and business intelligence play a role: the more you understand your customers, the more you can appeal to them.
In a boutique environment you are likely to have a clear idea of how customers come to you and why. In larger organizations, market research and customer behaviour analysis will help frame a vision of who your customers are, where they come from and why they buy from you.
Once you are able to build an image of your customers, understand their purchase behaviours and understand their attitudes, you are able to shape your go-to-market strategy.
This allows you to build a communication plan that both reflects your brand promise and is relevant and appealing to your prospects and customers.
This is the other point to remember: branding strategies must be relevant to your customers. It’s about them, not about you.
The communication aspect is the last component. The clearer the vision, the more aligned the organization, the greater the understanding of prospects and customers and the greater the ability to build an effective communication strategy.
So the communication strategy is about creating a clear message that reflects your entire organization, as big or small as it may be, and expresses it in a language and format adapted to your audience.
Many organizations consider branding strategy to be a communication exercise and leave it to the marketing department or advertising agency to come up with the goods. While you should rightfully leave the communication techniques to the experts, the foundation, as we have discussed, must be comprehensive and holistic.
This leads me to one conclusion: the reason most branding strategies fail is that they tend to be treated like a beauty treatment. A change of name, a change of logo, a change of look and feel, a change of tagline – their effects are only skin deep and therefore do not last. These components are only the visual representation of what the brand stands for.
This leads to disjointed messages, with your advertising and website saying one thing, your sales people another, and the customer experience following yet another path. The result is a lack of consistency, a disparity between promise and delivery, and the negative impact this can create.
As brands are fundamentally a promise, the delivery of this promise must follow through to engender customer satisfaction, repeat purchases and word-of-mouth recommendations.
Customers have never had more options to choose between different brands and products than they do today. Therefore they have the ability to switch brands faster than ever before. So if your brand promise tells one story and your delivery another, your branding exercise is nothing more than a short-term sales effort and your brand will suffer over the medium to long term.
To succeed, branding must be viewed holistically throughout the organization and not as an isolated communication exercise. It needs to be embraced at every level, from top management to client-facing staff, and, most importantly, the strategy must be based on a thorough understanding of what the brand stands for and how it impacts on customers.
Jean-Luc Ambrosi is an award-winning marketer and recognized expert in branding and customer relationship management. He is the author of the new book Branding to Differ: A Strategic and Practical Guide on How to Build and Manage a Successful Brand.