How to Build a Strong Brand in 5 (not so easy) Steps
In a hypercompetitive, globalized world, a strong brand is essential for profitability. If you want your business to enjoy premium pricing, lower customer acquisition costs and big fat margins, brand equity is the best (legal) way to do it.
Building a powerful brand isn’t easy by a long shot, but there are some key principles that can guide you on your way.
1. Find a Job
Clayton Christensen makes the point that customers “hire” a product to do a “job” and I think that’s a great place to start. Conventional marketing segmentation focuses on how a product fills the needs of the company that makes it rather than the consumer who is supposed to buy it.
We often talk about “categories” and “price points,” but those are not needs that consumers (businesses) need to fulfill. Store bought cosmetics compete with beauty salons, tax software competes with accountants, robots compete with cheap labor, etc.
Some companies have been able to disrupt industries, create new categories and build great brands by finding new ways to do jobs for consumers.
Southwest Airlines didn’t try to segment airline business; they found a new way to do the job of getting people from Point A to Point B. ESPN dominates the marketplace by doing the job of providing sports information, regardless of media platform.
As I’ve pointed out before, new trends arise when we can find new problems to solve , new jobs to be done. Trying to predict “the next big thing” by extrapolating current ones often misses the mark.
2. Make (and keep) Promises
This becomes clear when you enter a world with an absence of brand promises, like I did in the 90’s when I first starting working in post-communist Europe. Brands were somewhat new and so were brand promises.
In the old system, goods were scarce and the women (it was almost always a woman) who ran the stores had real power. If they had something, everybody wanted it – no matter what it was. Usually they didn’t have what anything and would tell you “Nie ma!” (it’s not here) and go back to ignoring you.
It was common to find meat or cheese that was well past the due date and rancid. When confronted with a spoiled product, the woman behind the counter would just shrug and throw it back on the pile.
After a few bouts of food poisoning, I learned to appreciate the promises of fast food brands. They don’t promise much, just quick service and minimal quality at an affordable price, but they keep their promises. If even one location fails to live up to the promise, it puts the whole multi-billion dollar brand at risk.
That’s the power of a brand.
No matter what the product is, people have to know about it if they are going to buy it. While there are some important exceptions (i.e. Google), as a rule the world’s greatest brands have been built through vigorous promotion.
Effective promotion has three elements: a strong brand message, efficiency and repetition.
Brand Message: Regular readers of this site know that emotions are essential to a good brand message. The emotional center of our brain alerts us that something is important and encourages us to remember what our senses take in.
However, emotions just open the door. There must be a rational component as well. A good brand message also needs to promise to do an important job. Emotions can create desire, but when the time comes to open their wallets, rationality comes to the fore. Many people want a Ferrari, few buy one.
Efficiency: No matter what the brand message is, it’s not going to be effective unless consumers actually see and hear it. Mass media persists because it allows us to find the right people at the right price and lets us reach a lot of them very quickly.
Repetition: When I was a child, my mother used to point out that she had to ask me 100 times when she wanted me to do something. Now that I’m an adult, not much has actually changed except it’s my wife who has to ask me 100 times.
We remember things through repetition. Every time we use a synapse, it strengthens. Emotions can give the process a jolt, but chances are that it will take a number of exposures before a consumer will remember our brand and continued exposure to stay top of mind.
4. Join the Conversation
Word of mouth was always important, but now with the success of social media we can do a whole lot more about it. Network Theory pioneer Duncan Watts is advocating an idea called Big Seed Marketing (pdf) which extends mass media through the use of social media.
Another good use of social media is listening. Many companies do, and all should, monitor what people are saying about how their brands are keeping their promises. Moreover, social sites like twitter can also be used effectively to contact directly with customers who are having problems and fix them.
Often, the most neglected element of brand building is tracking. Most industries have standard research available and research companies like Millward Brown offer custom tracking surveys. This data can be plotted against promotional activity to see what’s working and what’s not.
It’s also a good idea to talk directly to consumers, through focus groups and corporate sponsored events. In order to develop a strategy for where you want to take your brand, you first need to know where you are and that’s a lot harder than it sounds.
So there you have it: A strong brand in 5 (not so easy) steps. I hope this has been helpful and would love to hear your comments.