Tag Archive for: brandstrategy

How well is your business positioned for resiliency and growth? The silver lining is that one day (soon, hopefully) this all will pass, and we will make it through. When we emerge, there will be companies standing strong and ready for growth. How can you ensure your business is one of those?

Earlier this month I was a guest lecturer for Washington Building Congress and gave a lecture on how brand can drive resiliency and growth in these times. Here are my notes.

Reality, Today

With unemployment skyrocketing and a record number of businesses and schools shuttered, our economy is awash in great uncertainty, stress and anxiety. People are switching from proactive to reactive mode, and progress and momentum is stalled.

This uncertainty is causing many of us to retreat and avoid customer relations. Maybe we don’t have a clear message to convey, or we feel like we don’t have anything optimistic to say, so we don’t communicate. 

But this causes important relationships – like the ones with our best customers – to become distanced, when what we need is actually to come together. Our collective power can help us more quickly achieve a common goal, insulate our business from future crises, and position our brand for resiliency & growth.

You can build for resiliency & growth in your business by doing three things:
1. Go within and align on your brand;
2. Engage your best customers; and
3. Innovate to fix your business’ and your customers’ new pain points. 


Go Within

Brand strategy is your business strategy seen through the lens of your customers. It is not how you look; it’s how you act. So you’ll want to plan for resiliency and growth by first underscoring what you unwaveringly stand for, to your customers. Ask:

  • What is the value you bring them?
  • How do you distinguish your business from other competitors?
  • What do you promise every customer with every interaction?

These question will reorient you on your core offering and values, keeping you aligned while you innovate.

You will also want to study what your customers deeply value that you offer that no one else can deliver. This is your unique differentiator and the backbone of your brand (for more on how to craft your unique differentiator, see this post). Articulate this clearly in order to build on it. We’ll get to innovating in a bit, and you’ll want to innovate with new business ideas that enhance and deepen the value you already bring your best customers, instead of offering them something that’s shiny and new, but irrelevant to their needs. 


Engage Your Best Customers 

Next, you’ll want to reach out to discover how your customers are coping and how their needs have shifted. Most likely their problems have changed, so you’ll seek to understand what matters to them today in this changed landscape.   

Begin by connecting with empathy. Truly connect for the sake of connecting; this is not the time for a sale. This is the time to be honest. It’s a scary time for all, and none of us know how or when this will end. So be genuine in your concern for them, their welfare and wellbeing.

Listen and resist the urge to solve their problem right away. Often, in our haste to provide value, we jump right to problem solving. But if we don’t have the right problem, we’re retrofitting an existing solution instead of listening for a new potential opportunity. So listen to find the problem first; listen to hear their pain points. Approach this exercise with humility and openness and seek to understand instead of being understood.  


Innovate & Pressure-Test

Channel these learnings into innovation sessions. From your brand vantage point, begin by interrogating your reality and discussing the new challenges facing you and your customers today. Be honest. Global supply chains are broken. Many of your customers may be shut down; millions of consumers are out of work. Some core aspects of your current business model may be upended. Discuss what you’re struggling with, and discuss what your customers are struggling with. What needs to change within your model for you to succeed? What needs to change in order to address your customer’s new problems?

Then start exploring new ideas for innovation. Challenge orthodoxies like “we’ve always done it this way.” Consider wild constraints like ‘how could we operate with only half our staff?” Today, more than ever, people are open to new approaches and new ways of doing things. 

As you and your team come up with ideas, begin to pressure-test them. Evaluate how these ideas solve customer pain points and shape the value equation for your customers. Run ideas by a core close group of partners and trusted customers for feedback and refinement. Give yourself the freedom to fine-tune your ideas as you go.


Outcome

This strategy exercise is time-consuming and demanding, but the outcome is that your brand is resilient and poised for growth. Your relationships with your best customers are strengthened, and they see you as an empathetic partner in a difficult time. You’ve identified opportunities for innovation that will add to the value you already bring, positioning you and your business for resiliency and growth, even in the face of a crisis.

If this all sound helpful but also daunting… we can help. We guide brand positioning and innovation sessions as part of our brand building efforts with clients. Please connect with us; we’d love to help make your business magnetic to success.

Your company’s small and resources are tight. Should you try DIY branding?

In talking with a prospect the other day, she brought up the topic of DIY branding. “You know, I’ve downloaded one of those DIY brand kits off the internet. What do you think about those? Can’t I just save a lot of money and do my brand that way?”

Great question. 

I regularly encourage my clients to do their own branding and marketing (what do you think this blog is all about?!). There are many good DIY branding guides online and if you have the time, aptitude and desire to do it, doing it yourself will make you a better marketer and steward of your brand AND you’ll grow an appreciation for great branding. 

To reinforce this point, I offer a few DIY toolkits and workbooks that inform parts of your brand (this one is great: “How to Craft Your Own Unique Value Differentiator” and so is this one: “How to Create A Customer Profile.” Check my blog for the accompanying articles). But these are just a few of the many aspects that go into building a brand (competitive research, customer insights, target profiling, brand DNA & benefit statements, archetypal analysis… to name a few). Most guides on the Internet cover just a few of these areas. Until I write my own book, I can recommend Forging an Ironclad Brand by Lindsay Pedersen, a how-to-brand guide that’s very comprehensive and multi-dimensional.

In short: I am ALL for empowering you to craft your own branding communications and marketing. This said, having done branding for over 2 decades, I’m also realistic. It comes down to your time & aptitude, being able to get out of your own way, and seeing behind your blind spots.

DIY Branding Requires Patience.

Brand building is the painstaking exercise of crafting the right message for your business and then ensuring everything you put out is “on brand.” There’s a process to it, and from my experience, it’s not something that’s inherent in most business leaders. If it was, it’d likely be your “zone of genius” and you’d likely be running a branding and marketing business instead of the business you’re in.

But if you still want to DIY, my recommendation is to budget time and patience. It’s a challenging exercise to come up with something catchy and compelling (but also creative) that encompasses customer needs, your competitive white space, your intention, heritage and vision, your brand promise, beliefs and the value you bring. I recommend doing the analysis and writing it all down, and then editing and synthesizing your message down to its essentials.

It Also Requires Objectivity.

Building a brand also requires objectivity. A lot of brand work is inward looking, which means it triggers all those fun psychological reactions to feedback and criticism. And we all come to the table with deep bias around:

  • customers and their attitudes around the category / service / price;
  • the category and the key players that we compete against;
  • patterns and trends that can influence customer behavior;
  • perhaps most importantly: our capabilities and the value we bring our customers.  

Sometimes we’re aware of our bias but more often we’re not. I’ll work with clients who insist their business runs a certain way or that their customers have a particular fixed mindset. Only when I present them with research findings do they digest how much bias has shaped their interactions with partners, stakeholders and customers.

In order to build a great brand that defines the value you bring and what’s important to your customers, you need to get out of your own way, and that can be hard when you’re doing the branding yourself. My recommendation: find an external partner to point out category and behavioral assumptions that you take for granted. Look for someone who is industry-adjacent but not in your space; use them as an editor to weed out your biases.

And Check for Blind Spots.

Like bias, but different: we all have blind spots about our business, industry and customers, and sometimes we can’t see a brand play at all. I once had a client who discounted her expertise as part of her offering. She insisted that her competitors brought the same level of industry knowledge and refused to charge more for her vast subject-matter expertise. Finally – after pestering her for more than a year – I got her to experiment with communicating about her expertise. She was flabbergasted when she was able to TRIPLE her rates. 

Yeah. 

Blind spots work like bias to skew our perception of our brand value, but they’re more insidious because they’re usually our strengths that we discount (“Oh, my put-you-at-ease bedside manner? But that’s a given,” or “My ability to neutralize workplace conflict? But everybody does that,”) and we discard what could be an astonishing point of differentiation. 

If you’re intent on DIY branding, I recommend doing some research to discover why your best customers return, and also partner research to discover why partners choose you over other options. You must throw out easy answers like “convenience,” “great work at a good cost,” and “because I’ve always used them.” The good stuff lies beneath. 

I also recommend running your DIY work by someone who knows you and your business. Not an employee, former customer or partner (too involved), but again: an industry-adjacent peer, or a listener with good intentions at heart who can absorb your point of view and point out potential strengths you’re keen to overlook. 

I’m Innit to DYI-it!

“Juliana, I still want to do it.”

All right then! Forging an Ironclad Brand by Lindsay Pedersen is a great brand building guide to use. Here are the areas you’ll want to analyze to get at your brand and what you stand for, what your customers value, and what makes you unique:

  • Market research. What’s going on in your industry? Where is the market headed, and where are the opportunities?
  • Competitive analysis. Who is your competition? What do they offer? How do they communicate their offering?
  • White space. Where’s the opportunity for you to zig where your competition zags?
  • Cultural trends. What trends are culturally happening that relate to your work?
  • Stakeholder feedback. Why do your customers & partners come – and return – to you? What (pain) brings them to you? What do they deeply value about how you solve that pain?
  • Target market. Who is the customer that deeply values all that you offer? Use this guide to build out their personas.
  • Mindset & behaviors. How do your customers approach your category? What’s their mindset & behavior?
  • Brand DNA. What do you do and why? Think through your offerings, what pain or problem do you solve for your customers? Consider the benefits you bring your customers – both emotional and functional.
  • Unique Value Proposition. What do you do that your customers deeply value that few others can do? This guide can help you.
  • Brand Promise & Values. Think about the promise you make to your customers, at every interaction. What values do you insist on, so you / your team can make this promise true?
  • Brand Archetype. If your brand were a person, what would be its personality and image? Is your brand the sage or the creator? Maverick or jester? And how does this show up in your brand communications?! Strategist Kaye Putnam has an archetype quiz to uncover your brand archetype & good examples of how brands use their archetype to create differentiation.
  • Logo, font, colors. Work with a graphic designer to bring all these insights into your brand’s look and feel.
  • Storytelling. What’s the story you can tell about your impact on your customers? How do you help them? How do you transform their woes into successes?

These areas will inform and form your brand identity and positioning. Don’t be daunted if that seems lengthy! Especially if you’re just starting out, there’s plenty of online guidance to tap into, and to be honest, most startups do the branding themselves until they’re big enough to outsource it to a professional.

And the work is absolutely worth it.

When you’ve landed on it, brand amplifies your marketing efforts. It brings results you couldn’t imagine. It makes everything so clear and easy to digest. You’re so much more confident about your business and what you stand for and what sets you apart.

So do the hard work. 
Build your brand. 
But if you want all this, but are reconsidering the DIY part, that’s cool too. Let’s connect and zoom or chat. My team and I are passionate about branding small businesses; we’re here to bring that incredible brand your business already is… to life.


Dropping your price to close the deal can hurt your brand. Here’s how to avoid that.

I was speaking to a business leader about his ability to land deals. “Oh, it’s easy. We can close any deal. We just drop our pricing a little bit and we get the business.” 

Dropping price to land a deal might seem smart at first. Your customer gets great value at a great price, and you land the business with a small margin hit. No big deal. What’s not to love?

But lowering your price cheapens your brand. ⚠️


When you drop your price, you alter the perception of the benefit you bring.
You lessen the value of your offering.

If you need to lower your price to win the deal:

1) The value to your customer isn’t clear. Consider this math:

Customer Value = Benefits – Price 

Price is just one factor in the decision process. Just as important as price is the benefits of your offering. Your customer is thinking, “what do I get in exchange for my money? Why is this a good value for my dollars?” When the benefit you provide is clear and big, your customer’s willingness to pay is also big. Revisit what your customer gets in exchange for their money. Do they fully grasp the value you can deliver?

2) It’s possible you’re selling to the wrong customer. If your customer is motivated by price over the value you provide, they don’t appreciate what you bring. It’s important that you target your ideal customer and prioritize them – because for them, what you offer is of high value, and the benefit is greater than the price you’re asking.


Case Study: Rolex.

As an example, let’s look at Rolex. The luxury watch retailer spends a significant amount of money advertising their watches and talking about the benefits they deliver: 

-The steel they use (904L steel) is corrosion-resistant and more beautiful than other steels, but more expensive and difficult to work with; 
-They have their own science lab to perfect oils and lubricants for their products;
-Their movements are all hand-assembled and tested;
-An in-house foundry makes all their gold on site, ensuring its quality;
-Dive watches are individually tested in pressurized water tanks;
-They have on-site gemologists, to aid and select in quality control;
-Despite technological advancements, they take no shortcuts: It takes approximately 1 year to make a Rolex.


Rolex invests in communicating about the benefits of their products.

They also never drop their pricing.

They never go on sale, and their value withstands time and trends. 

There are throngs of customers who would love a Rolex at a cheaper price. But they are the wrong customer, and Rolex knows that dropping their price for these customers would come at the expense of the customer who sees the value of a Rolex and is willing to pay the asking price – the right customer. 


Business class seats.

Another example is business class in the airline industry. Airlines offer only a handful of business class seats because they cater to the few travelers willing / able to pay a premium for luxury accommodations while flying (Value = Benefits – Price). They never drop their pricing for these seats. Depending on the airline, they’ll either leave the unbooked seats empty, or upgrade only their very best customers to experience this benefit, maintaining the value of their offering. 

By the way, it’s not just the odd brand that deploys this strategy. Consider: Tesla, Leica, Patagonia, Whole Foods, American Express, Singapore Airlines, Manolo Blahnik, Soul Cycle and even Starbucks: these brands are all examples of companies that lean into the value they bring rather than dropping their price to close the deal. 


Key takeaways:

When you focus on the benefits, your price is justified. 
And if the customer is your ideal customer, it’s almost never about the price. ⚠️


But how do I know my price is right?

One of the successes to business is pricing your products properly. Price your products correctly and it can enhance how much you sell, creating the foundation for a business that will prosper. Get your pricing strategy wrong and you may create problems that your business may never be able to overcome. 

If you google ‘pricing strategy’ you’ll find there are millions of articles and recommendations for how to price. That’s the good news – and also the bad news. There’s no clear way of doing it, though most strategies involve key factors such as understanding your costs, your target customer and what they’re willing to pay, getting clear about what your competitors are charging, and so on. I really liked this article on pricing as a good start for you. 

Once you’ve priced your offering and it feels fair to you: don’t drop your price. If you need a refresher, re-read the top portion of this blog again.

Now I want to hear from you: Are you like Rolex? Do you focus on the benefits you bring? Or do you drop your price to close the deal? If you need help leaning into the value you bring and communicating the benefits of your solution to your customers, we’re here to help. Give us a shout. 

You’re busy running your business and not always thinking about branding. In this piece, we’re highlighting some brand fundamentals and how to use them, so you can become a better brand steward for your business. It can also help you communicate the value you bring customers more clearly so you can drive your business forward.

What is brand, anyway? The word “brand” gets thrown around a lot and seems to be a catchall for all manner of things. For instance, I’ve heard brand described as:

  • The logo for your company (“The Tesla brand is so sleek.”);
  • Colors & font (“I love your brand, it just pops off your business card.”);
  • Website and copy (“Your brand is so smart”);
  • Advertising (“Every time I see that brand it cracks me up,”);
  • SEO / AdWords (“We totally do branding! We do SEO and AdWords”);
  • Packaging (Wow, that skin care line has great branding”), and even 
  • Product or offering (“OMG I can’t live without that brand!”). 

Friends, I’m here to tell you: brand is all this and so much more. Logo is part of your brand, as are your colors and fonts. Website? Yep. Packaging, product? Check. What about your customer experience, SEO tactics, advertising, font, tagline, your business’s personality, and even the color of your employee’s uniforms? All part of brand. 

Brand: A Working Definition

Brand is the interconnected web of what your business means and how you deliver that meaning. It is the expectation of an experience that you create in the minds of your customers, and all these touchpoints work together to deliver that experience. Brand is everything you say about your business, but also your actions behind your words to back up your words. Jeff Bezos famously said brand is your business’ reputation, and what people think, say and feel about you / your business when you’re not in the room. 

There are many parts to brand, and all of them play an important role in what, when, how and why you communicate to your customers. We won’t cover all of them but let’s explore some key brand tenets. 
 

Brand Promise

A core brand fundamental is your brand promise. When you sell a product or service, your business makes a promise to your customers. You deliver on that promise with every single interaction and at every single customer touchpoint. It’s not just what you say; it’s what you do, how you do it and why. 

How to use Brand Promise: 

Your brand promise should always be in your / your team’s mind when interacting with customers. It’s your North Star, and you should always be focused on communicating your promise and making good on it. Domino’s brand promise is hot pizza within 30 minutes. Every employee – from the CEO down to the store managers, kitchen staff and drivers – knows the brand promise, and that every one of their jobs is synced to live up to that customer promise.

We’re all familiar with this brand’s promise.

Nordstrom’s brand promise is to deliver exceptional customer service. Volvo’s brand promise is to make cars that are reliable and safe. When you create a promise that’s meaningful to your customers – and then deliver on that promise consistently and robustly – you earn loyal customers who are willing to pay and return time and again for your services. 

Brand Mission

Another key brand fundamental? Your brand mission. The brand mission sees your brand promise through. It’s how what your brand stands for & promises comes to life. In the Domino’s example, their mission is delivering on their brand promise of “hot delicious food within 30 minutes…or it’s free.” If you look under the lid at Domino’s you’ll discover they’re as much about food as they are about logistics and ensuring they can deliver hot delicious food to your door within 30 minutes. Their extensive supply, manufacturing and distribution chain is built around delivering logistically on their brand promise.


How to use Brand Mission:

Once you know your brand promise, your brand mission is reverse-engineering how to bring your brand promise to life. It’s thinking through the steps you and your employees need to take to live into your brand promise and writing them down as a roadmap for how to achieve your promise every time.

Brand Values

Brand values are fundamental to bringing your brand to life; they are the principles and qualities you stand for that help you live into your brand promise and brand mission. What behavior and qualities do you stress to your employees to act on that helps live into your brand promise? And what characteristics are central to your brand promise coming to life? At Nordstroms, one of their brand values is exceptional customer service, no matter what. This value led a salesperson to once famously accept used car tires that a customer brought in to return (and Nordstroms does not sell car tires). It’s a legendary example that shows the extent to which Nordstrom empowers its staff to deliver exceptional customer service. 


How to use Brand Values:

Values are the qualities that define your brand and help you deliver on your promise. Spend some time thinking through your brand’s values and what your qualities are that enable you to deliver on your brand promise. Imagine you are hiring a new employee; what qualities must they have in order to carry out your brand promise? What guidelines do you want to instill in them? Remember your employees are your front line and represent your brand; they manifest your brand promise to life. So what must they embue?

Brand Positioning

Brand positioning is another fundamental element of branding. Positioning is how you position your brand against your competition, in the process targeting your ideal, or target, customer. If you are Volvo, your brand positioning is that you make vehicles that are reliable and safe. Your ideal customer is someone who values reliable and safe cars. You’ll position your brand far away from sleek sports cars (BMW, Porsche), muscle cars (Ford Mustang), trucks (F150), luxury sedans (Mercedes, Lexus), economy cars (Kia, Hyundai), family minivans and SUVs, and other vehicles. 

A Volvo, with its seat-belt looking logo, reinforcing its brand promise of safety and reliability.

How to use Brand Positioning:

Brand positioning is the foundation of your brand because it not only distinguishes you from your competitors, it also appeals to a target market that deeply values the benefit you bring (that others do not). You can read at length about UVP and brand positioning here. 

Target Market

Your target market is a critical brand fundamental; it’s about determining that market segment that derives extreme value from your offering. In the case of Volvo, their target market is anyone concerned about safety and reliability; for instance, parents with small children; those who live in climates with poor driving conditions; and other demographic segments who value safety and reliability over other car qualities like mileage, handling, acceleration, and so on. 


How to use your Target Market:

You’ll want to consider your customers and zero in on those who deeply love your offering. You’ll want to probe: Why do they love our brand? What is it about our service or offering that makes them choose us? In Domino’s case, it’s the people who value convenience, not the artisanal pizza lovers who will travel great distances and wait for hours to get amazing pizza. For Nordstroms, the target customer is the person who loves getting what they want and is willing to pay extra for it. Think through your offering and who disproportionately values you, and why. For more on discovering your target, this article can help. 
 

Functional & Emotional Benefits

Both of these types of benefits are fundamental in branding but they serve different roles. A functional benefit articulates the problem your offering solves and the benefit your customer gets from using it. For Domino’s, it’s hot food within 30 minutes. Nordstrom? Their functional benefit is satisfying the customer’s needs and wants. For Tide with Bleach, it’s getting your laundry clean and your whites whiter.


The emotional benefit is an extension of your functional benefit: what customers get as a result of that benefit. For Domino’s, the emotional benefit is being able to spend your time doing what you love (not focused on food prep).  Nordstroms’ emotional benefit is feeling surprised & delighted. Tide’s emotional benefit of clean clothes and whiter whites means you look your best. Functional benefits reinforce emotional benefits, and emotional benefits are the real reason people choose your product. Yes, people want their laundry clean, but lots of detergents promise that. People choose Tide because Tide makes them look their best.  

Domino’s emotional benefit: never miss a moment of the game.

How to use these benefits:

Think about the immediate, tangible benefit your brand provides to your customers. What problem do you fix? Then think about the bigger emotional territory that you play in, as a result of fixing that problem. What emotion does through your customer feel when they’ve interacted with your brand? Knowing what functional and emotional benefits your brand provides gives you a smart platform to talk about why you are different and why offering matters to your target customer. 

What are Reasons to Believe? 

For your promise to really take root in your customer’s mind, it has to be credible. Give customers reasons to believe in your brand promise. These reasons should be specific attributes and features that allow your business to deliver on your promise. For example, LensCrafter’s brand promise is that it helps people see better. Their reasons to believe include: 

  • Optometrists on site to administer eye exams & update your prescription;
  • Lens labs so they can cut and fit your glasses within an hour;
  • Convenient store hours, including late evenings and weekends;
  • Knowledgeable staff to assist in finding the ideal lenses for your needs.

These reasons to believe instantly support LensCrafters’ brand promise and makes it resonate in customers’ minds. 

A LensCrafters advertisement


How to use Reasons to Believe:

Spend a moment to think through the attributes that helps support your business’s brand promise. What do you deliver that supports your brand promise? You’ll want to talk to these points frequently as support for your brand promise, and help your customers fully understand and integrate the value you bring.

Brand Archetypes 

Archetypes are another fundamental part of branding that brings your brand its distinctiveness. A brand archetype is a persona that embodies your brand, kind of like if it were a person come to life. Nike, for example, is the Hero archetype who asks you to give it your all, never give up, and just do it. Coca-Cola is the Innocent, encouraging you to leave your troubles behind, relax for a minute, take a break from your troubles and just… open happiness. And Harley Davidson is the Rebel, helping you fulfill your dreams of personal freedom while bucking the status quo and being utterly, unapologetically in-your-face independent. 

While nothing is typical with Harley, here we have a typical Harley ad.

How to use Archetypes:

Archetypes can come to define your brand (as in the case of Harley Davidson and Nike). Consider your brand: does it have a strong personality? Is it humorous and self-deprecating (Geico, the Joker), or is it more authoritative and in control (AmericanExpress, the Ruler)? How about: approachable, friendly and good-natured (Bud Light; the Guy-Next-Door)? Archetypes can enhance your brand’s relatability and likeability factors, particularly with regards to tone and how you communicate your value proposition to your customers. For more on archetypes, you can read this article.


Wow, that’s a lot! What do I do with all this? 

All these various parts build together to form your brand. They help your stakeholders better understand what your company is all about, the value you bring, and how you are different from the rest. If you really want to develop your brand more fully, consider how you can bring these elements to life for your business. And if you have any questions and/or want to turn this over to someone who knows this stuff inside & out: let’s connect. We’re here for you and happy to help.