Developing a Successful Brand Strategy Should Be Your Top Priority, Here's How to Do It
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We see it time and time again. A fast-growth startup or company quickly builds momentum in the market or sees strong initial adoption for a new product or service. Then something happens. A new competitor enters the market, or the customers who bought the product initially are no longer happy and start to leave.
In response, the company sets out to build more products or services to expand its addressable market, while trying to improve the existing product experience and reduce customer churn.
Everyone across departments is moving at a breakneck pace. The product development team is working on the next generation of products. Marketing and sales – both under increasing pressure to drive near-term revenue growth – launch a new set of campaigns and programs. The CMO gets approval for a bigger marketing budget and increases media spend across channels. Yet despite all of these efforts, customer growth remains slow. ROI is not where it should be.
While there are myriad factors that can cause these challenges, one of the most foundational reasons is the company failed to develop a successful brand strategy. It built its products based on a set of assumptions – or in reaction to the competition – with very little upfront discovery or research into what its target customers actually need or may need in the future. Tech companies, in particular, are notorious for taking this type of approach vs. integrating customer insights into the product development phase.
Other companies frequently say they take a customer-centric approach when actually they don’t. They may even invest heavily in marketing research or have a strong customer service team in place. But for whatever reason, they haven’t taken the time to truly listen to customers to identify what their target customers want, and then build their brand and product pipeline to meet those needs.
Approaching brand strategy from this perspective is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make. And it happens every year, across every size of the company.
I recently explored this topic with the brand consultant and leadership coach Lindsay Pedersen, who just published her book, Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She defines brand strategy as “the north star that guides your company, from how you engage with customers and employees, to how you fuel your growth and unleash your competitive advantage.” And while intentionally crafting your brand strategy is a fundamental component to success, many leaders still fail to recognize it even today.
So what can leaders do to develop a successful brand strategy? Here are five steps to do it, and do it right:
Everyone’s heard the adage, “you cannot be all things to all people.” And while it seems like a basic concept, you’ll hear a surprising amount of pushback from leaders when you ask them to define who their target customers are. Often a CEO’s first instinct is scattershot to avoid limiting the potential market; the assumption being if the company offers an amazing product, then surely it will appeal to anyone and everyone. Which simply is not viable in today’s market.
Smart marketers and leaders understand that choosing a target customer is both essential and practical. You have to know what you are developing, and who you are optimizing it for. Different people are going to have a different relationship with your product and the problem that your product solves.
You need to deeply understand which group of people is going to get the most value from what you’re selling, which group brings the most value to you, which group has the most disposable income, which is likely to establish brand loyalty, and so on.
By optimizing for these people, you can prioritize those who bring the most value to your business. And it all starts by asking: "Who is the person that we're optimizing for?" which segues directly into "What is it that we need to bring to that person?"
This is the first step, and it’s at the very heart of developing a successful brand strategy.
Curiosity is Key
The next step is to listen to your customers and to identify insights from which your products or services will serve them. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to think that you know what's best for your customers, without understanding their underlying needs. This applies directly to you if you haven’t yet asked your customer's intelligent questions like: “What is it like to have a particular problem?” or “What does this customer value?” or “What type of solution appeals to this customer and why?”
It’s critical to start from a genuine place of curiosity. Identify the challenges your customers face, what type of solution they’re looking for, why they need it, and what the competitive landscape looks like.
Which might sound easy, but it’s not. It takes a certain amount of humility to keep an open mindset, as you are trying to engage and learn from your customer. This is precisely why a whole lot of companies struggle with it.
Find Your Opportunity
After listening to your customer, and identifying what they need, it’s incumbent upon you to figure out your strengths, the strengths of your competitors, and to identify existing opportunities.
For a concrete example, let’s consider a small sandwich shop. You may make the most delicious sandwiches, using the freshest of ingredients, but you also need to understand the intersection of what your customer wants, what you’re good at making and serving, and what your competitor is not particularly strong in delivering. This allows you to identify which target customers you can serve better, and it becomes a positioning territory that can propel your business to the next level.
Define Your Brand’s Promise
Once you’ve found your opportunity, it’s time to define your brand’s promise. Understand what problems you promise to solve, the solution you’re delivering, as well as all of the underlying features, attributes, and proof points that lend credibility to your promise.
Give Your Brand A Voice and Define its Personality
To develop a successful brand strategy ultimately means treating every customer as unique. You must be willing to rewrite the rules for each and every one of them. And by doing so, you deliver on your brand’s promise to deeply understand your customers’ challenges and become their best-fit solution.
This is how you create a loyal customer base - comprised of true brand advocates – who will champion your products over and over again.
Built on this foundation, your brand already has the core underpinnings of its voice and personality. And this is – in effect – the holy grail of successful brand strategy.