How-To's of Branding

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by: Jennifer Rice

Jim Berkowitz of CRM Mastery asked the following questions about branding in a recent post entitled Brand Messages: Fact or Fiction?:

How do companies come up with their branding strategies and messages? Do they consider their "strategic" positioning versus their competitors? To what degree do they base their branding strategies on customer needs and expectation feedback? Is their branding strategies contributing to developing loyal customers? And finally, do branding messages need to be backed-up with programs that fulfill their promise, or are they just some type of psychological ploy to attract new customers?

The answer to all of these questions (except for bit about the ploy) is: Absolutely. I'll just roll up my sleeves here and tackle the how-to's of brand strategy. First, a few of my own definitions:
1. Brand. The idea of your company that resides in the minds of your stakeholders.
2. Brand Promise. The promise of value that lies at the intersection of what's deliverable by the company, desired by customers, and different from the competition.
3. Brand Identity. The tangible look/feel/tone that's created by design firms, agencies, etc. Includes logo, tag line, tone of voice, web site, advertising, etc.
4. Brand Experience. The tangible ways that the company delivers on the brand promise through every department.

The Mantra process:
1. Corporate analysis through interviews with exec team and front-line employees. Do a SWOT analysis, learn what's great and what needs fixing.
2. Qualitative, blind, open-ended interviews with existing customers. Learn challenges, unmet needs, motivators for becoming a customer, likes and dislikes of company versus competition, unaided/aided awareness of companies in category, etc.
3. Qualitative, blind, open-ended interviews with non-customers who are aware of the company. Why did they choose NOT to do business with the company in question? What are their likes/dislikes of companies in the category? aided/unaided awareness, etc.
4. Review of competitive marketing strategies and brand promises.
5. Synthesize all of the above information and find the core benefit that's desirable, deliverable and distinct.
6. Quantify findings and ideas through a survey that's created from the qualitative findings. The most cost-effective method is an online survey among existing customers. Be sure to include a question that ranks attributes — including your recommended brand promise — on two measures: importance to the customer, and satisfaction with how well the company delivers. This survey can then be used to benchmark and track improvements on communication and performance of the brand promise.
7. Develop marketing strategies that communicate the brand promise in a way that attracts new customers and keeps current customers.

This is a very brief overview of the process that I've used successfully for many years, but a good process doesn't guarantee results. If you don't have training in research and strategy development, it's worth your money to hire an expert to get it done correctly… otherwise you put at risk your entire marketing budget. (And I'm not just saying this to plug my services; I've seen far too many execs in small to mid-size companies say "marketing and branding doesn't work" because the strategy was based on faulty research and conclusions.)

Comments/questions are welcome. Let me know if any areas require clarification!

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