Like a ship with no rudder, a company with no brand strategy may be moving forward, but lacks the guidance required to reach its destination. It’s unsurprising that so many companies skip the brand strategy because it is the most misunderstood part of marketing.
“Branding is at the core of all marketing,” writes Terry O’Reilly author of The Age of Persuasion and host of a long-running advertising program by the same name on CBC Radio One. “Different marketers have their own take on what branding really is, but to me, it means defining what a product or service promises and how it differs from the competition.”
Every company needs a solid brand strategy to attract customers by standing apart from competitors. Even businesses experiencing growth in the absence of a brand strategy should make this work a priority.
Why? Because the absence of a brand strategy leads to these three common pitfalls:
- Design: The visual appearance is indistinguishable from that of the competitors.
- Messaging: The messages don’t address differentiation, aren't quantified or reinforced, and don’t address buyers’ motivations.
- Personality: The tone of the visual identity and content is incoherent and inconsistent.
These are important because they influence buyers, which inevitably equates to market share.
A few months ago I began working with a financial service company. Of their nearly 20 competitors, all but one has a blue or green (or both) design. Many have similar names and logos, and several use the exact same stock images in their collateral. When competitors are indistinguishable, buyers can’t keep them straight.
However, visuals are just one part of branding. Companies also need to differentiate themselves through messaging; this means what they say to customers, and the tone in which they say it. In my client’s case, they described their services the same way as all of their competitors: fast and easy, with high approval rates. These are merely table stakes. When companies promote only the table stakes, they leave buyers unsure about which company is their best option.
It is a revealing two-minute exercise to do a side-by-side comparison of your marketing collateral and messages with those of your competitors. How well does your company differentiate itself?
My client has an opportunity to stand out based on how they conduct their service. Offering superior responsiveness and support is already part of their practice and can easily be featured. Quantifying these messages will further strengthen their effect, along with finding ways to translate the friendliness and responsiveness they offer their customers.
Some companies invest an enormous amount of time and energy in developing a brand strategy, while others take a more simplified approach. If, internally, you don’t have the time or expertise to do this work, you can outsource it to a team of marketing experts.
Once you have a strategy in hand, you’ll need a tactical plan and a leader to bring it to life, the same way a boat requires map and a captain. This plan will also make the task of implementation methodical and less overwhelming.
How much of a difference can a strategy make? This month my client is ditching their blend-in blues and generic stock photos for more inviting warm reds and yellows and bold illustrations. They still offer fast, easy service and high approval rates, but they will actively promote the ways their service is superior to the rest, which they've quantified for greater impact and veracity. Internally, working on a brand strategy has re-energized their team, made them focus on their corporate culture and brought unity to the way they describe their service and company.
If your company doesn't have a brand strategy, it’s not too late to start. Why spend your days adrift when you could be heading somewhere exciting?
Do you have experience with brand strategy? Share your thoughts below.
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