Written by Natasha Kapur |
Read time: 13 Mins
Businesses want a brand that performs. They want to see a return on their investment, stand out from their competitors and capture their customer’s undivided attention. But a lot can be said for that good old phrase about counting chickens. Before considering brand performance and concentrating on achieving results, you need to start with getting your brand strategy right.
The best brands have so effectively mastered their brand strategy that even without the presence of their logo and regardless of which channel you find them on, you still know exactly which company you’re interacting with. It may be the way they speak, the content they create, what language they use, which emotions they elicit or the philosophy they promote. Whatever ‘it’ is, it’s instantly recognisable and it’s undeniable.
In a time where consumers demand authenticity and values they can align themselves with, it’s more important than ever for brands to be crystal clear on what they stand for. The Information Age has no place to hide and brands without a strong belief in who they are and what makes them different will quickly get found out - and forgotten about. But giving your business a genuine and distinct brand strategy will help it stand out from the competition and create more meaningful connections with your customers.
When we ask people to think of what we mean by “brand”, it may surprise them to find that it’s often a feeling that comes to mind rather than something specific - like a logo or a colour palette. But that’s because brand is a combination of reputation and perception, rendering it almost entirely subjective. In the words of Jeff Bezos (Founder of Amazon), “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
This could be quite a frightening thought because ultimately, your brand comes into being because of your consumers. It’s what they say it is. It’s what they take away from it. Whether they believe it. Whether it resonates. And ultimately, whether it succeeds or not.
A powerful brand forges a personal, intangible connection with its audience that often transcends the product offering itself.
Soap, for instance.
Let’s talk about soap.
To look at, to use and to purchase, there’s almost no stand-out quality of this unassuming bathroom staple. So, what is it that would make us reach for one slippery suds-maker over another?
When Dove made their Beauty Bar, they made one thing clear: ‘it’s not a soap.’
Instead of trying to compete in the traditional way - with different packaging or maybe a modernised logo - Dove used a typical soap bar’s characteristics against it. And in doing so, they quickly differentiated themselves from their competitors: ‘If you’re using a normal soap bar, stop. Soap dries out the skin.’
Dove’s Beauty Bar was described as the ‘gateway to beautiful skin’, the ‘best-kept secret’ that the whole family could enjoy, ‘undeniably satisfying’ to use, an indulgent treat that ‘gives [...] multiple little moments of care throughout the day’. They depicted a sumptuous experience that far surpassed the banal, unassuming method of cleansing that’s been around since 2800 BC.
So, unlike all the other little square boxes on the shelf claiming to be the ‘original soap’ since the first discovered in ancient Babylon, Dove’s ‘beauty cream bar’ captured a space of its own. Instead of trying to compete, they differentiated. And even in 2019, it was still being named the ‘best bar soap you can buy’ by Business Insider.
The best brands make us feel something. We become attached to them because they mirror our values, they stand for something we believe in and - through our powerful act of selection - we intentionally communicate those parts of ourselves to others. “I don’t use soap,” we’ll say, “I use Dove’s Beauty Bar.”
The unique brand positioning of Dove’s Beauty Bar wouldn’t have been possible without an overarching brand strategy.
Your Brand Strategy sums up why your business exists beyond making money. It defines what it is that makes your brand what it is, what sets it apart from the competition and how you want your customers to perceive it.
After all, if you can’t clearly pinpoint what makes your brand different, how will anyone else?
Your Brand Strategy should never leave anybody wondering ‘so what?’
It should leave them thinking, ‘of course!’
It should encapsulate the problems you are trying to solve in a way that will instantly resonate with those who have suffered them. So that, by the time it hits shelves and social media platforms, the hard work has already been done. ‘Soap does make my skin dry,’ they’ll think to themselves. ‘I do deserve a little indulgent treat everyday!’
And just like that, you’ve captivated the hearts of your most important audience. The ones you were empathising with and trying to benefit.
Without shouting about how great your brand is, you’ve said something far more valuable. You’ve shown a specific selection of people that you understand them. And you’ve told them exactly what you can do for them.
Ultimately, your brand may be built on 100 years of culminated experience. It may use ground-breaking technology. Or a trademarked process. However, if Dove had introduced SoftSoap™ along with the tagline: ‘Soap, but softer’ it would have been just another emollient, trying to do things a little bit better.
Pears is a competitor who has over 200 years of heritage. Their product is prepared with a unique process of moulding. It’s finished by hand and checked by eye. It’s matured until it reaches pure transparency…
It’s a well-established, see-through soap.
Do you care?
I doubt it.
The best brand strategies truly understand their audience. They understand them in a way that they may not even understand themselves. They get under the hood of what makes them tick; what motivates them, what turns them off and what they’re likely to shout about. They know that a transparent soap isn’t enough to win them over and convince them to forsake all others.
So, what is a brand strategy?
Well, it’s the thing that justifies your existence, determines your positioning and creates a unique, meaningful connection with your customer.
Here’s 6 things that women’s razor disruptor brand, Friction Free Shaving do to put their brand strategy into action and prove their innate and genuine understanding of their audience:
1. They put their customer at the heart of their brand and they empathise with them:
‘For too long, us ladies have had to put up with low quality, plastic razors that were never designed for a woman's body. So we designed the signature FFS metal-handled razor to remove the majority of hairs in a single stroke.’
2. They make their brand values clear:
‘Did you know that of the 260 million tons of plastic that the world produces each year, around 10 percent ends up in the ocean? Over a million sea animals lose their lives each year due to the plastic content in the sea. That's why we're making a stand and saying NO to single use plastic disposable razors forever with our blade recycling scheme!
3. They encourage their customer to share their values:
‘Take a stand and choose a brand 100% committed to being cruelty-free.’
4. They know exactly who they are and they don’t pretend to be anything they’re not:
‘No gold flakes or moon collagen just gorgeous products made from the freshest natural ingredients.’
5. They alleviate their customer’s pain points:
a) ‘Let’s be honest. Shaving is, quite frankly, a bit of a nuisance. So, we’re here to make it a little bit easier.’
b) ‘We’re not OK with the Pink Tax - the extra amount us women are charged for things like tampons and razors. That is exactly why our blades are £1 cheaper* compared to some of the big name brands, AND we ensure the quality is infinitely better.’
6. They have a distinct tone of voice that resonates with their target audience:
'You realise you’ve been ripped off since puberty for overpriced razors.” Don’t fret. From only £9 a month (that’s the price of a mocha chocco latte), free postage and no hidden costs - you can’t go wrong.’
So, in a sentence: Your brand strategy should clearly sum up why your brand exists, it should authentically empathise with your target audience, it should solve their pain points in a personalised way and it should be the foundations for how you communicate both visually and verbally.
When it comes to defining your brand strategy, considering the competitive landscape is a good place to start. Beginning with a thorough competitor analysis will help you lay the foundations for a brand that isn’t simply saying and doing the same stuff as everyone else. While it’s important to understand what similar businesses are doing well, it’s even more important to learn from their mistakes and understand how your brand’s different. That last part again: how you are different.
So, don’t waste your time telling your competitors that you’ve got 75 years worth of experience in the financial industry based on the fact that Bloggs Banking only has 70. Monzo didn’t create a bank branch with an Instagrammable flower wall, managed by staff who hand out avocado-based snacks and free spirulina smoothies to improve on Natwest’s in-store customer experience. Instead, they scrapped the physical branch entirely.
They knew that referring to themselves as approachable, simple and versatile would only get them so far. Because Natwest is saying that too. But who is the truly versatile bank out of the two? Well, that’s a no-brainer.
One thing is to tell your customers you “get it”, the other is to show them what you’re doing about it.
Although Natwest’s product offering is essentially the same, Monzo has developed its own unique brand strategy by tapping into their target audience, alleviating the struggles they’ve faced with traditional banking and giving them an experience they may not have even realised they wanted. They considered the current marketplace, looked into the future and determined the next generation of money management.
Ultimately, being different isn’t about features. It’s about benefits. And your unashamedly self-centered customer only has one question that they need you to answer:
‘How does this benefit me?’
And answer it you must.
In the words of Monzo CEO, Tom Blomfield himself: ‘[...] we won’t take every chance to make money; we only want to benefit when our customers do too. People will stick with us because they trust we’re on their side, and they think it’s fair that we succeed when we make their lives easier.'
Here’s the real question you’ve been waiting for. How do you develop that all-important, all-encompassing brand strategy?
Well, your brand strategy should combine where you’ve come from (where it all started and what you’ve learned along the way), what makes you different (what it is that sets your business apart), how you want to position yourself moving forwards and why you do what you do.
Sounds easier said than done though, right? Who actually has the time to sit down and analyse their own brand?! Sure, we get it. Just like any hard-working business that’s snowed under with deadlines and a slave to strict schedules, your brand becomes the middle child that gets unwittingly neglected.
But, in order to create an authentic and distinctive brand that consistently engages with its audience, it’s never the wrong time to define (or redefine) your brand strategy. Particularly if you’re on the quest for brand performance.
Consider Your Business’s Current Positioning:
If you’re an established business, start with your existing customers. They’ll know your brand far better than you do. While you might consider yourself an approachable business, do they? What have you done for them lately to prove that you’re “cutting-edge” and “customer-centric”? Is the right message still getting through or has the reason you started out in the first place got lost along the way?
To do this, take the opportunity to gain some honest insight from customer surveys or focus groups. And - while you’re at it - gather some testimonials that can be used down the line to back up your claims. If Jen’s been a loyal customer for 2 years and firmly believes you’ve revolutionised her relationship with shaving - you’re going to be more confident about publicising your ‘Five Star Experience’ on the home page than if you’re relying on your own biased opinions.
Then, look to your employees. These are the guys who are responsible for communicating your brand’s message day in, day out. Even with the best brand purpose in the world, a misaligned workforce will result in a diluted and disjointed user experience. Your brand strategy should align your entire organisation. It should unite your team and it should turn your audience into brand advocates. After all, your employees are the most credible source of the reality behind your brand.
Again, consider sending out an incentivised staff survey that addresses specific topics and asks targeted questions. The key is to gather honest answers and deeper insights, so avoid making your questions either too broad or too leading. If your employees feel that they can see and feel themselves in the business’s brand strategy, you have a far greater chance of them accurately and authentically communicating your company values. Remember, your customers will see straight through your brand if it isn’t resonating with the people who know the truth.
Conducting market research and a thorough competitor analysis will further help you to understand what sets you apart, what you currently are or could do differently and how you want to position your business.
With all of the above, the key here is absolute honesty. It’s time to take a step back and have a genuine look at your brand with fresh eyes. And then - most importantly - do something about it. Chan Kim sums this up perfectly in his book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant’: “For a new strategy to become a movement, people must not only recognize what needs to be done, but they must also act on that insight in a sustained and meaningful way.”
Define How You Want to Position Your Business:
Armed with your company insight, it’s time to analyse your findings and start looking forwards. Based on what your employees, your customers and your key stakeholders are saying, what are the key elements of your business that make it what it is? What is it that your competitors aren’t doing that you can capitalise on? What are the future trends in your industry that you can get ahead of? And what is your stance? In congested marketplaces where almost everything has been said before, your brand strategy defines your offering in a way that’s unique to you.
If you don’t take a position, how will you ever gain followers?
You’ll often read about successful brand founders saying things in interviews like, ‘there are a lot of companies doing X, but we couldn’t find any who was doing Y. Which is why we created Z.’
They wouldn’t hesitate when faced with the question ‘how is it different from the rest?’
But remember: the more traits you throw at your brand, the more diluted it becomes. And the more people you try to please, the less you’ll end up resonating with.
When it comes to what makes you different, context is king.
The unique, genuine context behind your values is what will make you relevant and meaningful to your customers. Once defined, your brand strategy will govern the way you communicate with them - from the tone of voice you create to the imagery you choose and the channels you use.
Once you can clearly define who you are, what you do, why you do it and who you do it for - you’ve got yourself a brand strategy. The next step is to get your brand performing.
If you need help getting your brand strategy in place, let us do the hard work for you. Our brand workshop will help you discover your ‘why’, align your positioning, differentiate you from your competitors and engage with your target audience. And if that isn't tempting enough, we’re also pretty good at knocking up a beige buffet. Give us a call on 0191 603 0033 or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org