Brand As A Marketing Tool
Effective brand development is nearly impossible to execute in-house because it is difficult to be dispassionate and objective when evaluating the state of your business. As a result, companies often make the mistake of confusing the business of their business with the business of their brand.
Strategically speaking, the business of your business is what you make and/or sell. All too often we describe our brand by what we do and this obscures our marketing position and brand strategy. This is the reasoning behind the many companies with a marketing position and/or brand identity that is merely a reflection category benefits, and does not create brand differentiation. This “brand marketing” simply defines the offering or presents a banal claim that is neither important nor believable in the eyes of the target audience.
Your Responsibility in the Rebranding Process
There are a few important responsibilities in defining the business of your business, and these are vastly different from the brand strategies that arise from the business of your brand. Your product must perform according to the standards set by the market. For example, if you are selling soap powder, your product needs to clean clothing, have a pleasant fragrance, and be competitively priced. It needs to be consistent in quality and value (consistency), and it needs to perform a function (efficacy).
You are also selling your brand identity and must preserve that brand identity with great care, consistently delivering the value your corporate identity promises. Here, many companies (brand development companies as well) get confused. Your logo, mark, theme line, and “look and feel” are part of your corporate identity, not your brand identity. Marks and equities are all about the recognition of you and your company. They are how the customer remembers you. These values are all about processes, operations, and ingenuity.
What Your Customers Buy
If you were able to take a dispassionate look at your customers and see them not as you imagine them or idealize them, but rather as they are, you would see the beginnings of a brand strategy.
Simply put, your customers buy a category, and then they choose a brand within that category. Referencing our soap powder example, the customer needs soap powder to wash their clothes, and then they choose a specific brand of soap powder as their preferred purchase.
Purchasing decisions are all about positioning, meaning and integrity. They choose a brand within a category based on an emotional litmus test. Efficacy and product values are, for the most part, equal across the market space. All soap powders available on the market will clean your clothes, and claims of superiority are mere distractions for consumers at best. Nonetheless, most packaged goods companies continue to try to differentiate their brands by efficacy claims.
What Dictates Consumer Brand Preference
How then does the consumer determine brand preference and what price they are willing to pay for that brand (margins)? Considering that almost all products sell commodity benefits, what could possibly be left? What is left is brand.
Brand identity strategy begins with a clear understanding of your target audience, and this does not stop at a simple usage and attitudinal study. The study of the customer has more in common with anthropology than marketing. Marketing strategy focuses on tactics and values while brand anthropology focuses more on the target audience and their beliefs about themselves and the world. Brand choices are made (with all else being leveled as equal by the marketplace) because of personal identification with the attributes assigned to the brand by the target audiences themselves. The brand that best offers a reflection of the customer’s self-description and personal identity will win the day.
Developing actionable brand strategy requires digging into the perceptual context of the target audience. Stealing Share brand consultants use tools like behavior modeling to understand the precepts that drive the target audience to take action and ensure that those values are communicated in the brand strategy at all times. Your customer needs to recognize the brand identity and then find within its promise, not simple efficacy but affirmation. Those that continue to believe that purchase decisions are cognitive choices are living in the 1950's world of unique selling propositions (USP). When the market was immature and less crowded, such business promises could incite trial. Today, USP's represent a flash in the pan.
Your brand does not belong to you, it belongs to your customer and is more of a reflection of them than you and your business. If your “brand strategy” includes descriptions of your product or service, your own history or value or your category benefits, chances are that you have a robust business and an ailing brand.