Know Your Truths
by Pat Hedley, GA Managing Director
"In the face of brutal competition, having an unclear brand is as bad as having no brand at all." Peter Montoya
Building a strong and recognizable brand is becoming more important than ever in an environment where there is just too much noise - too many competitors, too many ways to reach customers, and too much information overload on the internet. So rising above the fray takes special skill and expertise requiring not just individual campaigns but ongoing and consistent efforts to succinctly communicate with current and potential customers.
The most foundational and basic part of building a strong brand is seemingly very simple, but requires an exercise that is often not easy. It starts with one fundamental rule: your brand should represent everything your company stands for, flaws and all. Look beyond the practiced 2-minute pitch to understand your company's true character. This will often require outside help, as you will need an independent and unbiased analysis; even if you are not undergoing any type of rebrand, independent stakeholder interviews conducted by a branding or PR firm will provide countless insights into what is going right for your business, and where your shortcomings linger.
Branding starts with this: customers associate a particular set of values, abilities and actions with your company. When customers think of you, by and large, what do they see and feel? What about your employees? From your executive team all the way through your professional staff, what does your own team associate with your brand? Understanding these viewpoints is key when building your brand because you must tie the message your brand is sending with the actuality of what your company does well. Quite simply, are you delivering what you say you are going to deliver?
Discovering and understanding these truths is no simple task. The first hurdle is to grasp and accept your company's need for continuous self-reflection. You cannot gain a clear vision of priorities and growth unless you are willing to look as objectively as possible at strengths and weaknesses. Find them, name them and prioritize them, even if it all goes against what you think is working best right now. When interviewing your internal teams, make sure the team members feel comfortable enough (and possibly anonymous enough) to be forthright and honest.
Your ability to execute on your brand promise is critical. Let's say your latest campaign is built around the internally popular idea of quick delivery, but your market analytics show a high number of customer complaints about delivery time. Clearly the company is not performing as promised, but the problem is then magnified because your brand has trained potential customers to expect better service than you are producing. Ultimately, the marketing campaign has overachieved while the actual services rendered have fallen short in the public eye, thus creating the unintended (and usually very loud) message: "this company does not perform as advertised."
And what about the opposite end of that spectrum, the underachieving marketing campaign that falls short of your company's actual reputation? This happens quite often: great company, excellent service and standing, but the branding efforts fail to capture the true differentiating factors of the business. You have worked hard to understand your company's strengths; now is the time to put them front and center. You want your business to be instantly recognized in the marketplace for these very strengths. If, for example, you have significantly high customer retention rates in your sector, your brand should readily trumpet that fact.
So, what exactly does make your company different, superior, authentic, and how does your brand reflect that? Start with some very basic questions:
1. What does your brand say about who you are? What is your brand personality? When your logo or commercial pops up, what do people feel, think, hear and say?
2. What does your brand say about what you do? This is an important question that far too many businesses have a hard time answering. It might seem obvious internally, but what actions and services do customers associate with your brand?
3. What does your brand say about what makes you different from the competition?
4. What does your brand say about how you create value for your target market?
As you begin to list and analyze answers to all of these questions, remember the final golden rule in marketing and branding: keep it simple. Your company may very well have 15 true differentiating attributes that set you apart from the rest. The problem is that no one will remember any of them. An audience's retention level of details tends to hover right around the number three, so you should pick the three (or fewer) attributes that you most want them to remember, repeat and revisit.
What you will discover in this analysis is confirmation that your company is in fact different, superior and authentic. You just have to consistently work to discover and solidify your truths, and then to broadcast them very clearly through your brand. You are constantly facing direct competition, a daunting and challenging task. However, if your brand dependably sends out the right message, telling prospects exactly what they will get and then delivering on that promise, your brand will translate to customer satisfaction and revenue growth.
Contributed by Pat Hedley. Pat is a managing director at GA where she leads GA's global marketing and communications.