Intro to a Step By Step Approach to Building a Brand Identity

August 10, 2010

In my most recent post, I mentioned that one of my most favorite facets of marketing is market research.  A very close second favorite to market research is building a brand identity — using the understanding an organization has about its target customers to craft a unique and meaningful brand and message.  I love bringing the two puzzle pieces of customer understanding and brand positioning together and making them fit.

This year, out of all of the organizations with which I have worked, I’ve had the pleasure of working with three different organizations (two non-profits and one large private company) to help the brand puzzles fit together.  I’ve done this by facilitating some in depth brand strategy sessions for each organization.  Each strategy session has looked a bit different from the others to meet the specific needs of each organization (for instance I’ve facilitated sessions that have lasted a half day, and a process that consisted of hour long meetings every two weeks for 6 months).  Despite these differences, the key topics and brand components that we have discussed are the same.

For all three brands, each one was well-established in its field, and the youngest brand was over ten years old. While each organization had specific challenges that caused it to revisit its brand identity, there were a few common challenges each faced:

  1. Each brand was struggling to be more relevant and top of mind with its target customers
  2. Within each organization, there was some confusion as to what the brand really stood for
  3. Each organization lacked the language to communicate what the brand was about and what it provided to its target customers (the Brand Promise)

The sessions that I facilitated for each organization resulted in resolving these challenges by analyzing and rebuilding their brands one component at a time.  This process, one in which all of the key internal stakeholders participated, led to the development of a new brand identity for each organization that was fully embraced.

Because I have gotten such great feedback from the organizations for whom I have facilitated this process, I thought it might be useful to document this process over the course of the next few posts — just in case anyone else might find this process helpful in solving an brand identity challenges that their organization faces.

With that in mind, this post is my introduction to the series:  A Step By Step Approach to Building a Brand Identity.  The subsequent posts in this series will cover the following topics:

  • Getting Started:  Assembling the right people and target customer research to leverage in the process
  • Establishing the Guidelines:  Aligning to the objectives of the process
  • Diving Into the Brand:  Building the brand essence, benefits, character, and reasons to believe
  • Pulling It All Together:  Developing the Brand Promise

I hope that you find this new series of posts to be interesting and helpful, and as always, if you have any questions or comments along the way, please let me know.  I’d love to hear from you.

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Defining brand and marketing strategy

April 20, 2010

This past week, I attended my local American Marketing Association chapter monthly event, and I was struck by a very simple explanation on how brand and marketing strategy fit together.  The explanation came from Tony Fannin, President of BE Branded.  I thought that Tony’s explanation would be worth repeating in this post, because I know that there are many smart and successful organizations that struggle with the difference between these two concepts.  This could be because traditionally trained marketers sometimes take understanding these concepts for granted and therefore do not always ensure that their audiences know exactly what they mean when they refer to either concept.  As a result, business leaders and managers who might not be as familiar with these concepts could find them to be vague, confusing, or even perhaps interchangeable.  So for any of you who might fall into one of these two camps and who may not be articulating how brand and marketing strategy fit together as eloquently, clearly, or succinctly as you might like, perhaps this explanation is worth a try:

The marketing strategy is the bridge between what the target customers believe and what the organization wants its brand to stand for.

Now to help give more clarity to this explanation, let me provide a few more details.  First of all, at its core, a brand is what your product/service/organization ultimately stands for or means in the minds of the target customers.  It is comprised of the feelings or perceptions that target customers have when they think of or experience a particular product or service.  Organizations typically want the brand to stand for something in particular in the minds of their target customers.  Meanwhile, the target customers may not have these exact perceptions and feelings in mind when they think of the product or service (unfortunately, this is the case most of the time).  The difference between what an organization wants its target customers to think and what the target customers actually think is a gap. Organizations can create and execute a marketing strategy to minimize the gap.  The marketing strategy is the set of planned actions that the organization undertakes to bring the two points closer together. Typically, these actions address one or more of the following:  the product (or service), the pricing, the placement (distribution or channels), and the promotion (including communication/messaging).  A well executed marketing strategy should help to move the perceptions of the target customers closer to what the organization envisions for the brand.  Additionally, it should also help organization’s idea for the brand become more attainable and believable to its target customers.

So what do you think?  Does this explanation help distinguish between the two concepts?   Let me know!  I’d love to hear if this is helpful or if you have other suggestions.



Top 6 marketing articles from the last two weeks (3/7-3/21)

March 22, 2010

It has been a little while since I compiled my list of marketing articles and posts that I have found to be particularly insightful. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read several articles that I really enjoyed, and I thought I would highlight these, just in case you might have missed them (after all, a lot of people are on spring break these days).  I hope you find a few of these useful or interesting.  Enjoy!

CMOs, Go Beyond a PR Plan to Prepare for an Inevitable Product Crisis (Ad Age).  There have obviously been quite a few branding crises these days — between spokespeople losing their respect and credibility to massive product failures and recalls.  This article provides a great reminder of the plan that every brand leader should have in place before a crisis strikes.  The plan should not just have a well-planned PR component, but it must consider and address every touch point that the brand has with its target customers.  The article raises quite a few issues that might not be top of mind in the heat of the moment, but that are absolutely critical to the crisis management process.

Real-Time Brand Management:  Lessons from Virgin America’s Hellish Flight (Harvard Business Review). Continuing from the theme of the first article, this blog post presents a good miniature case study of how Virgin America quickly managed a perception crisis last week.  While this article does not necessarily highlight the plan that Virgin America had in place to mitigate the crisis, it does illustrate some additional things that brands can do routinely before a crisis occurs so that when it does, the brand can be managed in “real time”.

Wal*Mart, Target, Best Buy Named Most Valuable (Retail) Brands (Brandweek).  While the list of the most valuable retail brands is fairly interesting in itself, this article provides some good commentary regarding the strategies that helped brands grow and the strategies that undermined the value of brands.  One unsuccessful strategy mentioned is the “flight to price” strategy.  The analysis of the strategies is applicable to all types of consumer brands — not just retail brands.

Opinion:  Customer Service is Key Strategy (Brandweek).  Joseph Jaffe, the author of this editorial, writes, “During increasingly confusing, cluttered and complex times, what is it that really separates — or differentiates — one company, product, service or brand from another?”  He answers his own question that customer service or “servicing the customer” is the key differentiator for brands and should be the focal point for the marketing department.

How to Write a Mission Statement that Doesn’t Suck (Fast Company).  The author Dan Heath provides an entertaining yet very accurate assessment of how the mission statement development process can fail.  For anyone who has ever participated in developing a mission statement, this article is worth reading just for its humor and insight, if nothing else.  If you are currently developing or revamping your mission statement, this article provides great inspiration for what you should focus on, and what you should avoid.

Shopping Aisles at Cutting Edge of Consumer Research and Tech (Ad Age).  This article provides some interesting examples of what consumer packaged goods companies are doing to study their consumers during the act of shopping for products (from making the shopping list at home to purchasing in the store).  The emphasis on and investment in shopper marketing in the last few years has grown substantially among CPGs and retailers, and it is fascinating to understand some of the insights that have been uncovered.  If you are in the process of considering investing in or building a shopper marketing research program, this article worth reviewing.


Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #2: No well-defined brand vision

November 24, 2009

One of the first questions I ask organizations that I work with is “What is your brand’s vision?”  I ask this question because if the organization has a vision for its brand, then I can begin to understand where and how I can help them. Unfortunately, most of the time, I get a blank stare in response to my question, or something along the lines of “Well, we aren’t really sure.”

Not having a brand vision but trying to do marketing and brand building is like jumping into a car and driving to go somewhere without knowing what or where the destination is.  How do you know if you are headed in the right direction?  If you don’t know where you are going, how do you even know that a car can get you there?

Before an organization can start to tackle challenges like growing a brand with existing customers, extending a brand into new categories or driving awareness and interest with new customers, it needs to be clear on its long-term brand vision. The brand vision is the destination for the brand that the organization should be striving to reach.  As a result, a well-defined vision helps the organization narrow its focus to the critical objectives, strategies, and tactics that will ultimately help the organization achieve what it is trying to accomplish.  Additionally, when it is communicated, embraced, and reinforced in the organization, it is a valuable tool that aligns all of the brand stakeholders to working towards the same goals.

The components of a brand vision are in theory straightforward, but can be very challenging to formulate and assemble into a complete brand vision.  The components are:

  1. The brand’s core essence.  This is what the brand ultimately stands for or its ‘reason for being’
  2. The key functional and emotional benefits that the brand provides.  (For more detail on benefits, check out Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #1: Communicating Features Instead of Benefits)
  3. What the brand will be known for in the future.  This is also where critical goals and metrics should be incorporated such as, “Brand X will be a Million Dollar brand by 2015”, or “Brand Y will be present in half of the households in the U.S. by 2020”.
  4. The brand character.  This is the personality of the brand.

The components are challenging to develop because ideally an organization should designate a group of internal brand stakeholders (a brand team) to devote a great deal of time, thought, and discussion to make the vision as strong as possible.  Typically organizations do not prioritize brand vision development for these reasons.  However, if an organization can devote resources to and prioritize the development of a vision, it will be in a much stronger, more productive, and successful position moving forward.  The resulting brand vision becomes a powerful guide post that aligns the organization, making the marketing decisions and challenges it faces much easier to navigate because the organization knows where it wants to go.