The process of brand-building can be a very confusing and intimidating process to some.
But, it doesn’t need to be.
Companies, products and services are defined by physical descriptors and functional attributes.
A company may be multinational, highly profitable and a dependable employer.
A product or service may provide certain tangible attributes to a user or owner, such as effectiveness, reliability and value.
These functional benefits and descriptors are where brands start.
Brands live in the mind
They are purely mental constructs and go well beyond functional things.
Good branding taps into the emotional and self-expressive (image-enhancing) benefits sought by their target customers.
As such, branding provides grounds for a far richer relationship with their target audiences. And that depth and breadth of relationship, in turn, provides economic value in terms of goodwill, which is why so many strong brands achieve a substantial premium in mergers and acquisitions (M&A).
In fact, strong branding often is the reason for the M&A activity.
Most people are surprised to learn that brand (and the process of brand-building) is the only business asset that does NOT have to depreciate over time.
If treated right, a brand can continue to appreciate without an automatic, built-in depreciation. That’s because brand is most akin to the concept of reputation.
But just as reputation can continue to grow, it is important to recognize that a brand can decline in value rather precipitously because of a serious adverse event, just like reputation. Consider the downfall of Enron, British Petroleum and Bill Cosby.
So, how does one build a strong brand?
A Step-by-Step Process
The process of brand-building is a linear, step-by-step process.
A basic four-step process is used to establish a solid foundation from which to continue to mature and nurture your brand.
This process is essentially the same whether you are creating a new brand or revitalizing an existing one.
Step 1: Discovery
In this step, it is necessary to understand the landscape in which the brand is intended to grow.
Typically, this includes an analysis of the market and industry trends, competitors, and customers and other target audiences.
An often overlooked element in the discovery phase is the brand owner. Experience shows that it is essential to understand their aspirations and risk tolerance to build consensus among them if needed.
One of the biggest challenges to successful brand growth in this step is the recognition that customers generally cannot tell you what they want in a product or service and that customer research is but one input into defining the opportunities for branding.
Step 2: Strategy
Once the brand landscape is understood, it is time to create and evaluate alternative brand strategies that take aim at the brand’s biggest market opportunities.
“Strawman” strategies are developed and assessed in a workshop after review of the brand landscape.
Of primary concern at this stage is ensuring that the brand owners and their marketing partners come to a consensus around the brand strategy and that the final brand strategy meets the core criteria of being relevant to target audiences, differentiated from the competition and credible for the organization.
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Step 3: Brand Identity and Tools
Once the brand strategy has been decided, the name is developed (if it’s a new brand) and the brand’s identity (logo, look and feel) is developed along with a branding and identity style guide that describes how to use (and not to use) the brand, as well as additional useful tools.
Other brand-building tools that are developed at this stage include a messaging blueprint and a sensory position.
The messaging blueprint provides primary and secondary messaging for each of the brand’s stakeholder audiences as well the optimal formats for each message and appropriate supporting information.
A sensory position, which is based on research among the target customers, identifies the sensory cues that trigger the desired brand perceptions in the target audiences for use in the creation of all marketing communications materials.
This is often where the desire to bring the new branding to market can tempt brand owners to skimp on the messaging blueprint and sensory position.
Even if everything up to this point has been done with quality, the failure to give the messaging blueprint and sensory position their due will result in an average brand.
The brand messages are diluted and sensory information, which represents 85 percent of human information processing, is tactical rather than strategic and, more often than not, is based on creative likes, rather than what is effective in persuading target audiences.
Step 4: Implementation
In the final step of the brand-building process, it becomes all about execution, analysis and tweaking.
This is when you build out your website, create marketing communications pieces, post on social media, advertise, etc.
During implementation, it is important to stay true to the brand strategy and style as well as to use the verbal and sensory brand tools to maximum effect. Consistency is crucial, but without being a slave to uniformity.
A brand is not a formula, but a constantly evolving collection of perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes.
In this step, we find it is critical, particular for larger organizations and multinationals, to “cascade” the brand across the organization so that everyone who represents the brand understands it and contributes positively to it.
The biggest challenge in the implementation phase of branding is to realize the ongoing nature of branding and not to think that the branding work is “finished.”
Measure your brand perceptions among your target audiences, in the absolute and compared to competitors, as frequently as you can, and adjust your marketing communications accordingly.
Also, don’t be afraid to revisit your strategy if necessary.
A Solid Foundation
As much as brand owners and marketers wish to hurry the process and get to market as fast as possible, it is critical to realize that brand-building, like reputation-building, is a linear, additive and incremental process.
One must have the right foundation on which to build a solid brand for the long term.
There are no shortcuts without negative consequences, but doing it correctly is very rewarding on many different levels.
Want to learn how Six Degrees can help your business build a stronger brand? Contact us today.