Do you have a clear view of your brand strategy? Do others in your company as well? What about your channel partners? Because execution of Brand Strategy involves such visible elements as logos, product design, advertising, packaging and other materials, it can, and should, have a wide-reaching impact. Too often brand elements are developed within a narrow viewpoint. For example, packaging may communicate functional advantages over the competition, but fail to effectively reflect the brand persona. Your brand architecture may be clear to the internal divisions who are developing your products, but confusing to customers at point-of-sale.
The execution of your brand strategy is seen and evaluated from four major viewpoints:
• Your Customers
• Your Channel
• The Market
Each of the above has different criteria by which it is going to measure the success of your brand. If you develop your strategy from only one point of view, chances are you are going to stumble. The more you view your brand strategy from each of these viewpoints, the better informed it will be.
Think of these viewpoints as four panes in a window, providing a holistic a view onto the world.
Let’s take a look at each window pane.
The Internal View:
Your brand strategy starts with your business strategy, what you are trying to accomplish in the market and how your brand can help you. From this viewpoint, you want to ensure that employees at all levels understand what your brand stands for. If your employees don’t get this, how can you expect them to design products and services that support your brand positioning. Does your brand have a central organizing principle? Senior managers should be clear about where their products fit within the brand portfolio. Does your company have a Master Brand with multiple sub-brands? If so, what is the relationship of each to the Master Brand? If the answer is “they are all equally important,” then you may want to re-evaluate how each sub-brand is serving the greater whole. You also want to be clear as to who has ownership of the brand strategy and each of the elements. Are those in charge of designing new products, developing advertising and PR, packaging and other POS materials meeting on a regular basis to ensure effectiveness of brand execution?
The Channel View
Issues with brand management are often spotted by your channel partners. Have you communicated your brand strategy to them? Does it make sense to them? Can they distinguish it from your competition? Are they even the right channel partner for your brand persona? Perhaps you want to market a computer desk designed specifically for the busy mom. Is that better sold at an office supply store or Pottery Barn?
Can your channel partners shelve your products in line with your brand strategy? If they do, does it provide you a competitive advantage? Think outside the box here. For example, let’s say you market personal journals. Is it more compelling to place these in the stationery aisle or on an end-cap with travel items? Do their salespeople know what your brand stands for and can they communicate it? Effective brand strategies take the role of the Channel into account, and bring in channel partners early on in the process. This includes the development of programs and promotions that sell your products to and through your distribution partners. Think how much easier it is for a channel sales rep to communicate your product benefits and key value propositions when they’re integrated with an overarching (and easily internalized) brand identity. This is where channel sales turns into true channel advocacy.
The Customer View
At the end of the day, brand is about choice. And your customers cast the votes. Coke or Pepsi? Nike or Adidas? Ford or Toyota? Getting customers to notice, choose and stay loyal to your brand requires that you understand not only the features and functions that they need, but that you understand the underlying emotional connections you need to make all along the customer experience lifecycle. Each brand element, particularly product design, packaging, messaging and other point-of-sale materials, needs to convey a functional and emotional message to your customers.
How do you discover the emotional cues that will connect with your customers? By and large, you will not find this in your customer segmentation data or in typical focus groups. I know. I’ve looked there many times and it’s not to be found. Rather, look for this with ethnographic studies or other forms of deep conversations with your customers, particularly those who are extreme users of the types of products and services you market. Reframe your view of the customer experience by seeing the larger environment that the customer is in. For example, let’s say you make personal desktop items, such as laptop computers and printers. You can design these as individual products that stand-alone. Or you can take into account that space is a premium for your European and Asian customers, and design a suite of products that are stackable and collapsible. You could design a printer that works vertically as well as horizontally. You could even design the entire home office workspace, with maximum space utilization as the goal. Your customers will know that know them and had them in mind when you developed your products.
The Market View
Can the Market understand your brand positioning versus the competition? Does it know what you stand for beyond making a profit? Or is it a bit muddy because your value propositions and product personalities overlap? Does the Market view your offering not only as competitive, but as unique, so that you command a premium price? If you are a leading or competitive brand, your competition will continually adjust its positioning to flank your marketing efforts.
Are you keeping up with what is going on in the market around you? Are you keeping your brand promise fresh? If the Market seems fickle at times, it is because it is so much easier to de-value a brand than to build it up. For the Market to reward you, it must see that your brand promise is unique and compelling to your customers, and that every element of your products and services seeks to uphold that promise. You are seen as having a brand truth that extends beyond the bottom line to what your company really stands for. It’s usually something intrinsic. You are seen as a consistent innovator, one who is willing to re-invest in the products and services that deliver on the brand promise, rather than merely commoditize through cost reductions.
The Big Picture Window
Finally, as you step back and look at all four viewpoints, where do you have the biggest opportunities and the biggest gaps? If for example, customers can distinguish your brand offering from that of your competitors, if only they knew about you, then you need to focus on those brand elements that will increase awareness and consideration. This sounds obvious, but once I was working with a product experience team, who knew that their biggest business challenge was to get customers to be aware of their offering, and to choose it over the established competition. Yet they focused all of their resources on refining their set-up and install experience. Why? It was simply that the people in the room had the most expertise in that area. It was akin to losing one’s wristwatch in the bedroom, but searching for it in the hallway because the light is better there.
So take a look through all four panes of the brand window. The more information you have through each pane, the more complete you’ll be when developing your brand strategy.
Dan Berne, founder and principal of Design4Brand, is a senior Stratus Global Partners Associate. Dan has over 15 years experience as a Marketing and Brand Design Manager and specializes in helping Marketing and R&D executives and their teams design products and services to maximize brand value.