Thanks to behemoths like Nike, Levi’s, and Apple, everyone wants to be known and recognized as a brand.
The problem lies with the masses, very few realize the following about brands and branding.
What is a brand?
A brand is more than a visual identity. More than a logo. More than a name.
Brand is a concept that exists in the mind of your customer.
It taps into the rational and decision making process to create a point of distinction between you and your competitors.
Brand is the most important thing your customer will ever know about you.
Branding is not a one time event. It is a process. One that establishes the vision and purpose for your organization and should be built on well-defined and carefully articulated core values and principles.
An effective brand strategy becomes a blue print for the creation and implementation of all marketing, communication and customer service initiatives.
Yet, brand is a living thing. And it must be nurtured and adjusted and realigned as the needs of your marketplace evolve.
Fortunately, the power to control your brand is in your hands. And if you take a pro-active approach to your brand, you can control your success.
A Strategic Approach
The sheer power of brand, its ability to influence, if not control market decisions makes it a critical element in the success of any organization.
That’s why branding must be approached strategically.
Many companies take a design-centered approach to branding. They may employ research and follow a careful planning process, but in the end, their outcome is largely dependent on visual identity or look and feel.
These companies miss the opportunity to build brand in the minds of their audience let alone the soul of their organization.
Other companies approach branding as if it were just another step in the plan. Their lack of branding experience leads them to choose the wrong tools or processes.
But inappropriate use of even the most valuable tools can lead to disaster.
For example, applying market segmentation inappropriately in the branding process can actually lead to brand confusion.
Five Phases of Brand Development
Branding is not a cookie-cutter process. It must be tailored to fit the situation and organization served.
The process options can be organized into 5 broad phases.
- Internal Analysis – exploring and defining brand from an internal perspective
- External Analysis – assessing external perceptions of the brand as well as preferences and values of the target audiences
- Brand Platform – strategic development of the brand, including a brand promise and key brand attributes
- Visual Execution – design and execution of the visual components of the brand
- Brand Roadmap – development of a carefully planned roadmap for implementation and maintenance
Phase 1: Internal Analysis
1. Outline Business Objectives
The first step of the internal analysis phase is to clearly spell out your organization’s objectives.
Are you interested in growth? In Profits? And accomplishing a social mission? And how will you know when you achieve that goal?
2. Identify Differentiators and Advantages
The second step is to take an honest look at the things that differentiate you from those who compete against you. What makes your organization and products or services unique?
How are you better? Why should the market prefer you?
3. Review Communications Material
The third step is to review your existing communications materials. Both physical and electronic. With a critical eye.
What are you really saying to your public? To your employees?
4. Explore Internal Brand Perception
Ask your employees to define your brand. Ask them what they think your customers want. And how well they think you meet your market needs.
And ask them what they think of the organization they work for. What makes them proud? Where do they feel the organization falls short?
5. Confirm Beliefs, Values and Vision
Next, look at your beliefs, organizational values and your vision.
6. Review Industry
Take a look at the industry or the sector where you compete.
7. Reaffirm Audiences and Offerings
Finally, reaffirm your audiences and offerings
8. Summarize Your Internal Findings
Write down exactly where you think you are in terms of brand. Your strengths, your weaknesses, your hopes and your shortfalls.
You are probably familiar with the many tools at your disposal. If you are not, then just go online or consult a professional marketing firm for guidance.
Some of the tools include:
- SWOT Analysis
- 1 on 1 Interviews
- Employee Surveys
- Staff Meetings
Phase 2: External Analysis
The second phase will provide a clearer picture of your brand.
1. Perform Competitive Analysis
Because all organizations compete for the attention of their audiences, start by taking a close look at your competition.
How do your competitors position themselves? How do they portray you? Are they accurate? Are they believed in the market place?
2. Perform Market Analysis
If you haven’t already done so, then size and segment your market place.
Decide which groups you most need to influence. And target those groups throughout the branding process.
3. Explore Brand Perception among Audiences
Survey your most important audience segments to find out what they think of you. And what they think of your competition.
4. Identify Values among Audiences
And while you have their attention, ask them what they value in a provider. What do they think is important? What characteristics or actions do they admire?
Phase 3: Brand Platform
Armed with a strong understanding of your organization and audiences, you can now decide how you want to be perceived.
Your brand platform will articulate that position and provide a framework for creative development and execution of your brand strategy.
1. Identify Brand and Performance Gaps
Using the needs and values of your target markets as a standard, identify ways your organization, your products or services meet the market’s expectations.
At the same time, be brutally honest about where you could improve.
2. Define Opportunities for Growth
Site specific actions your organization can take in every department to better represent values of your customers or better meet their needs.
3. Establish “Brand Promise”
Now, make a promise to yourself and to your customers.
What will your new brand be?
What will you look like when you live that brand?
4. Confirm or Align Brand Name(s)
Visit the words you use to define define your organization. All the way through to your product names and the name of the organization itself.
Do your names resonate with the needs and values of the market place? If not, change them.
5. Develop Tag Line(s)
Develop a short tag line that helps to find your offerings or values.
If your name alone does not clearly state what you are or what you do, then use the tag line to make those things clear.
If it does, then focus the tag line on your values.
6. Articulate Brand Attribute(s)
Work up a detailed list or map of desirable brand attributes. These will be helpful in realigning your organization and developing new products and services.
7. Articulate Competitive Advantage(s)
Articulate your organization’s competitive advantages in terms that align with your customers’ needs and values.
8. Profile Audiences
Define profiles that personify your market segments. If you have segmented your market according to needs, this process will be easy.
Pay particular attention to the commonalities of each groups members.
9. Define Brand Messages
Then define messages for each target audience explaining why your organization and its products or services meet the needs of each market segment in a way that’s congruent with their values.
Your careful and introspective work in phase 3 should yield several valuable brand assets that help define your brand, control it’s perception and articulate meaningful messages that resonate with your market.
Phase 4: Visual Execution
Now, you are ready to begin developing or refining the visual elements of your brand.
1. Design / Redesign Logos and Marks
The visual elements include logos and product marks designed to represent not only your offering, but also their benefits. As well as the values of your audience.
2. Select Appropriate Messaging Channels
By leveraging your new and clearer understanding of your buyers’ and markets’ segments, you will be able to determine which messaging vehicles and message delivery channels will effectively convey your brand message.
3. Codify “Look and Feel”
You will want to develop a style guide for all branded communication. To ensure that your brand and your messages are delivered with clarity and consistency.
4. Develop Promotional Vehicles
Using the style guide, you can now develop an arsenal of promotional vehicles that deliver your brand messages.
Phase 5: Brand Roadmap
The final phase of your brand development journey is all about execution.
Here, you will plot a roadmap for many travels of your brand messages.
1. Define and Codify Brand Guidelines
To ensure your brand messages are delivered consistently by all members of your organization, current and future, as well as your partners, it’s a good idea to codify guidelines for the execution of your brand.
2. Develop Brand Advocates
You should identify brand advocates and brand champions inside your organization as well as outside your organization to help you promote your brand.
You will also need to equip them for the job with appropriate messages and resources.
3. Promote Brand-Positive Behaviors
Your marketing and HR departments can help you develop programs that communicate your brand promise and that reinforce or promote brand-positive behaviors.
4. Articulate Brand Internally
You should develop a plan to articulate your brand to your employees and help them find ways to embody the brand in their daily interactions with the customers and with each other.
5. Plan External Communications
You will need a plan to communicate your brand effectively. To customers, to suppliers and to the general public.
And once you launch your new brand, you will need to continually monitor and refine the branding process to maintain alignment with the changing needs and values of your market.
The five phases described here cannot guarantee success, but if you are honest with yourself and your market place, they will help you develop a brand management plan. And one thing is for sure, your odds for success is greater with a well executed plan.
The process of building a brand is tedious work. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day. The behemoths weren’t born that way. They too took their time to reach where they are today.