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Illuminate Your Marketing With A Brand Strategy

This post first appeared on July 31, 2017.

I wrote a movie script. It goes like this:

Hello. I’m Kevin Walker from Boardwalk. I’m standing in the dark because I want to illustrate a point about the value of having a well-considered brand strategy. Any business, product, service, campaign or event needs to be marketed. And if you have something that needs to be marketed then you need a clear brand strategy to light your way. Otherwise, your marketing team, like so many these days, will be operating in the dark. Now, even when a marketing team is lost in the dark, they still have tactical options. They can do the things most marketing teams do. They can improve their website, run some ads or print a brochure. But they will be feeling their way, lacking a clear direction, and always in fear of falling off a cliff or running into a wall or some other obstacle because … well, they’re in the dark. They have no vision. They can’t even be clear about where they want to go.

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Differentiated vs. Distinct Brands

I had my eyes opened the other day. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about being in the branding business. You never stop learning. (It’s also simultaneously exciting and humbling to verify that there are people in this world who can still teach me a thing or two about the subject in which I’m supposed to be an expert.) Regular Brandtalk readers know that I’m always urging the owners and managers of marketable assets to build brands that differentiate from their competition. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still important. But I was made to see, recently, that distinction, more than differentiation, is the true holy grail of branding. We know that all businesses have brands, be they good, bad or indifferent. All businesses have that brand relationship with their respective markets even though, sadly, most of them neglect that relationship. But it’s very rare that consumers would say that the competitors within a market are all the same. You may hear someone opine that all banks are alike. But that person does their banking somewhere. They found a preference somehow. That’s because there is some differentiation that occurs naturally between competitors, no matter how alike they might at first appear. The wise competitor will leverage a strong brand strategy to amplify the difference – to the point of distinction.

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Storytelling – Making Your Brand Promise

When you complete your brand strategy exploration, you will have absolute clarity on what your brand promise needs to be. You will know – without a doubt – how to position your business for competitive advantage. But then what? What do you do with this invaluable information? Well, you have to start making your brand promise, of course. You need to get the word out about your product or service. You have to find a way to get in front of prospective clients or customers. You have to make that brand promise directly to them and in a way that the rest of your market can witness and verify. How you do it will depend on your budget and the nature of that market.

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Identity Is Your Brand’s First Impression

In an ever-accelerating world, decision-makers use your brand’s identity as a short-cut to make instant judgements about your business, your offerings, your values and, ultimately, whether or not they want to include you in their lives. That’s why it’s so important to understand, exactly, what your brand is saying about you in any given moment. The most important moment, of course, is the instant your brand first appears in someone’s eye. Your brand’s identity provides your crucial first impression to the market. Human beings are visual hunters. The vast majority of the data we take in about the world around us, we take in through our eyes. And we gather and process that data almost instantly. During that brief second, we decide almost everything we think we need to know about a brand. And, even if those conclusions are later proven wrong, our first impressions still stick with us and influence subsequent decisions we make about the brand. So it’s no surprise that the market leaders in practically every business sector spare no expense when it comes to designing the way their brands are perceived during that first moment of contact.

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The Godfathers Of Positioning

I try to make every fifth blog post about positioning. That means I write about positioning quite a bit. Not too long ago, a reader commented that I hadn’t innovated anything new. He pointed out that Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the book on positioning, with the apt title, Positioning, back in the sixties. I was horrified at the implication that I was somehow plagiarizing their work. Far from it. I only attempt to spread the gospel. Positioning, as a tenet of marketing, is so completely accepted, and its prophets so highly revered, that I always take it as a given that readers know who they are and that they are true giants of marketing. After all, you don’t have to credit Marx and Engels every time you mention Communism. You don’t have to explain who Abbot and Costello are every time you reference the Who’s-On-First routine. Be that as it may, I’d like to take this opportunity to pen a brief appreciation of Messrs Ries & Trout – and celebrate their achievement, educating us on one of the most important marketing insights ever.

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