A version of this post appeared in Brandtalk, June 11, 2018
Do you remember what it was like to hear your recorded voice for the first time? And how strange it sounded? And isn’t it interesting that people can’t look at themselves in the mirror without bias? We see what we want to see, confirming either a positive or a negative opinion of our appearance. When we self-regard, we get a distorted view of ourselves. For instance, when we hear ourselves speak, the sound waves aren’t gathered by our ears the way we hear other sounds. We hear our voices from inside our own heads. So nobody else hears your voice the same way you hear it. Similarly, no one perceives a brand the way its creator does. After a few years in business, the founder of a brand knows all its history, all its glorious successes, and all its crushing failures. The founder of a business has an encyclopedic and invaluable perception of it. Invaluable, yes, but also the most isolated point of view. No one else experiences the business in the same way; not its employees and certainly not its customers. So, while it can be a little unnerving to see yourself the way your market does, it pays, every few years or so, to have your brand take a “selfie”. Understanding how others perceive your brand results in astonishing clarity about how to go about delighting your customers. It provides a clear road map as to how to grow the business.
A brand strategy makes a business case for why a marketable entity should be positioned in a particular way relative to the competition. It spotlights competitive advantage. And the quality of the brand strategy depends entirely on the quality of the market intelligence it’s based upon. A brand strategy that’s based solely on the perceptions of the company founder is not going to be successful. And brand strategies that are born of offsite executive conclaves are not much better. Both are bound to be constrained by a very narrow view of the brand. The rest of the market has a viewpoint as well and needs to be taken into consideration.
So take a moment and define your market, e.g., employees, customers, vendors, competitors, financiers, the press, regulatory agencies, etc. Break each of those constituencies down into sub-segments if necessary. Then go and find out how they see the brand. We don’t need to define the process here, only that it’s necessary.
It’s necessary because all these viewpoints matter, not just the C-suite’s. Customers, especially, have a vital point of view. In many respects, the rank and file employees have the most important view of all. When they feel a brand is authentic and provides real value, they’ll happily serve as brand ambassadors and take personal charge of ensuring buyers have delightful customer experiences.
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Once all the research is done, it should be combined with a critical review of the company’s products and services, an audit of its marketing materials, and a survey of its competitive environment. As much data as possible should be gathered. Thorough analysis will reveal patterns, themes, common threads. If the same comment is offered up by more than one constituency, theres a good chance that observation is true.
Truth matters. Truth counts. If it’s a good truth, something that reflects positively on the business, great. But if it turns out to be true that there’s a negative aspect to the business, well that’s good to know as well. Because, at least, now it’s out in the open and can be addressed. Positive truths can be emphasized and promoted. Negative truths can be eliminated.
And when the analysis is complete, a true picture of the business emerges, like a photographic image gradually developing in a chemical bath. The result is an understanding of the business as it really is. And so says the whole market not just the CEO.
The benefits of taking this “selfie” are priceless. The business now knows what its purpose is, what its mission should be, what its brand promise is and how it should position itself. Further, it knows what mix of media would be most effective in reaching its market. It knows what marketing messages will spur its customers to action. It will be keenly aware of any obstacles to its success and can easily avoid them.
Ultimately, clarity and confidence are principal benefits of a well-researched, well-considered brand strategy – clarity in seeing the path to success and confidence in marching forward. It all depends on gathering up significant market intelligence. It all depends on taking that “selfie”.
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