Branding is essentially a two-part process that consists of:
- Identifying the value your product or service delivers and distinguishing it from what the competition offers
- Communicating that value and distinction to the market in a compelling manner
According to Vistage speaker Scott Randall , most companies do a reasonably good job of identifying the value they deliver. Where they tend to fall short is in communicating that value to their prospects and customers.
“More than anything, a brand represents a promise of a certain value people can expect when they buy your product or service,” explains Randall. “However, don’t make the mistake of confusing your brand promise with what you do as a company.
“Your vision, mission and slogan are not the same as your brand promise. Your mission and strategy define where you want to go with your business and how you will get there. Your brand promise defines how what you do benefits your customers. Your slogan is simply the words you use to express that promise to them.”
Five Communication Steps
To communicate your brand (and your promise) to your target market, Randall suggests the following:
- Create awareness. People can’t do business with you if they don’t know you’re out there — no matter how good your product is. Building awareness starts with the basic tools of advertising, public relations, newsletters, direct mail and all the things you do to promote your products and services in the marketplace. It also involves the salespeople who get in front of the customer each and every day. How they dress, what they say — everything they do should send a consistent message about your brand. Make sure you have identified your differentiators before you start generating awareness.
- Get on your customers’ short list (consideration). Make it easy for people to say that you qualify to do business with them. How do you get on your customers’ short list? Identify their purchasing hot buttons and incorporate them into your brand messaging. “Listen to the buzzwords your customers use again and again,” suggests Randall. “They will tell you what your brand promise is.”
- Establish your differentiators (preference). Consideration answers the question, “Why should I buy this product?” Differentiation answers the question, “Why should I buy this product from you?” Find out what it is about your business or your business model that separates you from the pack. Beware of terms like “service” and “quality.” These have become benchmarks in most industries and are no longer true differentiators.”Don’t expect an ad agency or PR firm to answer the preference question for you,” cautions Randall. “That’s your job. Their job is to take the differentiators you have identified and communicate them to your customer base in the most effective manner.”
- Study your purchase process. A brand is about experiences. Look closely at the process customers go through to buy from you and assess how difficult or easy it is. Examine everything you do — from purchase price to delivery to exchanges, returns and satisfaction guarantees — and look for ways to improve the experience for the customer. Make the purchase experience as pleasant as possible, and don’t make guarantees you can’t live up to. A pleasant purchase experience combined with a pleasant brand experience leads to customer loyalty.
- Make it difficult for customers to leave (loyalty). Once you have customers in the door, don’t let go. Once they buy, know who they are and get permission to start a dialog. Know the buying cycles for your customers and get permission to contact them at appropriate times during the cycle (but never spam them).
How do you create awareness for products and companies that are commoditized or have low customer involvement? Randall suggests considering “halo” marketing, a process whereby you align yourself with something that customers care about.
“For example, the kids cereal market is highly competitive, with lots of brands out there vying for the customers’ attention,” notes Randall. “To overcome this commodity mindset, the cereal companies align their products with popular cartoon characters by putting their pictures on the front and back and/or with toy giveaways inside. As moms (or dads) push their grocery carts down the aisle, the kids see their favorite cartoon characters on the boxes and insist on that brand of cereal.”
Another type of halo marketing that works well (when you don’t have a compelling differentiation) is sponsorship. This involves aligning yourself with something that is related to what you do and already has a favorable impression in your customer’s mind. For example, if your product differentiator has something to do with “on time,” you might consider sponsoring the finish line of a marathon or triathlon because they always have a clock in a position where everyone sees it.
“The key with halo marketing is to identify where your customers live, what interests them and what gets their attention,” adds Randall. “Then create associations in their minds that match up with the positioning you want. Just make sure that you align with the right product, company or person for your brand.”
The Salesperson as Branding Tool
When communicating your brand, never forget that your salespeople represent one your most important tools.
According to Randall, marketing identifies customer needs and defines and creates the experience that satisfies them, while the salesperson takes that experience to the customer and negotiates price. If you’re not talking to customers, you’re not marketing. Once you figure out your brand message, give it to all your salespeople and make sure they go out and “talk the gospel” consistently.
“Keep in mind that salespeople communicate with individual customers, while advertising and PR communicate to the larger audience as a whole,” says Randall. “The ad firm’s job is to come up with ideas, words, language and music that create emotion around your customers’ most important purchasing hot buttons. The salesperson’s job is to address those hot buttons on a one-to-one basis.
“If the hot buttons change over time, as they often do, you have to migrate with your customers to make sure your brand stays relevant. When that happens, make sure your salespeople migrate with you and continue to represent your brand in an appropriate manner.”