5 Questions to ask of business strategy

By Tom Dougherty

Business Strategy is dependent on brand strategy.

There are a number of ways people both in and out of the marketing industry believe you can judge creative work from advertising to design to brand position.

Many will tell you that it just needs to be catchy or entertaining enough to be noticed. The logic behind that is that awareness is the key to marketing success.

That’s not the key, of course. But even if it was, so much marketing is frighteningly forgettable – one ad or brand or brochure blending into another – that they just pass us by.

Most business strategy (as we’re defining it, in the broad sense) is wasted money because it lacks meaning, often attempts to just entertain instead of moving the needle and is plain vanilla.

Therefore, here is a primer of how to judge your creative work based on 5 questions you need to ask yourself. If the answer to all five is “yes,” then the work will succeed and steal market share.

First Question: Is the branding on strategy?

Business strategy must be tied to brand strategy
What is your brand strategy?

Seems like a simple question, but most business strategy has no strategic bent. The spots are either only entertaining (see beer ads) with no point or their strategies are based on switching triggers that don’t matter to consumers (see banking ads). They become just noise.

This is particularly a problem in today’s media-obsessed world in which the average consumer is faced with thousands of messages per day. (Even a logo on a pen is a message.) If most of marketing is meaningless and bland – that is, not strategic – then how are consumers able to pick through the clutter?

The answer: They don’t. They ignore it.

Therefore, it is crucial that your marketing strategy is strategic and has a point of view. For example, the marketing of McDonalds is strategic and has a point of view. It is about “fun,” and everything it does is based on that strategic position that has nothing to do with the table stakes of good taste or low price.

Even the “I’m loving it” theme line is written in lower case, meaning the execution of the brand continues through all creative executions. These things matter.

Question 2: Does the business strategy have clarity?

This question is often misunderstood, especially when it comes to design. For example, many companies want to be “blown away” by a logo. We’ve actually heard: “I wanted to see dancing cats.”

However, a logo just needs to send a single and direct message. If it doesn’t – and is complicated by “over-design” – it will just become fashion. Often, the most impressive and artistic logos on first blush don’t wear well. You want the one that stays with you.

We’ve often chuckled over what it must have been like when the Nike logo was presented. “It’s a swoosh!” The power of the swoosh is that it’s supports a direct and single-minded message. Nike’s brand is based on being a winner without all the distractions – “Just do it” – and its name comes from the Greek goddess of victory: “Winged Victory.”

Question #3: Does the brand strategy represent an aspirational reflection of your target audience?

Let’s go back to Nike for a minute. Anymore, most of those who wear Nikes are people like you or me. We’re not NBA players or workout fanatics like Lance Armstrong. Most of us are ones who change shoes at lunch so we can go walking around the block.

Yet, the images Nike uses – those of LeBron James or Serena Williams – represent an aspirational version of the “Just Do It” brand and who we want to feel like when we use that brand. The brand strategy made sense.

This doesn’t mean you have to go that far in developing your imagery. What it does mean is don’t take the aspiration out of the “reflection of your customer” imagery. Just because your target audience is made up of heavy-set folks, for example, doesn’t mean those are the people in your imagery. You want the brand to reflect whom your target audience aspires to be.

Think McDonalds: It’s not the slim urbanites that go there most. Yet, those are just the folks in the advertising.

Question #4: Does the brand strategy and business strategy position your brand as different than your competition?

This is the single most frustrating issue for us when we examine a market for a client. We rail against the sameness of messaging, tone and imagery among the players in a category. The best brands are the ones that are different (and better) than the competition.

Yet, most markets have amazingly similar messaging. What happens is that the followers in the market follow the market leader by copying its marketing. The beers copy Budweiser. The banks copy Bank of America.

When you do that, who does that help? The market leader, because it is the default choice for consumers when everything is equal.

If you have similar messaging as the market leader, everything is equal and, from the perspective of the target audience, you don’t represent a choice.

Different (and better) offers a true choice for the consumer. When you put a stake in the ground, you are more likely to be noticed and coveted. It means stating who you are for and who you are not for, claiming a position in the market that no one has taken and has meaning for your target audience. (The aspirational reflection.)

Think of Harley-Davidson. As a brand, there is no one else in the market like it. The Harley brand clearly defines who you are when you use the brand – a weekend rebel – that is also an aspiration. (Harley riders aren’t necessarily tough by nature, but they feel tough when riding a Harley.)

Harley is different in message, tone and imagery. It clearly states its position and is coveted by many. By refusing to be everything for everybody (which means you are really for no one), it represents a true choice.

Question #5: Is the strategy smart?

Few myths have destroyed more marketing than the one that messaging needs to be at the 8th grade level to be understood.

Think of this way: Most people are like you and me. There aren’t a lot of true differences between us. We’re all relatively intelligent, intuitive and have common sense.

That means dumbing marketing and business strategy down usually means it’s seen as dumbed down, vanilla and “not for me.”

Let’s consider naming, an exercise that is more difficult than it sounds. Many companies believe any sophistication in its name will present a hurdle, so some decide a name for their company or product must be a real word.

That is perfectly smart if that word has meaning for its brand, but don’t do it only because you feel your audience wouldn’t understand anything else. Otherwise, where does that leave Google?

IKEA, Canon, Colgate, Cisco, Nokia, Accenture and Duracell are just some of the names that have “made-up” names that nonetheless are memorable, meaningful (can tell a story) and feel tonally correct.

Don’t automatically dumb down. Smart is always the better play.

If you ask yourself these questions when examining marketing work – brand, advertising, design, naming, etc. – you will know whether it will steal share for you or not. After all, that is the point of all the marketing you do.

(Read the rules that marketers must follow to steal market share here)

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