Effective brand development is nearly impossible to execute in-house because it is difficult to be dispassionate and objective when evaluating the state of your
business. As a result, companies often make the mistake of confusing the business of their business with the business of their brand.
Strategically speaking, the business of your business is what you make and/or sell. All too often, businesses describe their brand by what they do, which obscures the marketing position and strategy. This is the reasoning behind many marketing positions and/or brand identities that are merely a reflection of category benefits and do not create brand differentiation. That approach simply defines the offerings and presents a banal claim that is neither important nor believable in the eyes of the target audience.
Your responsibility in the process
There are a few important responsibilities in defining the business of your business, and these are vastly different from the brand strategies that arise from the business of your brand. Your product must perform according to the standards set by the market. For example, if you are selling soap powder, your product needs to clean clothing, have a pleasant fragrance, and be competitively priced. It needs to be consistent in quality and value, and it needs to perform a function.
You are also selling your brand identity and must preserve that identity with great care, consistently delivering the value your corporate identity promises. Here, many companies (including our own competitors) get confused. Your logo, mark, theme line, and look and feel are part of your corporate identity. Not your brand. Marks and equities are all about the recognition of you and your company. They are how the customer remembers you. These values are all about processes, operations and ingenuity.
What your customers buy
You see the beginnings of a brand strategy when you are able to take a dispassionate look at your customers and see them, not as you imagine them, but rather as they are.
Simply put, your customers buy a category, and then choose a brand within that category. Referencing our soap powder example, the customer needs soap powder to wash clothes. The customer then chooses a specific brand of soap powder as a preferred purchase.
Purchasing decisions are all about positioning, meaning and integrity. They choose a brand within a category based on an emotional litmus test. Efficacy and product values are, for the most part, equal across the market space. All soap powders available on the market will clean your clothes, so claims of superiority are mere distractions for consumers. Nonetheless, most packaged goods companies continue to try to differentiate their brands with efficacy claims.
What dictates consumer preference
How then does the consumer determine preference and what price are they willing to pay for that brand? Considering that almost all products sell commodity benefits, what could possibly be left? What is left is true brand.
The strategy begins with a clear understanding of your target audience, never stopping at a simple usage and attitude study. The study of the customer has more in common with anthropology than marketing. Marketing strategy focuses on tactics and values while brand anthropology focuses more on the target audience and their beliefs about themselves and the world. Choices are made (with all else being equal) because of personal identification with the attributes assigned to the brand by target audiences themselves. The brand that best offers a reflection of the customer’s self-description and personal identity will win the day.
Developing actionable strategies requires digging into the perceptual context of the target audience. Stealing Share’s consultants use rebranding tools like behavior modeling to understand the precepts that drive the target audience to take action and ensure that those values are communicated in the strategy at all times. Your customer must recognize the brand and find within its promise, not simple efficacy, but affirmation. Those that continue to believe that purchase decisions are cognitive choices are living in the 1950’s world of unique selling propositions (USP). When the market was immature and less crowded, such business promises could incite trial. Today, USPs represent a flash in the pan.
USP has no lasting value.
Your brand does not belong to you; it belongs to your customer and is more of a reflection of them than you and your business. If your “strategy” includes descriptions of your product or service, your own history or category benefits, chances are that you have a robust business and an ailing brand.