Think about this: We live in an age when we have more choices than ever before about what to buy and where to buy it. And we have more information than ever before to guide us.
Yet … customer loyalty is at an all-time low. Only 25 percent of consumers say brand loyalty played a role in their last purchase.
It has been proven that a strong brand can help consumers make choices…. a strong brand often commands a premium price… and a strong brand engenders loyalty.
So this is my message:
In this crazy-crowded marketplace, a strong brand offers a tremendous opportunity for you to simplify a customer’s choice – to makes consumer decision-making easier. The funny thing is, though, few companies invest the time to develop their brand promise.
Here, I will share with you what I believe are the essential components of strong brands and how you can begin to create a brand that will stand out and succeed.
First, let’s clear up the biggest misconception about brand strategy: Your brand is not your product, your logo, your website, or your name. Your brand may include these things – but it is much more.
Your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells your customer what to expect at every interaction with your organization and what differentiates your product or service from the competition.
It’s this hard-to-pin-down feeling that separates powerhouse and mediocre brands from each other.
Building this great brand requires knowing the right principles. I have identified 4 principles that great brands follow.
1. GREAT BRANDS START WITH “WHY”
The “Why” here is your purpose – why you exist. It’s your passion, the biggest belief that you share and the implications of holding that belief at the center of everything you do.
Simon Sinek is a marketing consultant who has embraced the concept of “purpose-driven marketing” in recent years and I agree with him. Brands that discover their purpose AND innovate, communicate and operate from this purpose will be more successful than companies that do not.
Apple is a great example of a brand that embraces its purpose and as a result continues to be one of the most respected brands and a brand that innovates far faster and more successfully than other companies in its field.
So what is Apple’s “secret sauce?” Apple makes every brand decision through a filter of its purpose and Apple’s purpose is: APPLE exists to challenge the status quo – to be different.
Apple does NOT just say we sell great-looking computers that will make your life easier, better, faster and you’ll look cool using them.
Overarching is the larger identity – challenging the status quo. This identity dictates the products Apple develops, its distinctive store designs and the vivid and unmistakably Apple messages it uses to connect with its audience. They all give customers permission to THINK DIFFERENT. This is why Apple is one of the most valuable global brands.
As you think about your brand’s purpose, ask yourself: What does your brand want to see happen? What does it passionately want to stop? While making money is a priority, of course, operating under that notion alone does little to set your product apart from others in your industry.
Whatever you decide: that’s your purpose… why you exist. And it should be one you are prepared to share day-in day-out with everyone who comes in contact with your brand.
2. GREAT BRANDS ARE CONSISTENT
We recently worked with a client whose customers had confused understanding of their brand – they did not understand who they were and what they offered.
Through a “brand audit” where we reviewed their materials and designs, from business cards to advertising we uncovered three different logos, inconsistent use of color, and two different taglines.
The client thought this varied approach was smart business. Quite simply, it is not. Multiple looks and voices confuse your customers and reflect a lack of purpose. Great brands present a consistent look, feel, tone, and terminology. This must be true for every marketing piece — including packaging, a website’s design and content, signage, banners and all things related to your brand.
Red Bull is one of my favorite examples of a brand with a maniacal focus on a consistent brand strategy, look, and voice.
Their brand message is about action and adventure. They brand action films, own sports teams and consistently use their blue, gold and red logo.
Red Bull knows its brand and never deviates from it. This consistency helps them dominate the energy drink market because they make it easy for consumers to pick them out from the crowd.
In short, less is more.
3. GREAT BRANDS START INSIDE
Organizations spend millions to build their brands with customers, but many overlook the most important resource for successful branding: their own employees.
So while communication externally is about expressing your brand, starting inside is about executing your brand.
Think of it this way: Every time your employee touches a customer it is an opportunity to build or tear down your brand. Companies work feverishly to reach their customers, from the biggest Super Bowl ads to the tiniest tweets.
But it is the employees who embody the brand daily.
Lululemon is an exceptional example. Lululemon has formidable competition in exercise gear in the form of Nike and Under Armour.
Lululemon’s key differentiator is to use their employees as ambassadors and community engagement managers.
Those ambassadors help create events and connect with community athletes, fitness leaders, yoga studios and more.
The result: the Lululemon brand sells a vision of youth, energy, calm, vitality, health, and discovering-your-chi. And their 1,500 ambassadors live the brand every day – authentically – in a way that competitors can’t mimic.
Lululemon owns the lifestyle fitness craze, in part, because of this.
So take a cue from them:
- They started small and then leveraged passionate brand ambassadors.
- You can do the same: Select a few of your key employees to do what they already love, what they believe in. Then enable and encourage them to share with others who love it, too. That is brand ambassador gold right there.
Think of it this way: If your brand is a promise you make to the world, your employees should be your promise keepers.
4. A GREAT BRAND KNOWS ITS CUSTOMERS AND LISTENS TO THEM.
When I started in this business over 25 years ago, there was only one way to listen to our customers – in focus groups. Several times a year we hit the road and sat behind one-way mirrors. We ate lots and lots of M&Ms and listened to small groups – mostly women — talk about our brands. Half the time the consumers weren’t even telling the truth and we knew it.
Fast-forward to today. There are so many ways to listen to your customer and customers are more likely to be telling the unvarnished truth.
Yet, I see only a small percentage of companies embrace the listening tools available to them – and use the results to design better products.
The new tools include social listening – monitoring Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other online resources for mentions of your product or organization. New tools include online product reviews and online analytical data to understand how and what consumers are buying.
History shows that when companies listen to their customers, collaborate with them and innovate together, they thrive. And when they don’t, they fail.
Best Buy and Expedia are two examples of companies that listen and have recently taken steps to react to the demand of the market – to be more customer-obsessed and turn customer data and feedback into action.
Big-box retailer Best Buy follows customer website reviews and has begun to share feedback with vendors. It rewards some customers who complete reviews with points to use toward future purchases.
Expedia is an example of a company that uses data as a tool to drive deeper customer relationships. By tracking customer searches and other behavior, it makes online offers that are relevant to consumers and lower in price.
“The customers appreciate that we recognize what they are shopping for and care about,” says Expedia’s marketing chief. Customers see Expedia as loyal to their needs and begin to trust it more.
So take advantage of the tools and technologies to become more customer-centric… to engage with consumers at all touch points, communicate your mission, and innovate constantly – to ‘show up’ in multiple ways, demonstrating you care.
To start, don’t be afraid to listen.
So, start with purpose, be consistent, start inside and listen. Do this and you will have the building blocks of a great brand — and in a world of too many choices you will have the power to stand out.