vaccuumWe aren’t born with a good reputation, it’s something we earn over time. And the same rings true for your business.

Your brand isn’t necessarily just a product of your marketing efforts and the messages that you put out to the world.

It goes deeper than that. In fact, it’s based more off of what your customers and prospects believe about what you offer and stand for over anything else.

And this is where we as marketers tend to fall down. We focus too much on how we are portraying ourselves, and less about how these messages are actually getting perceived by the world. We forget about the people we’re talking to.

Take Starbucks for example; they may not produce the best coffee in the entire world, but they’re doing a remarkable job making the public feel like they are. When we think of Starbucks, many of us think of high-quality lattes and fine coffee.

This works for many reasons: a) their product / in-cafe experience aligns with their message, b) they’ve been putting this same message out forever and c) they know their target audience is looking for expensive lattes and fine coffee and they’re delivering. We, as consumers, have helped them become the brand they are by believing in the messages they’re putting out.

So How Does Starbucks Do It?

Let’s face it…we’re not all Starbucks (and that’s okay). It doesn’t mean that (even as a small - or medium-sized business) our branding strategies can’t achieve what Starbucks has (although perhaps on a smaller scale). If you focus on building a clear and concise brand strategy, you will ultimately improve your overall brand equity.

But getting there can be tricky. And most of us are doing it wrong. It’s understanding why you’re getting it wrong and fixing it that can really take your business to the next level.

We’ve coached many clients through branding engagements, and a common problem that we find is that they think they’re doing everything right.

The three most common problems we encounter are focusing too much on the competition, being unwilling to make changes, and not focusing on their target audience (i.e. trying to attract all 7 billion people on the planet to their company).

Now, we’ll get more detailed into these mistakes in today’s post, but we want to set the stage. Before you continue reading, just take a moment to look at how you are branding your own organization.

How are you coming up with your messaging? Are you looking at what your competitors are doing? Do you have the same message you had 5 years ago? Is your message new every single month?

It’s okay if those answers aren’t coming to you easily. That’s why you’re reading this post, right? To find out if your brand sucks, and how you can make changes to fix it with a new branding strategy.

How to Get Started

If you’re still wondering why identifying your branding strategy and identity is so important to your success, take a moment to consider these questions:

  • If you’re taking the time to develop a product or service, is it reaching an audience?
  • Is it reaching the right audience?
  • Are you seeing a return on investment (ROI)?

If you can’t answer yes to any of these questions, then you’re probably wasting your efforts (or your brand is clearly not resonating well with your audience). You’re most likely missing out on a potential loyal following, recognition, word-of-mouth marketing and other valuable brand opportunities.

In today’s post you’ll gain insight into the importance of putting your branding strategy back in the game, how you can properly refine your strategy and how you can start resonating with your customers again. We'll describe six tactics to focus on, what might be holding you back, and the steps you can take to solve the branding dilemma. Let's get started!

1) Focus on your Audience

What Might Be Holding You Back: You don’t know who you should be targeting and / or you’re trying to target to everyone and their mother.

Solution: Consider the people in your office - we all have different roles and different ways of consuming content. Some of us are talkative, while others are more reserved. Some of us take to social media for what’s happening in the world while others enjoy reading the newspaper each morning.

We all have different job titles, from copywriters to campaign managers. But at our office, even with all these differences, we all have one goal and objective in mind: to drive success for our customers and help them grow their business through inbound marketing.

You should take a similar approach when thinking about your buyer personas. Remember that while they may have differences, there will be commonalities among them which is where your messaging and positioning should hit home. And where your branding strategy will start to resonate.

It isn’t enough to define your personas with something as simple as: “she likes technology.” This type of information is relatively useless for your overall branding strategy. You need to take a deep dive into who they are, what their responsibilities are, what makes them tick, and what they struggle with.

With our clients, we recommend even developing a fictional character for each personas, giving them a name, a job title and even a picture. Ultimately, with clearly defined buyer personas, you’ll know who to target and your messaging / positioning will come naturally as you’re seeking to solve their needs.

One of the biggest errors you can make when developing your branding strategy is not properly defining your personas, or skipping them altogether. If you don’t understand who you’re marketing to, then you’ll never be able to successfully reach that audience. You also won’t be able to build a successful image around your brand that truly resonates (especially with your ideal customers). And without a real following, where does that get you?

The goal is for your brand to spark an emotion. Brands like Apple make their customers feel hip and secure when they use their products. Not only have they met their buyer personas needs and desires, but they have made people feel something just by interacting with their brand. If you can successfully connect with your audience then you’re in, but in order to do that you need to determine who you’re trying to connect with in the first place.

Every successful brand has a solid understanding of their audience, if you can speak to your persona you can speak to anyone - which is what being a successful brand is truly all about.

2) Be Unique

What Might Be Holding You Back: You try to emulate your competitors.

Solution: Being unique isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to celebrate. Chances are you’re not the only one selling a specific product or service in your industry. All it really takes to becoming a successful brand is finding unique ways to position your offerings differently from the competition. Find that one (or maybe two) thing(s) that make you unique and embrace them.

When thinking about uniqueness, it’s okay to get inspiration from brands who are already executing this idea well. Take for example, the shoe company TOMS. They are clearly not the only company in the world selling shoes, but they are winning the hearts of their customers with their charity. They donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoe sold. This tugs at our heartstrings and we feel connected to the brand because we know that when we purchase a pair of TOMS shoes, we’re doing our part to help needy children.

Even if you’re a small business, try to start thinking like the top leaders in your industry, without “copying” their ideas - just use them for inspiration. Examine what is working for them, how they communicate their message, the imagery they use to convey their message and how people are responding to it. Then look at your business, deep inside, and find what makes you special. Once you find your niche (even if it’s a niche within a niche), you can start integrating it into your positioning and start to build credibility with your prospects and customers.

3) Be Flexible

What Might Be Holding You Back: You aren’t willing to make changes.

Solution: To be a successful brand you need to be flexible and willing to change as certain trends and interests evolve. All great brands are willing to change and adapt. Not every brand has come out on top, but those willing to take a leap have often shaped themselves into industry leaders.

For example, Intel launched “The Museum of Me,” an element on their website that is dedicated to connecting with their audience through digital content. No one in their industry was really doing this, but it was Intel evolving with their customers. It’s no question that our world has become a digital age, and this is one brand that embraced this fact and successfully incorporated the shift into their strategy.

If your brand is currently in the “suck” phase, you should start thinking about ways you can change that might give you a slight edge. Are some of your techniques, language, design or style outdated? Maybe it’s time to analyze your competition, current trends, and most importantly reevaluate your buyer personas to see if there are ways you can adapt to better meet their needs. Make a change for the better.

4) Be Passionate

What Might Be Holding You Back: Your brand lacks excitement, passion and enthusiasm.

Solution: If you aren’t passionate about your brand then you aren’t giving your audience a good reason to be either. Successful brands love what they do, love doing it and love finding new ways to inspire others.

Passion is one of those brand characteristics that really speaks to people and it can be a highly effective marketing tool. To get started, think about why your brand is lovable, what you do that brings joy to people and how your products or services can inspire others.

Enthusiasm and passion are two things that people love, and often times companies that embody these characteristics spread rapidly through word-of-mouth marketing. Why? Because their personas perceive the organization well and in turn, want to share it with all their friends.

Circling back to TOMS shoes, they are popular because they are passionate about changing the lives of needy children and they’ve inspired their customers to do the same. Also let’s look at Apple again; Steve Jobs had a huge impact on the brand due to his passion and enthusiasm for building innovative products that the public would love.

People respond to passion. So, if you want to see start seeing more success within your branding strategy, it’s important that you truly believe in what you’re saying. Audiences can see right through you if you aren’t 100% behind your own messaging.

5) Be Analytical

What Might Be Holding You Back: You didn’t take the time to analyze your efforts.

Solution: If you want to improve your brand strategy, then you need to identify what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong and what potential your brand has for success. If you don’t take the time to analyze your efforts, how will you know how to improve?

A traditional SWOT analysis may seem like a thing of the past and totally out-of-date, but it can provide insight into some key elements you need to reestablish and excel your brand. Conducting a SWOT analysis is fairly simple concept, all you need to do is identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

If you’re having trouble identifying some of these elements, or worry you may be too biased, pull in your team (which you really should be doing anyway) or a trusted advisor for support. You can also consider reaching out to your best and worst customers for more insight.

You want insight from everyone, even your skeptics. Some of the best brands get criticized, so start gathering information from all possible outlets to get the most well-rounded vision you can.

6) Be Valuable

What Might Be Holding You Back: All you do is sell, sell, sell.

Solution: One of the biggest downfalls of traditional marketing is that it focuses primarily on selling a product / service. Let’s be honest, people aren’t attracted to desperation or the “gimme, gimme” approach. Instead, people are attracted to things that are interesting and draw them in.

Let’s relate this to the dating game-- you’re much more likely to ask someone out that entices you with their confidence, intelligence and that can entertain you (not someone who bombards you and doesn’t take no for an answer). If you come on too strong you’re going to scare that person away.

Instead of coming on too strong, start thinking of ways you can attract your customers to your brand without pushing the hard sell. Successful brands are the ones that entice their customers and provide them with value. It’s not very common for someone to be attracted to a brand because of a pushy sales strategy (although if “Flash Sales” and “Slashed Prices” are your thing, then perhaps the selling strategy works for you).

More often than not, you’ll succeed by not shoving sales down your potential cusomers' throats. As you’re building your brand strategy, we encourage you to think about what your customers truly value - and what you can do to meet that demand.

Perhaps it’s free content or a monthly newsletter, or it’s an exclusive, customer only webinar, or even a holiday gift basket. Whatever it is, have it be meaningful, and show that you care about them, but also that you’re listening to what they need and solving their problems for them. This will go a long way as your growing a stronger fanbase.

Now what?

Successful brands don’t just happen out of thin air - they take hard work and time to build, and most importantly need a well-thoughtout strategy behind them. We have all seen first hand how branding can make or break a company, so when you’re considering these points for your own branding strategy, don’t just rush through them.

We encourage you to first examine where you currently are with your business. What your brand stands for and if / how it’s reaching the people you want it to. If you see that you’re in a sucky position, move through each of these steps we’ve outlined today. You’ll be surprised how illuminating they will be and we’ll even venture to guess that you’ll discover things you never knew about yourselves.

As we said in the beginning of this post, a brand isn’t your appearance or even what you’re doing - it’s how you do it and how your brand makes people feel.

Have questions for us? We’re here to help and want to hear all about your branding challenges! Leave us a comment below, sharing your insights on branding or even just asking us more about our methodology. A member of our team will be glad to help!

Happy Branding!

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Originally published Dec 19, 2013 10:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016


Inbound Marketing Branding