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Brand Strategy

Brand Strategy: The Rules Of Navigation

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Brand Strategy Blackberry

Now, more than ever, brand marketers are under intense pressure to deliver results for their brands. The intensity in every marketer’s attempts to get it right every time is palpable. The fact is they don’t get it right every time, and they never will. This is tough for CEO’s to accept. To them, this sounds like a lame excuse for not delivering. 

Little wonder marketers have an over-dependence on fixed strategy and proven tactics - making and delivering more and more messages perfectly-right-on-the-money-every-time-without-fail-on-time-and-on budget. This is an absurd expectation – in fact, it’s more than that – it’s a danger to innovation and competitive advantage. 

We live in a new normal where the social web has wiped out established barriers to entry in a whole host of business and product categories. It’s certainly made a shambles of the advertising agency model. What worked predictably well (advertising) no longer does. Yet marketers still place tremendous energy on convincing rather than engaging. 

Brand strategy is not a path to perfection. 

In the light speed pace of business today, brand strategy must be a guiding force to help us learn and re-learn our way into the future – brand strategy must be a vision out on the horizon, an ideal to shoot for rather than a stick in the ground. All success is risky business. Contrary to those who believe the marketplace is linear, neat and predictable – brand building is a risky, messy business to navigate.  

Markets change on the mere whim of the next best thing. Product innovations (both latent and blatant) change the whole ball game over night. Seemingly marketers have forgotten the universal truth that change is the only constant. Change is not a momentary aberration in time; it’s a natural component to the flow of everything. 

Adaptability, flexibility and constant re-learning are the necessary and fundamental attributes for brand building in a knowledge-based economy. There are no “best-practices” only learning then re-learning.

To learn then re-learn.

The trouble with marketing and brand management is most of the time we don’t know what we don’t know. When the focus is always on the results, you learn and are encouraged to do more of what works. Everything is tactics. But when that learning becomes organizational quicksand… your brand is, well…stuck. Innovation is a continuous process not an event. All innovation is about learning then re-learning, and so it is with brand innovation. Challenge your assumptions, learn then re-learn. 

In the pursuit of any goal, most of the time you’ll be off course.

Like sailing a boat or flying an airplane, to get to where you’re going, your course is continually being slightly adjusted as you go along. Most of the time you’ll be off course. There are no straight lines when you are dealing with the gravity, wind, current and terrain of the marketplace. To grow and manage an enduring brand, brand owners must strengthen their capacity to navigate, tack and adapt as the circumstances and conditions shift. This is difficult to do on limited resources, but it’s not impossible. Apple knew this well long before it was the richest company on the planet. 

Admit failure with joy!

Admitting the big idea bombed is difficult for marketing organizations. From my own experience working with hundreds of marketing teams, most marketers would rather believe they’re smarter than anyone else. It’s tough to admit failure within an ROI obsessed corporate culture when your career prospects are on the line. Failure to admit a wrong turn undermines the benefits of the organization’s learning from the mistake. 

If you sense something is wrong in your brand strategy and your marketing tactics, chances are your right. Take action! If your strategy or tactic isn’t happening, admit the “failure” with joy and move quickly forward with your new learning. Everything that’s awesome at first sucks. 

Knowing why is better than how.

At the end of the day, marketers have to know the reasons behind why things seem “off-strategy”. Perhaps its because your current brand strategy is “off-strategy”. Maybe this is one of the things you don’t know you don’t know. If you can’t determine why something feels off, get outside help if you need it. Seek advise from outside sources (brand consultants included please). Expand your awareness, go outside your industry, move your thinking upward and outward, gain insight not data and seek an outside perspective – then listen. 

Listen more.

Marketing is a business of messaging more than listening. I believe it should be the other way around. Listening to customers, trending the category, observing behavior, whatever the method – engagement begins with listening first. When brands take a wrong turn, it’s terribly difficult for some brands to admit it and shift course in plain sight of customers and stakeholders. Just look at Research In Motion, Sears and Kodak. On the other hand, when brands do listen, all is quickly forgiven. Netflix has emerged from its very public failure stronger than ever. 

It’s messy clawing your way to the middle.

If you’re brand becomes a middle player, perhaps your organization values learning from what worked (or didn’t) from competitors in the category and then doing it better. Doing is easier than being. Brand innovation is never about doing more of the same only better. Brand owners spend so much time defining their “brand essence” and why they matter; yet so much effort turns out to be navel gazing. True north is never revealed through words in a Powerpoint deck, but by behavior in the marketplace. 

Enduring brands are brilliant at being and consequently they lead markets simply through the evolving quality of their presence. The “quality of your presence” in the marketplace is not perfect nor will it ever be. That’s what makes this game so exciting, rewarding and messy too.

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