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Brand Strategy

The Future Of Brand Competitiveness

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Competitive Brand Strategy

Three seemingly unrelated articles got me thinking today about the future of brand competitiveness in a world where the competitors are increasingly globally scaled.

Conventional knowledge suggests that brands square off in the arena of public awareness. Each party assembles its awareness and loyalty generators and then launches a charm offensive to consumers offering them multiple reasons and multiple channels to choose them over others. In the fight between big and big, that’s a relatively straightforward competition. But how do you take on the biggest brands in the world if you are a much smaller marketing force or if you’re looking for an alternative strategy?

Perhaps you do so by not taking them on directly. And perhaps you don’t take them on alone. The thought for this came from an article by Stan McChrystal on the lessons he learned in Iraq: that a massive and powerful adversary can be seriously affected by a much, much smaller force that leverages its network and moves quickly to find points of vulnerability. The relevance of McChrystal’s point, that it takes a network to defeat a network, for business today is captured neatly in this thought. “Our organization was designed for a problem that no longer existed; we had brought an industrial age force to an information-age conflict…I believe this same challenge confronts organizations in every sector of the modern environment.”

Now combine that idea of competing via a wired network with this one from an article on the branding of global dissent: that a brand centered on principle will act as a powerful cohesion point for diverse people. As the article points out, people will address issues together, under a banner, that they would not address individually. From the article: “[Gene] Sharp … in 1973 outlined “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” in the first of many of his works that provide a road map for orchestrating protest movements around the world…Sharp’s list defines how to create a unique and recognizable identity for a movement. It recommends establishing “symbolic colors,” slogans, caricatures, sounds and symbols in service of the greater cause” Brand, by any other name.

How do these ideas come together? They suggest that a powerful brand strategy may lie in applying the same principles to the way a brand competes. That, instead of going head to head, companies could employ an asymmetrical brand strategy; one that coalesces people into a network centered around a “protest”- based principle (using social media for example) and then uses that principle as a guerrilla tactic to compete with rivals at points where they are most vulnerable.

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Brand Management

4 Ways Brands Should Support Sales Teams

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Brand And Sales Support

While there has been plenty of discussion around how marketing and sales teams should play well together, the onus on brand owners to proactively support people in the field seems to have attracted less attention. Customers, of course, make no distinctions between which parts of the organization they are dealing with at any one time. In that sense, brand is sales: a brand is only as good as its ability to attract, convert and retain fickle buyers.

So, could brand managers be doing more to help sales and frontline teams? Here are four ways that these historically distinct teams can get more done together.

1. Build a brand that people want to meet. Salespeople are going to struggle to get appointments if they represent a brand no-one wants to know. Likeability is absolutely a brand responsibility. By creating a brand that is insightful, honed, intriguing and trusted, brand teams can directly help open the door for sales. The more inclined buyers are to want to know more, the more likely they are, obviously, to take a call or a meeting, ask for a demo or search a site. The real power of perception lies in what it enables, and brand owners should be judging their effectiveness on that basis. The responsibility for brand people couldn’t be more clear-cut: build an interesting brand that is a pleasure to sell and represent.

2. Create environments where people come to you. So often, marketers expect sales teams to be the bridgers and closers. They expect them to take what has been prepared out into the world and to bring back new business. That’s a very one-sided view of marketing – because, in reality, brand owners should be intimately involved in the development of communications campaigns and branded environments, online and off-, that invite customers in and make them feel welcome. The role of sales is to drive and close decisions in favor of the brand. The role of brand is to help those decisions feel valuable.

3. Weave the brand through everything you do. The brand and what it represents should be the benchmark for all customer-facing behavior, and sales teams are no exception to this. But if the things they are rewarded for are off-skew with the brand’s values and priorities, then brand and sales will continually be at odds. For that reason, be very careful that what you encourage, recognize and incentivize in your sales team is in keeping with who you say you are and what you say you prioritize. Compassionate brands don’t reward greed. Exciting brands don’t accept complacency. Innovative brands want more on their frontline than order takers. Too many companies have sales cultures, marketing cultures and corporate cultures that are conflicted. Each carries an impression of what the brand is and what the brand encourages into their work and out into the world. As a result, brand encounters can be confusing, even contradictory, for buyers making decisions across different channels. No brand should be confusing. It dissipates meaning and energy. Getting everyone to understand the brand and to apply it specifically to what is required of them takes investment, time and clarity. Money well spent.

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Brand Management

5 Metrics For Measuring Brand Potential

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Brand Potential

While the measures for evaluating what a brand is worth are well established, those for quantifying a brand’s potential seem less so. In general, brands are valued on their residual equity (what they are associated with and the depth and competitiveness of that association), their competitive performance and how much they are assessed to be worth.

Those metrics provide a snapshot of what the brand is worth now – and, with tracking, it is possible to spot trends over time – but they do not necessarily work to quantify the potential for a brand looking ahead. These are the measures I use to assess where a brand could go, and whether there is a business case for further investment.

1. How franchisable is the brand association? Brands generate value through the emotions they stir in consumers. There is some debate as to how we should treat the various aspects of brand association (as one thing or as a series of elements) but overall emotion is a lynchpin of a brand’s ability to compete. The question I like to ask is – where could the brand go on that emotion? What’s the feeling worth – and where?

Nike used the concepts of athleticism and democracy (Just do it) to expand their business into a powerful sports and lifestyle brand. And the emotion was so lucrative because it was universal. There were no impediments culturally to the acceptance of those ideals anywhere. Where could the associations that are the cornerstones of your brand take the brand and how big is the market for that? More importantly, is that aspirational market just bigger or is it actually more valuable?

2. How much is the brand talked about? Brands need to be buzzworthy, but there also needs to be correlation between awareness and return, and that equation often gets missed. The metrics of visits and likes are secondary to the overall favorability that the brand attracts (especially in sectors where reviews are highly influential) and to intensity of the ownership that consumers have for the brand. The critical translation though is how that talk and awareness at the open end of the sales funnel translates to conversion and profit.

In the light of this, it’s important to assess the talkability of your plans. Why will what’s being planned be exciting to consumers? How and why will they pick up the news and share it? Why will they want to be part of it? (rather than just how is the company going to promote it?) Who will the brand reach that it doesn’t reach now? And how will that change the conversation for the better and to your advantage?

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Brand Strategy

6 Ways To Keep A Brand Leadership Position

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Brand Leadership Strategy

Everyone talks about growth and for the need to become a market leader. But once you’ve become the number one player, then what? What do you do after that to retain the lead you’ve worked so hard to get and that has now made you the target of everyone else’s aspirations?

More of the same is not a strong enough answer. Eventually, your competitors will catch up, and others will see your success and look for ways to move in and capitalize. Here are six ways that you can proactively work to protect the gains you have made.

1. Change the rules in your favor. As the dominant market player, you have a major influence over the dynamics of the sector. Shifting the way the sector competes and/or the very nature of the product itself changes the ground for all. It forces your competitors to find new ways of doing what they know, pushing them onto the back foot and into reactive mode. By changing what’s delivered, what’s mattered, even what’s possible, you fundamentally rewrite the rules for everybody. The difference is you are the one with the playbook. Others are forced to wait and see what you do next or to guess where the game is going.

2. Expand your influence. In this article, Philip Kotler quotes Jack Welch who challenged his people to redefine the market to one in which your company has a share of no more than 10%. His examples include Coca Cola, which sought to define itself as a beverage company rather than a soft drink company, and Taco Bell, which saw opportunities to expand its footprint from in-store to everywhere. While we could debate whether either company has acted on those realizations to anything like their potential, that doesn’t mean that the expansion strategy itself is not valid, particularly where related markets have weak players that will make gaining a foothold relatively easy. Changing the market space within which you work brings you capacity for expansion and stops you stalling as the biggest fish in the pond (where growth is limited to how quickly you can organically grow the market you already dominate).

3. Build new relationships. Leaders like other leaders. If your brand dominates a market, are there bridges you can build with other non-competing brands that will benefit both parties. Those relationships could be in the form of joint ventures, partnerships or sponsorships. While insurance companies, quick service restaurants, autos, telcos, hospitals and beer all sponsor NFL teams to various degrees, 100% of NFL properties report having Gatorade as a sponsor. By tying themselves so closely to the billion dollar industry of professional football, Gatorade have taken their profile out of the fridge and onto the field. They have literally made themselves part of a very big game.

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Brands & Business

6 Signs Your Brand Is In A Complacency Loop

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Complacent Brands

Every business has loops. Some are driven by fear, some by tradition, some by distraction, some by lack of awareness or industry convention.

Everyone says they’re looking for “competitive difference” – but then, in the race to get it right, they copy each others ideas, they mimic each others thinking, they catch up with each others formulas, they pile onto Facebook alongside everyone else. Sometime later they wonder why their sector seems so much more competitive. Why wouldn’t it be? As conformity grinds down diversity, there are more and more companies in every sector but less and less real choices for customers.

The irony of loops is that the more people behave in the same way, the more assured they feel and the less distinctive they become.

People too get used to thinking certain ways, doing certain things. And slowly, inevitably, workplaces get into loops as cultures become set in their ways. They talk themselves into believing that the best way to make their loop competitive is to leave it as is but to make it go faster – to outpace the other loops. They bind conformity into their language. They do more of the same, more quickly, and congratulate themselves on their productivity.

Same applies to customers. People get used to things, very used to things, and then bored with things. All the way through the first 2/3 of that cycle they want more of the same, and more, and more … And then they want to move on. Blackberry went from customer hero to technological hermit in no time flat. The Palm went from the pocket to the trash as novelty faded and new options beckoned.

It’s human nature to loop because loops are driven by two powerful centrifugal forces: habit; and comfort.

Loops get companies stuck. Think of any company that’s gone under recently. Chances are it was killed by a loop. Think of brands that are fighting to stay relevant. What they’re really fighting against oftentimes is their loops, their own logic, as they shed value with every turn. Think of brands that have commoditized. Loops again.

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