Connecting with consumers is the key skill essential for building stronger brand bridges. It requires an end-consumer orientation for evaluating everything you do, meaning that the brand planner must become the in-house consumer advocate, always taking the consumer perspectives in meetings, evaluating how all new products and ideas might be perceived and better leveraged to enhance ideal brand perception and performance.
Here are 14 considerations and questions that will help in building a successful strategy for your brand.
1. Be Realistic
No brand or product is at the center of how consumers live their lives, yet this assumption is often made in consumer research projects where a narrow set of options are presented for exploration and validation. Realistic context for understanding the consumer’s involvement and interest in the category is a prerequisite for effective brand planning.
2. Be Analytical
Analyze your marketing program’s strengths and weaknesses annually to assess how well these programs are working for consumers. What has worked? What has failed? What needs to change?
3. Expose Assumptions
Very often there are unspoken assumptions, hidden but operative, about the way things “should” be done. It’s essential to expose these hidden assumptions so they can be scrutinized and tested. Are we making the mistake of being more concerned with driving transactions than with the quality of contact with the consumer?
4. Discover Opportunities
As we look outward at the marketplace, where are the emerging opportunities? Where are the threats coming from? Have realistic scenarios been generated that reflect the forces that are changing our business model and marketing effectiveness? Surfacing the issues that are emerging is sometimes called “Issues Analysis,” and there should be an element in every marketing plan for candid design reviews of issues and creative alternatives should be suggested to address them.
5. Be Mindful
Where is the emotional high ground in this category? Are we anywhere near it? Do we really understand the consumption moment when “it’s as good as it gets”? Are we speaking to that moment? What situations, settings, moods, and feelings really define the moments of truth around consumption? Sometimes transaction speed, efficiency, and convenience are the biggest leverage points. (Amazon has clearly figured this out). In addition to these core values, are there other layers of value waiting to be integrated? Are there long-tail product opportunities?
6. Be Curious
How can we more favorably alter our value proposition? How can we enhance the brand persona/image? How can we generate buzz? What new breakthrough ideas are there that would transform the experience or benefits offered in this category? Across categories? What positioning approaches from the past have broken through? Does any of the past work contain deep insights that can be reinterpreted in a new light today? You have to be curious to discover ideas that will lead to a bigger future.
7. Be Observant
Are any competitors more favorably positioned with groups that matter to our brand’s growth and success? Who are we actually appealing the most to? (age, sex, education, income, relationship status, behaviors, psychographics) How are these consumer groups interpreting our brand? Do channel partners present our brand in its best light? Is our storytelling in touch with the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times? How do our views differ from the views of the people we’re trying to reach?
8. Be Human
All brand impressions work toward building an image. Is the approach we’re taking projecting a human face, or is our communications approach focused on more mundane, material or product positioning? Are we seen as a good citizen? As a company that cares? As a company that uses its super-human powers for good? Does our brand have a conscience? Are there warm and human attributes and connection points in our brand story? Is our company involved in the community, concerned about the environment, involved in the human drama? Making a more human brand involves strengthening human relationships. Is your mix of messaging selling functional benefits, emotional benefits, values or personality? Which of these positioning choices have the greatest consumer impact? Which creative approaches leave people with the most positive feelings about your brand?
9. Be Imaginative
Crafting a brand vision requires going beyond the logical and into the imaginative. Creative teams tasked with envisioning the future need the freedom to take imaginative leaps, and the essence of this aspect of creativity is in seeing new connections between things where no apparent relationship existed before.
10. Be Expansive
To expand the brand concept, expand the ways of looking and thinking about new brand opportunities. In early stages, idea generation workshops can be productive. Some simple guidelines help to get the most out of ideation workshops: Get offsite, have fun, think like a kid, relax old rules, keep the group small, invite a range of creative thinkers, use creative exercises and pre-planned stimulus to generate lots of ideas, and allow no killing of ideas during ideation. Screen the ideas later on to find the ones with most potential, build on these ideas, and then put them through a rigorous new business development filter.
Explore how to add more meaning to your brand. What stories, images, and myths would add great chapters to your brand history? What new products and services connect with the brand essence? Explore ways to layer on qualities that will add to your product’s perceived value, and imagine how to better connect with important consumer subcultures or activities.
11. Look For Integration Possibilities
Can communications be improved by tying together positioning themes across the divisions or the product mix? What creative ways are there to extend branding activity working with co-brands or partners?
12. Be Patient
Moving the brand image in a mature category can seem glacially slow, but a continuous stream of breakthrough advertising can accelerate the shift in feelings by creating cultural buzz. Affinity and image measures can move in a shorter timeframe.
13. Monitor For Impact
If the original insight that connects the brand with consumers is unique, favorable, and strong, and that insight is driving your communications, then improvements in brand strength can be expected. Brand Equity Measurement with sensitivity in design of the brand image descriptors is the best way to track brand repositioning efforts over time.
14. Enriching Conversations
When I worked at Nike, the Brand Guardians, the core team of Nike directors with brand level responsibilities, would go annually to an offsite for a couple days to reflect on our successes and failures, and to learn from both, and we’d have lively strategy discussions about what could be done to move the brand forward.
I originally wrote down these principles after reflecting on the many different perspectives this group was taking on these brand strategy review off site meetings. These brand planning principles operated in the background for Nike, and influenced how we strove to attain the radiant qualities of the brand by helping us to have lively debates and enriching strategy conversations.
You may find shifting perspectives like this is helpful as you engage in the annual process of tearing down how your brand and business model has performed during the past year. Key questions for you may be …
“How can you and your team produce your best work?” and “What group dynamics are essential to cultivate to get to the really good stuff that raises the potential of your brand, which your team feels are worthy and attainable goals?”
These core ideas and others can be found in my latest book The Brand Bridge – How to Build a Profound Connection Between Your Company, Your Brand, and Your Customers.
At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, redefine and articulate what makes them competitive at critical moments of change. Please email us for more.
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education