True Brand. (And I don’t mean just a cool new logo or logo redesign with coordinating colors. I’m talking about holistic brand development where brand can be leveraged for market share, profit, pricing power, cost reductions and the ability to more easily enter new markets or launch new products & services. Brand that creates True competitive advantage right down to the financials.)
Brand is often overlooked or disregarded because it’s intangible, it “seems a little fluffy,” and “you can’t measure it in a quant analysis.”
If you can measure advantage in a quant analysis, then you can measure brand in a quant analysis.
If you can’t measure advantage in a quant analysis, then you need a better asset (whether internal or external) to do the analysis. That’s another post for another day.
Here’s the thing:
Your organization needs cash…revenue coming in the front door. How does revenue happen? By selling ‘stuff’ to ‘customers’ (or getting reimbursed for providing products/services as is the case with medical facilities and insurance companies, for example). ‘Stuff’ in this context is products, services or some other form of value that people are willing to pay for. ‘Customers’, in this context, are whoever is paying money (‘writing a check’) to your organization. Even if you’re an OEM, you have customers…your customer isn’t necessarily the end user.
How does revenue come in the front door? Sales, Marketing, Business Development, Customer Experience/UI/UX or M&A.
Once we get past revenue, the next conversation is about growth and/or profitability. This is where brand comes in. Sales, Customer Experience, Direct Marketing/Gaming Algorithms and M&A will get an organization to a point, even a multi-million-dollar point.
Competitors get better, slash prices or new ones even come out of seemingly nowhere.
Your cool product or service that was innovative at the time is now a commodity.
Your quant-based use of digital platforms and business models has become commonplace and it’s getting harder to compete because the players have caught up with you.
The tech/data/analytics/direct marketing talent (the wizards that make $2 + $2 = $4…then = $10… then = $100…) that are gaming algorithms get better and better. Competing for talent gets harder and more expensive. As there is more and better talent, the strategies are commoditized and you’ve all of a sudden lost your advantage. Math is not a competitive advantage. The revenue & profitability faucets start to run dry and the bag of new tricks is empty.
Customer preferences change and your organization is no longer relevant.
The platforms or marketplaces that have been cash cows for your organization have changed the game or have even become additional competitors.
Strategic relationships are no longer advantageous.
You no longer have the same advantages in your supply chain that you’ve enjoyed over the years.
What gets you over all of these obstacles in one fell swoop? Brand.
Brand is traditionally seen as a marketing initiative. Marketing initiatives in many organizations translate to spending lots and lots of dollars…and for what?
Brand is seen this way because of what marketing has done to brand (which is ironic, I know). Over the years, marketing vendors have propped up regularly “investing” in brand, largely through design or promotional/advertising spend, because either:
1) it’s the only way they know how to do it…or…
2) it’s in their best interest for you to keep spending money.
Marketing isn’t the enemy here. It is very necessary for an organization to deploy marketing initiatives to drive growth.
Rethink brand completely. Stop telling everyone, “We’re rebranding” when all you’re doing is updating a logo or launching a new, shiny ad campaign.
True rebranding is actually a dumb idea most of the time because it’s incredibly expensive and takes years to shift perceptions in the minds of people. Just because you decide to say or be something else doesn’t mean people in the market go right along with it and robotically erase everything they believed and perceived about your organization. That’s not how human nature works.
So, how do you even begin to rethink brand?
Brand is not just a marketing initiative. It is a company initiative. Markets do not operate as they once did. Customers, competitors and strategic partners have much more of an influence on an organization’s profitability and capacity to grow than they ever have.
Depending on how your organization’s markets work and what your current assets & capabilities are, you can develop and leverage brand for far less of an investment than you think. There will be trade offs for sure in internal operations, in market operations, in allocation of resources and in strategic planning. Brand is a longer-term play, but you still have to keep revenue coming in the front door. So, what’s the answer? The answer is to play short-term and long-term at the same time. Continue to play to make the short-term wins and play the longer game to build and protect advantage? The answer is both in parallel. It is not zero sum. You really can do both without sacrificing one for the other and without extraordinary opportunity costs. The trick is to protect the long-term opportunities that brand will give you in the decisions and operations you execute today.
For example: if prioritizing customers is part of your brand, then your cost-cutting decisions cannot result in less value for customers (value here can be either real value or perceived value and it is defined by customers, not the company). Customers have a louder voice than they ever have and that voice helps determine what your brand is. Your brand is no longer just what you say it is. Customers are more likely to call you out either with their voice or with their wallets…either way is a painful hit. Run the math on that hit over several years and we’re talking big numbers.
Brand is also an incredible asset in strategic partnerships. Who you are to your partners matters. How you behave should match who you claim to be in your brand. Strategic partners are often quicker than customers to call you out and walk away, especially if they have the leverage.
Brand is a key tool in operations. Operations plays a big role in customer experience. Operations isn’t just business ops…it’s also part of market ops. Sales and Marketing need to have a collaborative internal relationship with Operations to ensure the company delivers on the promises they’re making.
Think of brand as reputation on steroids. Reputation matters more than ever because of new communication tools, lowered barriers to entry and technology.
I know this still sounds a little fluffy, but it matters. Why?
Because it is the compass for strategic decisions, tactical operations all the way down to company policies and procedures.
Because it is the values in your company culture that, in turn, give you market advantage.
Because it is quantifiable in lowering costs and increasing margins.
Because it garners customer loyalty.
Because it lowers barriers in entering new markets and launching products & services.
Because it is a key enabler for your company’s growth functions.
Because it is an asset that has more applications than any other business asset.
You can build True Brand this way internally if you have the right internal talent and team. Firms that are tactical service providers or advertising brokers aren’t typically built for this because they aren’t structured to work with you at this depth…it usually ends up in frustration and bloated ad spend on your end.
Build True Brand. It is worth it…in talent acquisition, in customer choice, in relevancy, in sustainability, in profitability, to compete or even to make the competition irrelevant.
True Brand is the soft asset that can anchor your company in success.