When the Harvard Business Review recently stated that few executives could say what their business strategy is, it gave the impression that a tidal wave of businesses are potentially wasting a lot of time and money in marketing. I have witnessed this many times in my own experience where individuals within top level management teams each have a very different interpretation of the company’s strategy. “The thing is, companies with a clear, concise strategy statement–one that employees can easily internalize and use as a guiding light–often turn out to be industry stars.” In addition to your employees, your partners, vendors, customers and network can all be advocates if they are empowered to properly and simply represent the company. In essence, your company’s strategy or brand is the key to making all your marketing efforts work much harder. The better you are at creating a brand promise that relevantly differentiates your company, the more likely you are to attract the right leads, and close a much higher percentage of them.
Creating Your Brand Promise
Most companies don’t see themselves in the business of marketing and thus spend little time trying to craft a brand strategy. If you are a company that tries to attract new clients or additional sales, then you are in the business of marketing. But don’t be confused by thinking that your elevator speech is your brand. A brand is a guide for every action and interaction that surrounds your company. This not only includes marketing, but product development, customer service, pricing, incentives, sales presentations, point-of-sale, events and much more. The brand embodies the total experience with your company that builds trust, expectations and perceptions over time. It is the consistent filter through which every decision from within the company should be judged. This is why so many companies waste their marketing dollars without a solid brand strategy in place.
HOW DO I CREATE MY COMPANY’S BRAND STRATEGY AND STOP WASTING MY MARKETING TIME AND DOLLARS?
Below is a simple, four level outline of how to start thinking about creating and conveying your brand promise and entire brand story. It is a guide for what to say and when. This is important since we could all talk for an entire day about our businesses, but not all of that information is important for marketing.
Level One – The Brand Promise
This is the level of communications that is commonly missed entirely. As an example, think of how many websites you have gone to that provided no real understanding of how the company would solve or meet your needs. They simply talk all about themselves or focus on features and benefits of their product. All that is Level Two information that I may want to hear, but only if I know what the company or product is going to do for me first. All websites, ads, elevator speeches, brochures, sales presentations, employee training programs, etc. should lead with the brand promise. The brand promise is what we all want to hear when on the other end of a sell. Make sure you know what your brand promise is and don’t be shy to use it. If your brand promise follows the five principals set out below, it will be your most powerful marketing tool for converting leads into sales.
Use a customer benefit orientation (don’t talk about you)
Understand and acknowledge your prospect’s unmet need that you address
Consider both rational and emotional connections to your brand.
Relevantly differentiate yourself from the pack
Create a singular statement that is easy to remember and re-articulate
Here are three examples of brand promises to help envision the end product:
This is a brand promise for the Mazda Mia ta when it was first introduced into the United States: The Mazda Mia ta promises to bring the joy of driving within reach The Ritz Carlton is a great brand and a wonderful brand promise example: The Ritz Carlton promises to employ ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen To demonstrate how a local company and business-to-business marketer can create a brand promise, I have included my own statement as a marketing consultancy: Studious promises to take the cost and complexity out of marketing Judge for yourself the ability of each brand promise above to stand up to the five guiding principals. Also think of the power of each of these brand promises if used properly, as a guide for employees, marketing, new product development and more.
Level Two – Reasons to Believe
Once you have caught your prospect’s interest and attention with the brand promise, then it is time to give them all the reasons to believe that you can deliver against that promise. If you lead with these reasons, it is very likely they will fall on deaf ears. Reasons to believe tend to fall into four categories:
Credentials for the company or management
Product or service features and benefits
3rd party endorsements/testimonials
Unique point-of-views on relevant issues, topics or industry news
Level Three – The Rest of the Story
There may be far more that your company does than expressed in the brand promise and the specific reasons to believe in that statement. For instance, I do brand strategy, but I also do focus groups, customer interviews, advertising, online marketing, sales training, etc. This is not a plug as much as to say that we all have a number of offerings. But are they all equally important to introduce right away, put on the front page of the website, or show on the cover of the brochure? Not necessarily. But they are an important part of the full brand story and building a lasting relationship and loyalty over time. It is very tempting to want to mention everything that we do all at once, but that really only serves to confuse the prospect. These messages are best placed on the services page of the website, discussed deeper in a conversation, or carefully placed within context in a brochure. Examples of this level of information are:
The full line of products or services, packages or bundled offerings
A deeper dive into any one topic area, the rest of the story
Price-of-Entry information or attributes that you must have to be legitimate, but won’t differentiate you (i.e. ATM’s, online banking, branches, etc. for banks)
Level Four – Purchase Accelerators
Purchase accelerators can be used anytime to help move someone along through a natural purchase process from awareness through consideration, evaluation, trial, purchase and loyalty. If you aren’t thinking about your purchase accelerators, then you should give this area some consideration. Purchase accelerator examples are:
News that establishes leadership and credibility
Incentives (discounts, bundles, trials, etc.)
Downloads, blogs, white papers, Po Vs, etc.
Consultations, seminars, comparisons, trials, value calculations, etc.
One of the most effective descriptions of how to stop wasting your marketing dollars is found in a special report from Business Week that came out in June, 2008 entitled, “A practical Guide to Branding.” The sub-head reads, “Define your brand identity-your product’s “personality”-before you spend a dime on advertising or marketing.” The opportunity for most of us is to make our very first step as business owners to develop our brands. The article goes on to highlight this through three main points: Studies show that companies who market their products or services without first establishing their brand identities are not likely to achieve return on investment. If you’re spending money to advertise and market without being connected to a brand position, you might as well pile the money up and burn it. Branding is about getting your prospects to perceive you as the only solution to their problem.
The question then becomes, “How do I develop a powerful brand that creates the perception behind my company’s offerings that I am the only choice for prospects?” This is where the large Fortune 500 companies start out right…they know their customer inside and out. They know their customer better than their competition, how the product or service fits into their lives, what trends effect purchase decisions and how to apply those learning’s into a balanced brand promise that connects both rationally and emotionally with prospects. Sounds simple enough. It is actually quite simple to stay in touch with your customers. And that can happen in part through the ongoing sales and service process, but that only scratches the surface. There is just no replacement for direct one-to-one conversations, which is why phone interviews are my most often used brand research tool. The following are tips on how best to interview your customers or prospects to unlock the secrets of what will really motivate them to buy from your company. If you accomplish this, then all the marketing dollars you spend to drive qualified leads will have a much greater degree of success. It is the most important first step that you can take as a marketer of your company.
How to Interview a Customer for Branding Insights
It is important to remember that people aren’t always very good at articulating what they are thinking or feeling. So it is crucial to make sure that you think about three things as you prepare to conduct your interviews:
- Ask the same kind of question from different points-of-view – This allows people to answer the questions in a different way, getting more feedback than you normally would get from one straightforward question and answer.
- Think of ways that you can give examples which will allow interviewees to better articulate feelings – One of the most powerful areas that you will want to uncover is the emotional connection people have to your brand. Rational reasons get you on the consideration list, where emotional reasons are usually the reason one brand is selected over another.
- Talk to your most loyal clients. And if you are just starting out, talk to prospects that you think embody what will be your core customer group – Loyal clients are the ones that stay with you over time, provide the most stable income, are willing to pay more for your service and can be your greatest advocates. In essence you want to create more of them by understanding their thoughts and feelings about why they are loyal to you. Only then can you try to emulate that in marketing and other customer relationships.
What Questions Should I Ask In An Interview?
There are ten categories of questions that you will want to cover in your interview. Each relates to a very different set of insights. Reasons to Purchase – Ask people very directly why they actually bought. What triggered the purchase and what was the most important reason why they thought it was a good purchase decision. Benefit Categories – Ask how they benefit from the product or service. You will find that people naturally start talking about very rational benefits (saves money, more durable, easier to use, etc.). These are very important to know, but it is equally if not more important to know the emotional benefits delivered. This is where you might have to give some examples (trust, fear, safety, pleasure, confidence, security, etc.).
Emotional Triggers – This is where we want to know how important the emotional connections are to them and their lives. I often ask people to rate the importance of this product in their daily lives, their retirement planning, their ability to be productive, etc. I have them answer on a scale of 1 to 10, and then ask and probe why. This gives them a great way to project about the true emotional connections to the brand. Unmet Needs – This is an area that usually comes at the beginning of the interviews. I may ask about what set of events or inputs led up to a purchase decision. This gives you a great background into what true needs or desires are and how the purchase decisions form. Port-of-Difference – This is to establish what makes you different from your competition. You have to understand how others think you compare in order to relevantly differentiate your company.
Areas of Strength -I usually start out by saying that every company is good at many things or else they would have gone out of business a long time ago. That is a great lead-in to ask what your company does well. Loyalty Stimulus – I usually say to interviewees that they have been selected to interview because they are a loyal customer. And then I ask them if they agree. Most always they say yes since they were hand selected. I than ask for them to articulate what it is about the company that heightens their sense of loyalty. Points of Weakness – After discussing strengths, you can ask if there are areas where the company could improve in order to serve you better. New Opportunities – This is a time to ask if they see any new opportunity for the company to address a new idea.
Anything Else – There is always an opportunity to give the interviewee a chance to say something about the company that has not already been covered. This open-ended approach can reveal some very interesting insights. Once you have the answers to all of the above, the road to a powerful brand promise becomes a much clearer path. Steve MacDonald is the Founder and President of Studious, a brand strategy and marketing consulting practice. Steve has spoken at major corporations, been published in business journals and worked with some of the smartest marketing minds at Nike, Nissan, Procter & Gamble, VISA and Miller Brewing. Over a twenty-two year career, he has served as a founding partner in an advertising agency, the Director of Client Services for a top 10 interactive firm, Vice President, Director of Strategic Planning for Mazda Motors of America, Executive Vice President of a regional marketing firm and CEO of a dotcom start-up. Mr. MacDonald has recently been appointed to the Thought Leadership Board of the Marketing Executives Network group to create a series of special reports and trend analysis to be shared with the national business press.