From time to time, we need to be reminded of what our job is as marketers. We need to build and sustain successful brands. And make no mistake about it, marketing is hard. It’s changing in real time and most marketers are barely keeping up. And in this crazy environment, we are losing sight of how we build strong brands that align with the value of our product or service. One of the biggest mistakes we find is that that most companies, but especially small to mid-sized businesses (SMB), quickly dilute their brand by trying to be all things to all people.
If we consider the phrase “Ready. Aim. Fire”, brand development is the “aiming” part. When we frame this to clients, many of them think that it is “cute” and they seem to get it at a high level but in today’s “flavor of the day” marketing environment, marketers inevitably get caught up in the “firing” – the tactics. “Aiming”, however, is essential to build a strong, sustainable brand, yet we forget to do this. “Aiming” has three critical components:
Let’s consider each element in the “Aiming” process. First there’s focus. As marketers we have to focus on a well-defined target audience. To develop a strong brand, we must derive unique and differentiated insights from the attitudes and behavior of our customers. This means that we must conduct continuous research about our target. Our target evolves as new generations of customers change the definition of what’s important to them. In the cola category, Coke and Pepsi found that Millennial’s attitude toward cola is fundamentally different from that of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. They see cola as not healthy. Hence, Coke and Pepsi, while evolving their respective brand strategies to stay relevant to their core cola target, have expanded their product portfolios to include water, juice, sports and energy drinks. Most small and medium sized companies don’t even conduct basic market research, to truly understand their customer in the first place, let alone evolving their products to meet ever changing needs.
Discipline is something that eludes many marketers. There are two dimensions to discipline:
- The ability to learn from the market through disciplined research and tracking, and the ability to adjust and apply this learning to their brand
- Having a well-designed marketing planning process that ensures that learning is translated into actionable strategies and tactics, and continuously evaluated.
We often see marketers at small and medium sized firms abandon marketing activities without understanding why they weren’t as successful as hoped for. There’s no analysis or understanding of why things didn’t work out. Was it a bad strategy? Was our brand poorly positioned from the outset, so our message didn’t resonate with our target market? Did we execute poorly? Answering all three questions helps us learn and not make the same mistakes over and over again. Discipline prevents us from wasting resources, helps us to ask the right questions and be better prepared to ask for the right level of marketing support to succeed.
Finally, there’s consistency. We always ask clients to show us all of their marketing communication elements over a multi-year period. We’re not surprised to see that, most of the time, their marketing efforts are highly inconsistent and, unfortunately, dilute the brand rather than reinforce it. Often there is no articulated brand strategy so the messaging is not only random but often not relevant to the target audience. That’s why many marketers feel their marketing is ineffective. The tactic employed may not be the problem, rather it could be the lack of a differentiated brand and an organization that doesn’t learn in a disciplined manner.
What can you do? Here are a few questions that will help you better understand if your brand is well “Aimed”.
- Do you have a formal brand strategy and positioning statement that clearly articulates your target audience, key differentiators and brand personality?
- Do you conduct regular research to understand not only WHO your core target audience is but how they are evolving?
- For example, Procter & Gamble, successfully used customer insights to evolve their Gain laundry detergent brand from a value brand to a brand that delivers a wide variety of fragrances, and now commands a higher price point
- For SMB companies, who may not have research budgets, are you conducting customer satisfaction surveys, regularly monitoring social media or creating a disciplined feedback loop from your sales organization?
- Do you apply customer insights in a way that evolves your brand strategy and/or how you deliver your product or service to your target audience?
- Do you have a disciplined process to track and truly understand why your marketing activities succeed or fail?
- Do you consistently monitor the strength of your brand (e.g., brand tracking studies, etc.), and that of your competitors?
- Do you have a disciplined planning process that gains approval for the marketing plan prior to a finalized financial plan so that you can ask for the right level of resources?
- Is your brand expressed consistently across marketing elements and messaging? Do all (or hopefully most) of your marketing communications seem like they come from the same company?
- Is your marketing plan developed holistically vs. moving from tactic to tactic? Ask yourself, of all the marketing activities we executed in the last year, how many were unplanned?
- Do you regularly audit your brand and consider how it should evolve – 1 to 2 years out?
If you answered “no” to at least one question in all three areas, then you have a potential “Aiming” problem. If you answered no to more than 3 questions, then you definitely have an “Aiming” problem. It may be time to take stock in your brand and address key issues. If you have any questions, we’d be happy to take you through our “Aiming Audit”.