How Branding Strategy Goes Wrong
June 2, 2014
I spent yesterday in an all day session kicking off a new partnership between two premier firms. Our mission was to begin the process of positioning and marketing a new product offering that will be the basis for the partnership.
Lots of branding strategy and design work had been accomplished in the past year by one of the partners as a prelude to finding the right strategic partner. We spent the morning reviewing that work to determine our go forward plan.
This review was quite enlightening. The new brand has the potential to be quite distinctive in the market – in spite of the strategy it was designed to fulfill. Fortunately, the business users leveraged the inspirational quality of the new brand identity to forge delivery strategies that have the potential to ladder up to a compelling overall brand strategy. But, the strategic platform that led to the actual creation of the brand revealed what can happen when so called branding experts build strategies that are disconnected from the reality of business.
Yesterday’s session highlighted three common flaws I regularly see in branding strategies that are not fit for purpose.
1. Designed for a moment in time
All too often, branding strategies are developed against a state of the moment understanding of the business. Positioning plans are developed relative to a real time assessment of competitor strengths and weaknesses and market psychology. Decisions are made. Stakes set in the ground. And then … everything changes, and the strategy is no longer relevant.
True experts in branding must understand the flow of the business, psychology and market dynamics. Strategies must be designed to anticipate transformation through new entrants, new technologies or competitor turnarounds. That’s hard.
Scenario planning makes it easier. By charting possible scenarios and building a strategy that embraces the broadest range you can make sure your brand strategy is future proof. Re-assessing on an annual basis and morphing as needed adds additional protection.
Alternatively, you can forgo “strategy” in favor of what my friend Jim Little and I have coined, “tactical opportunism.” In this case, you build your branding platform to capitalize on in the moment advantages and then constantly morph the platform to maintain advantage as customer psychology and market dynamics continue to evolve. This form of “branding chess” requires true market understanding and nimble response, but it is often the best tactic to stay ahead in fast changing, quickly transforming markets.
2. Misguided pursuit of emotion
We’ve all read the articles and listened to the gurus – effective brands must forge emotional connections in order to thrive.
While this is surely true, our problem lies in how so brand practitioners believe that emotional connections are forged. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom defaults to a fallacy where emotional connections are the Holy Grail and rational connections are simply category antes.
This widely held fallacy ignores customer psychology and disregards the new engagement process that shapes consumer, b2b and b2b2c markets today.
Powerful relationships are built on the emotional connections that are forged through the process of fulfilling rational needs.
Today’s engagement process has become highly rational. No matter whether we’re purchasing a car or a cloud computing solution, we do our homework, listen to the experts, evaluate, test and hone our understanding as we move closer to a solution. As our rational thresholds are satisfied, emotional attractions begin to form. In the process, we finalize our decisions based upon what we believe the offer will do for us, fit into our life and make us feel. Rational and emotional drivers are inextricably linked with rational drivers serving as the gateway.
You can’t build sustained emotional connections without satisfying rational thresholds. No matter how good the product makes me feel, I’ll never love it if it doesn’t work for me.
3. Disconnected from business and marketing
Again, all too often, what is passed off as brand strategy ignores the obligation that effective strategies have to fuel marketing and CRM. The brand is presented in isolation with the expectation that others will pick-up the baton and develop the required marketing and customer experience plans.
Sometimes this works out, as was the case yesterday. Unfortunately, more often than not, it results in diluted effectiveness and lost opportunity.
My experience since founding Catalyst has taught me that branding, marketing and customer experience must be inextricably linked in order to drive business success.
Branding strategy must fuel engagement and define the imperatives to be delivered throughout the customer experience. It must highlight touch points and content to be leveraged in the process of managing to purchase and it must define standards for behavior and interaction that help manage from purchase to advocacy.
True experts understand that branding, marketing and customer experience are all linked. When they are, effective strategy can actually drive demand and influence success.