Marketing leaders across various industries point to brand differentiation as their top challenge in 2005. Industry consolidation and buyer caution put a premium on brand leadership. Yet marketing budgets are barely growing and traditional brand building has fallen prey to the demands for quantifiable sales results. Buyer skepticism tunes out the constant chatter of me-too marketing claims. And the mergers and acquisitions reshaping the industry confuse buyers even more about who can do what for whom.
Real differentiation is possible, however, for companies willing to invest creatively in ongoing programs to build and promote a compelling story. Specifically, there are five investment areas that separate today’s brand leaders from the rest of the pack:
Build a 360-degree view of existing perceptions
You can’t improve your position if you don’t really know where you stand now. Maintaining an ongoing pulse on how customers, prospects, employees, partners, investors, and industry influencers perceive your organization, your competitors, and the market as a whole is an essential foundation for strengthening the brand. Understanding in particular the attributes that customers care about most deeply is a powerful guide to the sources of potential differentiation.
Manage the customer experience
Ensuring the serviec delivery of real business value is the greatest contribution that marketing can make to build the brand-with each customer and, as important, with each additional prospect and influencer your customers touch.
Get your story straight internally
Employees are the essential carriers of the brand, and the increasing transparency of all company operations means that the folks outside the marketing department can have as much or more influence on the brand than marketers themselves. Internal education about the brand vision, promise, and proof points is obviously a critical component of building a consistent companywide brand, but this priority is far better known than done.
Influence the Influencers
Broadcasting the brand has less and less impact in a world of information overload. Buyers and others just say no. But every prospective buyer looks to friends, colleagues, industry analysts, media, and other “influencers” to seek new ideas, evaluate alternatives, and support decisions. The new twist on this old story is that the influence environment has changed dramatically in recent years. Online communities, bloggers, peer networks, and other grassroots information sources have exploded and more are emerging all the time. Marketers need to look systematically at the most important influencers in this new environment and build more systematic programs to engage and persuade them of their company’s unique position.
Developing focused programs to enhance competitive position directly with key clients and prospects is the next wave for brand management. Pioneers in account-based positioning point to three reasons why this matters: declining loyalty among top accounts, diverse perceptions within those accounts, and the increasing strategic importance of those accounts for growth, references, and collaboration on new solutions.