Branding Is Strategy

Few independent business owners have the time and resources to dedicate to the level of detail big corporates do in their branding. But there are plenty of things the big companies do well that small-business owners should consider as they strive for long-term survival:

1. Establish a strong brand position

Defining a market position is the most critical step in developing a brand. You must know who you are before you can get to where you want to be. Brand positioning characterizes the way a company wants its target audience to think about its brand. It is the core message you want to deliver in every medium, and it creates clarity, consistency and continuity in the way the organization speaks to the market. Essential to an effective positioning statement is the concept of narrowing rather than broadening a company’s focus. The secret to a good brand-positioning strategy is a clear message that talks about your strengths and explains to customers why your product is the best in your category or industry.

2. Use market research to create a strategic plan

When most of us think of market research, we think of statistics, focus groups and expensive surveys. In most cases, that is overkill. Market research needs to answer only a few key questions — the simpler, the better. Big businesses take feedback and apply it to a strategic plan. They evaluate sales and segment performance, predict sales growth, compile market trends and consumer insights, identify key drivers from the previous year’s successes and failures, set firm marketing objectives for the coming year, estimate costs and craft tactical programs and marketing initiatives to achieve those objectives. Good planning allows companies to continuously measure, refine and optimize their marketing mix. You should demand that all programs have financial benefits and amplify sales. Spend wisely, and know your cost per generated lead.

3. Everything you do communicates, so be consistent

The perception of your company and brand is defined by the interactions people have with your company. Your message must be consistent and compelling at all points of contact with customers.
Take a look at any coupon, print ad, television commercial or Web site for IBM Corp. Every message is marked by a vivid blue color, graphic elements influenced by the geometric shape of the logo, a single-minded tagline, uniform font type in headlines and the same tone across all printed material.

4. Being unique is crucial, even if you’re coming in second

Companies that grab market share first often grab the glory, but they aren’t always the last one standing. At one time, The Procter & Gamble Co. was second to Union Carbide Corp. in marketing disposable diapers. Dell Inc. unseated Compaq Computer Corp. by marketing to the upcoming college generation. The secret to second-mover advantage: You can’t propose just a me-too idea; you need a unique angle to spin. Me-too businesses rarely survive. They usually end up in price wars because they don’t have anything unique that establishes value in the minds of their prospects. They are left with only one competitive weapon: price. Unless you have a significant cost advantage over your competitors, you will lose.

5. Speak to the consumer and create value

Does your marketing material directly address the value of doing business with your company? Can it answer any consumer’s basic question, “What’s in it for me?” Some companies forget communication is about getting consumers to see brand benefits for themselves. To get that across, a brand must speak from the consumer’s point of view, not the marketing department’s. Remove all those meaningless benefits from your Web site and other communications materials. Replace them with the added value customers are after.

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