Seven Steps for a Brand Strategy

Successful brands are built on the twin foundations of awareness and relevance. If target audiences are not aware of you; if they don’t notice your message in the cacophony of messages they receive each day, then you will never have a chance to be relevant. And if they become aware of you—if you capture their attention—and fail to deliver relevance,then they will learn to ignore you. The seven-steps branding strategy outlined here will help provide the structure you need to assess and develop relevance and create awareness.

1. Identify the essential qualities that your audience desires from you and the needs your audience expects you to fill
Obviously, this will require market research. And because you will use this research to customize communication strategies and as the baseline for measuring progress.

Assessing the needs of your target audiences represents a significant paradigm shift. Rather than telling the marketplace what you want to do, you are asking the marketplace what it wants you to do within the constraints of your mission.

2. Assess how well your audience perceives that you deliver on these qualities and fill these needs
In this step, we measure how well audiences compare your performance with their ideal.

You cand achieve this by asking respondents two questions. First, how much do they value a particular quality or characteristic? And second, how do they perceive the organization is delivering on that quality or characteristic?

Generally, the larger the gap on highly valued qualities and characteristics, the more problematic for the organization. When the gap is large, the target audience does not believe that the institution is credible, or relevant, in something they value.

There are two ways to interpret gap data. Some organizations may,in fact, not be relevant and need to respond strategically. This is a performance gap. The second option is that the organization may be highly relevant, but target audience simply is not aware, the organization is not communicating this information to prospective customers.This is a perception gap. Of course,if you have a gap problem, it is better when the gap is perception, or in this case, misperception, rather than performance. The key to differentiating between the two is the quality of the external research and the analysis.

3. Identify which performance and perception gaps you want to fill
At this point you must think about which gaps you want to close. Here are three suggestions to help clarify your options:

  1. focus on your mission and vision. For your branding efforts to be truly strategic, they must flow from these two core statements.
  2. consider your competitors. If a competitor is already known for doing something that you aspire to do, you might want to reconsider. Brands and positions are amazingly tough, and if someone else has a lock on a key quality or characteristic, it will take a great deal of time and money to dislodge them. You might be better off heading for unclaimed territory.
  3. don’t forget collaborations. Your gap research might have identified an issue that you do not have the resources to address. One alternative, then, is to seek a strategic liaison.

4. Respond strategically
The next step in the branding process is to spend the necessary time, talent, and dollars to fill the gaps and build relevance.

5.Revise and prioritize your vivid descriptors
At this step we are beginning to transition from building relevance to building awareness for that relevance. The first task, then, is to revise and prioritize your vivid descriptors, the essential qualities or characteristics that you want to communicate to members of your target audience.

First, remember that your vivid descriptors must emanate from the mission, vision, and strategic plan. They should represent core values, and they should be long term and enduring. Second, keep the number of vivid descriptors small. This will help you focus your messages. Third, make sure you define your vivid descriptors from the perspective of each different target audience. Fourth, gather the anecdotal and aggregate data you need to give credibility to your vivid descriptors. Don’t just tell; show! And finally,learn to project your vivid descriptors across multiple mediums and in multiple formats.

6. Develop and execute a brand communication strategy
Position your vivid descriptors in the minds of your target audience. Remember, in order to be successfull your messages should be:

  • noticeable
  • salient
  • persuasive
  • memorable

7. Test and refine
After you have strategically responded to the needs and expectations of your target audiences and created awareness of your relevance, it is time to repeat the gap analysis research you completed in step two. If you have heightened your relevance and created more awareness, the likelihood is high that you closed some gaps. If you were not able to close those gaps, a careful assessment must be undertaken. Perhaps the initiatives you undertook were not relevant to your target audiences. Or maybe your strategic changes were simply overlooked.

Continually testing and refining the degree to which your target audiences are aware of you and perceive your relevance will help keep your branding efforts on track.

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