That is a question I hear all the time from companies that are trying to better communicate to their customers. All too often, companies have grown in spite of the fact of not really knowing whom they are or what they stand for. Rather, the growth has been derived through a series of “bolt-on” tactics without the presence of guiding strategic action plan that supports a solid brand positioning. In the end, without this guiding force, companies find that their brand is disjointed and fails to capitalize fully on consumer opportunities.
While it would have been terrific foresight to have had this guiding brand in place on day one, the reality is that often the brand needs to “take a test drive” in the market place for a bit in order to vet its acceptance. With that in mind, any company in business today, can still tighten up its strategic vision and brand position. The goal is to capture what lies at the heart of this brand, what makes it a compelling brand for consumers and ultimately how it can become even stronger. If successful, a company can crystallize a shared, intuitive understanding of the brand and communicate more effectively to its customers.
Embarking on this process can be fun though. Through a series of meetings, questionnaires and customer intercepts, members of your team can truly see the brand unfold before their very eyes. Including a wider range of participants from office to store personnel can provide a wide swath of perceptions that all need to be considered in order to clearly vet the best path forward for the brand. Add to that process some select front line staff and the branding development process should be complete. Done properly, the brand positioning exercise should not only identify where the company is today, but also to determine the vision for the future.
Garbage In, Garbage Out: This is similar to the “chasing the shiny penny” syndrome. Organizations without a properly vetted brand position, often let market factors dictate where their brand is headed. While nimbleness can be a fantastic attribute for a company to possess, nimbleness without guided structure creates a mishmash of branding messages and confusion for the customer. Before long, the guiding principals that once steered the direction of the company seem like a distant memory.
Describe Your Products/Services: So, start at the basics – the products. How would you describe the products you sell? Are they unique, do they carry some sort of special characteristic about them? If not, is your brand like all the rest? If so, how have you communicated the product attributes to your customers? Are they fast, clean, fresh, consistent or large? Taking the time to identify the unique characteristics of your products helps to delineate the uniqueness of your store from your competition.
What The Products/Services Do For Me: Next up, how your products are used and what benefits does the customer derive from using your products. Do your products make the customer happy and trouble-free? Are the products that you vend helpful in the customers life or do they simply serve a means to an end? Perhaps the products save time. Extracting the benefits of the products and how they apply to your customer population, again, can offer uniqueness of your brand.
How The Brand Makes Me Look: Everyone wants to look good as well as smart in the choices we make in life. Walking around the city with a Starbucks cup of coffee carries a bit of a status symbol versus Folgers. Successful brands capture a cult-like following of which only customers “in the know” are aware. The cool crowd can carry the strength of the brand and its products a long way through a viral approach of brand building. These brands are the most competitively protected brands because they have captured the essence of capitalizing on making their customers look good.
How The Brand Makes Me Feel: Similarly, how customers feel about your brand can propel your business significantly forward. When customers attribute your brand and products with an emotional connection and catalyst to their well-being, you have a winner. Customers that feel energized and confident simply due to their interaction with your brand and products are customers for life. These customers will be ambassadors for the brand, and the benefits are immeasurable,
Strategic Action Plan: Lastly, after the brand essence has been identified, the objective of the strategic action plan is to create a detailed profile of what the company will look like in the future (products, consumers, geography, competition, financial performance, organization, etc.) and to identify the critical issues to achieve this profile. This will be the vehicle for the company to use in developing its operating plan, evolve its organizational structure, set financial goals, determine markets to enter or exit, etc. Understanding your brand and its products, will better strengthen its longevity.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.