Brand for a Competitive Edge
A strong brand will give your organization a competitive edge. When properly conceived and executed, an organization’s brand directly influences sales, profit, lead generation and customer base, rectifying it undoubtedly more substantial and persuasive than any other marketing measure.
Differing from other marketing messages (i.e., value propositions, positioning statements, etc.), a brand won’t fluctuate with external factors. A brand does not, or should not, adapt nimbly to changing situations. Simply, a brand endures. To be effective, the brand must be weighed with import and align with long-term goals. A brand is not for short-term solutions.
Branding your business in a competitive market is perhaps among the more under-utilized methods for gaining traction – especially during difficult financial times. Competition is everywhere, Even if you’re the first to a specific market, competitors will soon follow suit if your particular model seems profitable. So how does your brand compare to the competition?
Definition of Brand:
As it stands, there is no set, unarguable, concise, accurate definition of branding that satisfies all. There are, however, seemingly two prevailing variations: one calls on a more academic approach (examples, the first two definitions listed below), and the other is the progeny of a more tribe-focused mindset (see Seth Godin’s).
- Business Dictionary’s Brand definition: Unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors.
- Or Entrepreneur.com’s similar brand definition: The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products
- Or, more esoterically, Seth Godin’s Brand definition: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.
Our definition calls on both methodologies, but aligns more with the latter. We consider a brand to be a customer’s, or potential customer’s, intrinsic, gut feeling when they hear your name or product, see or hear your advertisements, or read an article about you. In the past, when one-way marketing was prevalent, companies controlled their brand fairly easily. Not anymore. Companies and organizations can manage their brand, but an indirect result of increasing internet access has introduced the public to social media platforms and online forums – essentially soapboxes from which anonymous users can vent or praise a particular organization for all who care to see.
A brand is up to your customer or potential customer to decide. Construct the message with them in mind. Know what they want. Where they want to get it. How they want it and when. Know what they want and offer it to them before they even know they want it. After you do, listen to them. A brand takes a long time to build and can be ruined almost instantly. Build your brand around your customers, and they will respond.
A stronger brand doesn’t mean a bigger megaphone
There are a lot of voices. No matter where you go, everybody seems to have an opinion, and myriad methods for expressing those opinions. Funny thing is, many of those opinions all fall in line with something quite similar. It’s the “I want to be part of this, too” mentality that creates such distracting noise. It’s exactly the same, only different.
Repeating somebody else’s message with your own slight twist is of scant use to the end user – no matter how many social networks you flog with your dross.
Brand for the Long Term
Branding your organization for the long term can help shape your organization’s business plan as well as helping secure a competitive edge in the market. To many, branding is associated with logos and letterhead design. The concept is still a little esoteric, a little too liquid for them to firmly grasp.
As I’ve pointed out, building a comprehensive and well-articulated brand falls more in line with business operations and planning than it does marketing, but common opinion says otherwise. When considered through this lens, branding is a necessary step to gaining a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Distility does a good job of pointing out some common branding misconceptions.
Marketing vs. Branding: Which comes first?
Marketing is a larger concept, and branding is an identifiable substrate inherently linked to the overall marketing business plans – it’s not an either-or situation. The role of the two approaches are subject to balancing current and existing relationships between the organization and its environment. For organizations looking to achieve actionable, meaningful goals, a comprehensive marketing plan is a necessity – of which, a strong brand identity and message is paramount.
The marketing strategy or plan should address both long- and short-term goals for delivering the right message to the right people through the right means at the right times. This is marketing in a nutshell. But what message is being delivered? Enter: The Brand.
Branding isn’t just a good idea in a competitive market – it’s essential. You don’t cancel a stolen credit card just because it seems like a good idea. You don’t brush your teeth because it sounds like a good thing to do. You don’t eat just because other people seem happy doing it. You do these things because they are essential to your survival, to your health, your financial stability, your very existence.
The Great Recession, debt to China, double-digit unemployment rates…things are tough, but plenty of businesses are doing just fine. Don’t treat branding with any less urgency. Do something to gain a competitive edge.
How do you stay competitive in increasingly complex markets?