five strategies for identifying the optimum brand.

CUSTOMER-CENTRIC MARKETING To be ethical, marketing and business must generally be customer-centric. There are few things less ethical than trying to shove a product – that is not wanted or needed – down the throat of an unsuspecting consumer. To maximise profitability and performance more generally, business and marketing need to be customer-centric. Customer-centric marketing […]

  • Bring the customer to life.
  • Identify a sustainable point of difference.
  • Create brand–customer alignment.
  • Define the brand DNA.
  • Document a brand story.

CUSTOMER-CENTRIC MARKETING

To be ethical, marketing and business must generally be customer-centric. There are few things less ethical than trying to shove a product – that is not wanted or needed – down the throat of an unsuspecting consumer.

To maximise profitability and performance more generally, business and marketing need to be customer-centric. Customer-centric marketing is the key to maximising sales, margins, the average sale per customer, repeat business rates and referral rates.

Branding is both ethical and profitable when it is customer-centric. Customer-centric marketing adds value to a product and/or customer experience in a way that makes both more likely to meet the needs and exceed customers’ expectations.

BRAND

In the 21st century, branding is a critical component of every marketing strategy. It can be a powerful driver of conversion rates, the average sale per customer, margins, repeat business and referrals. My philosophy on branding might be summarised as follows:

  • Effective branding is essential for any product, customer experience, business or individual to realise their potential. Branding adds value.
  • With the exception of some commodities, consumers buy the brand more than the product or experience when making a purchase.
  • Great brands are sustainable, and to be sustainable, a brand must directly and authentically address the needs and expectations of consumers.

DEFINITION

There are many definitions of the word ‘brand.’ Among the more insightful definitions are the following:

  • Theoretical – ‘What people say about you when you are not in the room’ – Jeff Bezos.
  • Functional – ‘The value added to a product or experience to drive sales and margins.’

These two, among many, definitions have merit and are entirely consistent with each other. Two associated concepts are:

  • Actual brand – ‘What people say about you – your product or business when you are not in the room.’
  • Optimum brand – ‘What people need to say about you, your product or business, if sales and margins are to be maximised.’

 The optimum brand is the one that will maximise the return on investment.

Three additional terms relevant to this discussion are:

  • Branding – the process of bridging the gap between the ‘actual’ and ‘optimum’ brand.
  • Reputation – the beliefs or opinions generally held about someone or something.
  • Trust – the primary outcome of effective branding.

I would argue that despite what public relations people might say – there is little practical difference between the brand and the individuals, businesses, or products’ reputation. Building the optimum sustainability will build the trust that is so essential to maximising the customer’s lifetime value.

IMPORTANCE

The importance of a brand, or at least the potential value of the optimum brand, falls into two related categories:

  • Customers – maximising conversion rates, margins, the average sale, repeat business and referral rates.
  • Staff – attracting, retaining, and getting the best out of the best people, thus maximising productivity.

Branding is key to maximising each customer’s lifetime value or enquiry. Branding is also the key to having a team that consistently delivers.

The following research findings highlight the importance of building the optimum brand:

  • Branding consistency can increase revenue by 20%.
  • 46% of consumers will pay more for trusted brands.
  • 80% of male and 76% of female customers purchase products from brands they know.
  • On average, businesses spend 5-10% of their annual marketing budget on rebranding.
  • 99% of employers say an excellent branding strategy is key for attracting top talents.
  • 59% of employers see employer branding as the key to their overall HR strategy.
  • 50% of potential candidates won’t work for a business with a negative brand.

 REQUIREMENTS

The requirements for creating to optimum brand include the following:

  • Accurate identification of the target market – the group whose needs must be met and whose expectations must be exceeded.
  • An in-depth understanding of the needs to be met and expectations to be exceeded among members of the target market.
  • An orientation towards customer centricity and, more specifically, developing a brand relevant to customers by working with a customer.
  • Always understanding the gap between the actual and optimum brand and consistently addressing the pathway to minimising that gap.
  • An absolute commitment to authenticity and creating a brand that can build and sustain the trust of target market members.

These requirements must be met if the optimum brand is to be developed, implemented and sustained.

STRATEGIES

There are, of course, many strategies that can be developed and implemented to build the optimum brand. Five of these strategies are as follows.

BRING THE CUSTOMER TO LIFE.

While this missive quotes many numbers, human beings are not well characterised by numbers. Customers and potential customers are multifaceted human beings that need to be well understood, and that understanding can be enhanced by bringing the customer – or the ideal customer to life. A strategy that can be very helpful in developing the optimal brand strategy involves documenting a customer persona. A customer personal is:

  • A buyer persona is a detailed description of someone who represents your target audience. This persona is fictional but based on deep research of your existing or desired audience.

The characteristics addressed in a customer’s personal will vary by market and according to whether it involves individuals or organisations. Key considerations in a brand persona include:

  • Demographic – age, gender, income, wealth, language, location etc.
  • Psychographic – lifestyle, attitudes, personality, and values.
  • Social – relationship status, household composition, and group membership.

 A customer persona is important in terms of the following:

  • Understanding the customer.
  • Relating to the customer.
  • Predicting the behaviour of the customer.

 Marketers can understand and relate to customers that are well-defined and personified. We relate to what we understand and can see much more than we do not understand or see. Once we truly understand and empathise with a market, we can also begin to predict behaviour.

Done well, a customer persona should, in addition to statistics, incorporate the following:

  • A name or names.
  • A photograph or photographs.
  • A personal profile.

 The ideal customer persona brings the customer to life.

IDENTIFY A SUSTAINABLE POINT OF DIFFERENCE.

The inverse relationship between differentiation and promotional budgets is well documented. The more differentiated a brand, the lower can be promotional costs. Rather than relying on awareness or reinforcing the top-of-mind awareness, well-differentiated brands give the target market a clear reason to buy one product over its competitors. That reason will ideally relate to the needs and expectations of consumers – and the brand’s capacity to meet and exceed them.

The optimum point of difference gives:

  • The target market has a tangible reason to purchase one product over another.
  • The target market has a tangible reason to pay a premium for a product.
  • Potential staff a tangible and meaningful reason to work in the business.
  • Current staff an incentive to stay with the business and perform at their best.

Differentiation can be based on any of the factors of greatest importance to the target market. It is essential that the basis for Differentiation is:

  • Relevant to customer needs and expectations.
  • Distinctly different to the competition in ways pertinent to the customer.
  • As tangible as possible rather than esoteric and vague.
  • Authentic and therefore sustainable over the longer term.

Two types of Differentiation are:

  • Vertical Differentiation – Differentiation based on quality. 
  • Horizontal Differentiation – Differentiation according to features. 

 Optimum Differentiation distinguishes a product to such an extent that it is seen as in its own product category without direct competition. Optimum Differentiation is not achieved with a clever slogan, a slick advertising campaign, smooth selling or wild promises.

No business will ever regret investing in the process of optimally differentiating a business from its competitors.

BRAND – CUSTOMER ALIGNMENT.

Central to most brands’ success are the values underpinning that brand. Brand values are the foundational beliefs of a business – the values that will determine how staff will engage with customers and how the product will be delivered to customers. Values are central to effective branding and, in turn, customer engagement, as demonstrated by the following research findings:

  • 56% of consumers stay loyal to brands that ‘get them.’ 
  • 89% of customers are loyal to brands that share their values.

Effective branding, or developing the optimum brand, requires:

  • Alignment between the values of the brand and the market.
  • A culture that can bring a brand to life and make it real for customers.

 Most businesses develop values that suit the business, and this is important – otherwise, they will not be demonstrated consistently. It is also important, however, that a brand’s values are and can be shown to be aligned with this of the target market. This is why author Roy Spence wrote the book – ‘It is not what you sell – it’s what you stand for.’

A brand also has no value until it is brought to life and bringing a brand to life requires a culture that embraces the brand and the associated values – creating a culture where all staff live the brand day in and day out – consistently over time. This is why Zappos founder Tony Hsieh commented – ‘At Zappos, we really view culture as our No. 1 priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself.’

Values are critical to branding and especially customer-centric branding. It is essential to understand the target market’s values and, to the extent possible, develop a brand that can deliver on these values and a culture that will bring the brand to life.

DEFINE THE BRAND DNA.

Every optimal brand has a well-defined DNA – or brand essence. One element of the brand DNA already discussed I values. Other key elements include:

  • Mission – what the brand exists to achieve (its purpose).
  • Vision – what success looks like.
  • Personality – what the brand is like to deal with.
  • Capabilities – what the brand is good at.
  • Positioning – what sets the brand apart from its competitors.

 When combined with values, these components of the brand DNA can complete the process of differentiating the brand. The mission will ideally be lofty and more than just maximising profitability. The mission and the vision will ideally be in line with the expectations of the target market. The brand’s personality needs to align with that of the target market, while the capabilities need to reflect the target market’s needs. Positioning involves Differentiation – placing the brand in the minds of target market members – vis a vis the competition.

Defining the optimum brand DNA requires:

  • Precisely defining and understanding the target market.
  • Establishing the needs and expectations of that target market.
  • Establishing how the brand can meet needs and exceed expectations.
  • Aligning the brand DNA with the needs and expectations of the target market.

Once defined, the DNA needs to be reflected in the following:

  • The brand definition.
  • The brand and culture strategies.
  • All communication – internally and externally.

Ultimately, the brand DNA needs to be reflected in the brand story, which should, in turn, underpin all communication.

DOCUMENT A BRAND STORY.

Few things attract human beings more and engage them more than stories. In his best-selling book Sapiens, historian and anthropologist Yuval Noah Harari noted, ‘ Humans think in stories, and we try to make sense of the world by telling stories.’ The fact is humans not only think in stories, they need stories to survive. Harari noted – ‘Money is the probably the most successful story ever told. It has no objective value… but then you have these master storytellers: the big bankers, the finance ministers… and they come and tell a very convincing story.’

Optimum brands have at their centre a brand story reflecting their brand DNA. Optimum brands develop a brand story in language the target market will understand that reflects DNA aligned with the values and aspirations of the target market. Every business will have a unique brand story. That brand story will underpin all marketing and communication – which is critical in creating the optimum brand for the target market and other stakeholders, including potential staff.

Here is my brand story:

  • Return on investment in marketing is maximised when the customer is at the centre of the strategic planning process. Many businesses claim to be customer-centric, but few are – resulting in higher marketing costs and a lower average customer lifetime value.

A customer-centric business understands the needs, wants,

and expectations of its target market – why members do what they do – and how

best to cause members of the market to behave in a way that maximises

performance. 

I work with clients to understand customer needs, wants and expectations and develop strategies that leverage the power of consumer behaviour to maximise return on investment while at the same time embracing the ethics of customer-centric business. 

Every optimum brand has and communicates the brand story the target market will engage with. 

INSIGHTS

  1. The optimum brand – meets the needs and exceeds the expectations of the TM. 
  2. The optimum brand – is rarely – but ideally – consistent with the actual brand.
  3. The optimum brand – must be authentic if it is to be sustainable over time. 
  4. The optimum brand – is created when there is no gap between it and the actual brand. 
  5. The optimum brand – cannot be developed in a board room without consumers. 

 ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

RECOMMENDED READING

TIPS

  1. To create the optimum brand – bring the customer to life – with a persona.
  2. To create the optimum brand – establish tangible and sustainable Differentiation.
  3. To create the optimum brand – align the brand’s and the TM’s values.
  4. To create the optimum brand – define and bring to life the brand DNA.
  5. To create the optimum brand – develop and fully leverage a brand story.

QUESTIONS

  1. Given that 46% of consumers will pay more for trusted brands, how would you define the optimum brand for your market?
  2. Given that 99% of employers say an excellent branding strategy is key for attracting top talent – how close is your brand to the expectations of optimum staff?
  3. Given that 89% of brand loyal customers share the brand’s values which of your brand values are consistent with those of your market?
  4. Given that 56% of consumers stay loyal to brands that ‘get them,’ how do you ensure that your target market understands you get them?
  5. Given that businesses spend, on average,  5-10% of their marketing budget on rebranding – what is the right budget for your business?

STATISTICS

  1. 46% of consumers will pay more for trusted brands.
  2. 99% of employers say an excellent branding strategy is key for attracting top talent.
  3. 59% of employers see employer branding as the key to their overall HR strategy.
  4. 50% of potential candidates won’t work for a company with a negative brand.
  5. 89% of customers are loyal to brands that share their values.

Return on investment in marketing is maximised when the customer is at the centre of the strategic planning process. Many businesses claim to be customer-centric, but few are – resulting in higher marketing costs and a lower average customer lifetime value.

A customer-centric business understands the needs, wants, and expectations of its target market – why members do what they do – and how best to cause members of the market to behave in a way that maximises performance. 

I work with clients to understand customer needs, wants and expectations; and develop strategies that leverage the power of consumer behaviour to maximise return on investment while at the same time embracing the ethics of customer-centric business. 

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