67 Branding Insights

An on-going article featuring tips and insights on branding and marketing strategy, practices and processes.

This article is an ongoing series of posts. Feel free to add your own insights in the comments and we may include them in the list. The list appears with most recent posts first. Find more about branding and marketing strategy at Brand67


15 – USE EMOTIONAL DESIGN to connect more deeply with ideal prospects. Emotions play a central role in the human ability to understand and learn about the world. Positive experiences kindle our curiosity, and negative ones protect us from repeating mistakes. Humans form emotional connections with objects on three levels: the visceralbehavioral, and reflective levels. A designer should address the human cognitive ability at each level—to elicit appropriate emotions so as to provide a positive experience. A positive experience may include positive emotions (e.g., pleasure, trust) or negative ones (e.g., fear, anxiety), depending on the context (for example, a horror-themed computer game).

These three levels of emotional design can help to better assess and design toward a more deep and meaningful connection with the consumer. The “design” that we are talking about can be almost anything, and really should be everything – from the top of the brand all the way to the bottom – every aspect can be positively effected by better emotional design. Read more about it here.

14 – FOCUS ON STRATEGY – A great strategy feeds into (and align things to) your strengths. It’s not a new way of looking at things or some big idea that nobody else comes up with. We all have a lot of the same similar great ideas. Some shitty ideas too – but it’s your job to know and judge the difference.

Strategy simply helps build a narrative or a plot through the whole experience. If you are a writer, and you are writing a book, you do the same thing. You find the common thread of the story and build your strategy from there. Every twist and turn creates a new possibility in the plot, but it is the strategy behind the book that helps the author make good choices for the layout of the plot, the characters, the settings, the tone, the dialogue and every other aspect of a great story.

Every strategy does the same thing, it guides decisions toward a common theme that propels everything with synchronization around purpose.

Strategy makes things better by instilling more meaning in every action and reaction. Sure you can overlook strategy for good ideas, quick hits, and a lightning bolt of activity. A shot in the pan. And if gambling is your game, you’re in luck because there are a lot of companies doing that, so there are a lot of agencies providing it. If you like to hedge your bets and take more of a sure thing versus a long shot, then strategy is probably something you’ll value.

13 – DON’T FORGET THE SECRET INGREDIENT – what is the secret ingredient? That’s for you to find out, and for all your ideal prospects to know. It’s the benefit they get or feel when they join your brand. It’s the reasoning in their minds that talks them into being a part of your brand instead of others. It’s the conversation you have aided, but cannot control, that determines how you are perceived, and then how reality matches that perception (or fails to match it – or exceeds it). And in that reaction to perception is your brand’s value created for those who buy-in.

Now, being that your secret ingredient is created, and lives within the minds of your prospects, it is crucial that you understand how that secret ingredient is made. Which means you must understand how your ideal prospects view the world, and how they think and feel and act, in order to understand the recipe needed to foster the right perceptions that will aid their internal conversation and match (or exceed) the reality they experience with your brand.

The secret ingredient starts with one thing… the benefit. Not the brand mission, or vision, or product feature, or faster, better, cheaper. Those are attributes, not benefits. Benefits are emotional. That’s where the word “emote” comes from, which means to express emotion. It is the expression of emotion brought about by attributes, that must be clearly communicated. For example, “look what this does!” communicates attributes, but “wow, that’s amazing!” communicates benefits and also creates the secret ingredient. Here’s more about finding the capo d’ astro bar.

12 – SYNCHRONIZE YOUR MARKETING – one of the most popular marketing buzzwords of the last 15 years has been “integration”, as in Integrated Marketing Communications. Integration has been about taking one message and slathering it across the landscape of digital and traditional channels, hitting prospects with the same message at each touch point. The idea of one message coming from all your communications is a nice idea, but with the increasing complexity of channels, niche categories and splintered audiences, the integration of a singular message is much more difficult to apply well.

A better concept for applying a singular brand message or positioning across the marketing landscape, as well as up and down the sales funnel, is synchronization. Synchronizing your marketing means having each piece, channel, level, platform and experience working in concert. It’s more than speaking the same language and repeating the benefit mantra at every touch point. It’s knowing what attitudinal changes happen when prospects move from awareness to interest to consideration to conversion.

As a principle, one message or voice of the brand is extremely important. It is necessary to sharpen the focus of all communications with a singular point of view. But it is also dangerous to assume that a singular selling point, headline or call to action will be as impactful at every step of the customer journey and on every platform or channel in your marketing mix.

While integration is typically more of a tactical approach to aligning marketing communications, from the initial reception message to the sale confirmation email, synchronized marketing is a strategic approach to studying and applying the subtle changes in audience attitude and behavior that affect the the product/service development, packaging, distribution, sales and marketing processes. It’s understanding deeper insights that might show how a packaging change can convert online sales better, or how a sales tactic performs between warm leads and qualified leads, or how thoughtful split-testing can improve retargeting results.

Ok, yes, synchronized marketing is harder than integrated marketing communications. It takes more effort, more thought, more cross-discipline collaboration and better leadership. And I’m sorry to break the news, but it’s a dog eat dog world out there and it’s not getting any nicer

11 – EXECUTE YOUR IDEAS – Ideas are a dime a dozen. Great ideas are more valuable than gold. And truly innovative ideas can be priceless. But unless they are executed, and executed well, they are worthless.

Great brands, and the leaders of those brands, have figured out how to execute their ideas extremely well. It starts with setting the table and making a place where ideas are welcome. Strategy and objectives provide a playing field and criteria for determining which ideas have more value. You must capture ideas in a repository that can be analyzed and brainstormed to sift the best ideas to the top. Once ripe ideas are identified, tasks are assigned to move it into development and testing. And then, with measured risk, you must launch the idea into the world.

Get your ideas on paper – Whether it’s on the back of a napkin or in a mobile app, write down every single idea you get when they come.

Evaluate and expand – At some point sit down and evaluate your ideas. Sift the good ideas from the bad. At this point, “executing” your ideas takes on a different meaning – with brutal honesty as the gauge, only the best ideas should survive.

Match your idea to your business objectives – Your next step is to see which ideas mesh with what you are trying to accomplish as a company. If the idea doesn’t fit with your mission and vision…it’s dead. It is not worth your time.

Use SWOT – Next, analyze the ideas that have survived this far using the SWOT. Is it possible to convert a weakness into an opportunity? What strengths can be leveraged?

Compare the latest trends – Before development of an idea, look to see what is already in the market. Is your competitor providing a similar product? How can you differentiate?

Brainstorm with trusted people – Gather a group of strategic and creative people you trust to drum up ideas on what needs to be done, who needs to do it and when it needs to happen.

Assign tasks – Finally, hand out the assignments to getting this idea from paper into reality.

10 – FOSTER A MASH-UP CULTURE – Sure, you’ve heard it before – there are no new ideas. And it’s true, every idea is simply a combination of two previous ideas. So with the exception of that very first idea, or two, there really has been no originally new ideas, ever. No artist or thinker in history has become the master before being the student and learning the ideas that existed before them.

But something great happens once you accept this – you stop thinking you’re on the quest for something completely original. And you start to understand that we are all filters. Very complex filters, wired similar to, but different than other filters. And so, every filter or group of filters will mix previous ideas in ways that other filters might not. That is originality. And it often leads to innovation. Your freedom to let all other ideas effect and change your ideas for the benefit of new ideas. It’s ok. There’s no other way to go about it. You must borrow from everything that has come before you.

So take pride in your mash-ups. They are truly your own original creations. And although they are really combinations of other ideas, the world will see them as fresh and new.

09 – TEEMING WITH TEAMWORK – You’ll likely agree that how the world works is rapidly changing. And teamwork is taking on a new importance in how solutions are rapidly discovered and deployed. What began as faster ways to develop projects, such as agile, scrum, stand-up or lean, have led to the ways that businesses and governments will have to conduct business and deliver solutions in a highly connected, information saturated and mostly virtual work environment.

In order to keep pace and innovate, teams must utilize a teeming, or swarming approach instead of the same old formation and lock-step tactics. Take the example of an emergency room triage team that functions to quickly address and solve issues with the rapid assessment of needs, collaboration with the right specialists, action to complete the task, transfer of responsibilities, then disbanding and regrouping as necessary to address more cases.

Today’s most productive work environments will function in a similar way to bring expertise and experience together in a precise mix of talents and skills, at the precise time when the need has risen, for just as long as it takes, and with a structured leadership that can deal with the inherent challenges of short-term workforce dynamics. Those include difference of opinion, culture, processes and perspective. All are reasons that make teamwork the effective tool for finding new opportunities and innovative solutions. But balancing and resolving these dynamics effectively is critical to success.

One key aspect to building short-term trust and dependability into teams is to establish core shared goal(s). A singular purpose has been proven to improve both performance and satisfaction of work forces. It is one of the reasons that cause-related organizations have a high level of worker satisfaction, and a high level of trust in other employees – who they know are contributing in support of, and for the success of the same goals they are themselves. This alignment of goals does not have to be a humanitarian or philanthropic in nature, but should be a simple and significant goal for which everyone on the team can agree to aim.

Cross-discipline achievements and alignment will continue to be more and more important to business success. That is simply because the global marketplace will be more competitive and more complex tomorrow, than it is today.

08 – AUDIT YOUR MARKETING PLANS AND VEHICLES REGULARLY – all functioning mechanisms are prone to wear, degradation and eventual failure if they are not maintained and serviced well. And even the best and brightest minds need unbiased feedback in order to improve their performance. Good planning, strategy and tactics can go awry when they are not continually adjusted and reviewed against a constantly changing digital marketplace.

Of course that’s an expected responsibility of every account leadership team, but more times than not, they are too deep in the weeds dealing with day to day demands, and too vested in the work, to be objective. It is valuable to obtain expert, yet unbiased analysis which can bring needed balance to internal assessment processes and provide valuable corrective recommendations to keep your marketing vehicles performing their best.

07 – EMBRACE YOUR NICHE – Decide on what you do best and attract only those prospects who are an ideal match for what you provide, and repel (or at least, don’t waste money attracting) those that are not your ideal prospect.

When you have specialized knowledge and skills, it is imperative that you use that specialization to differentiate your brand from all the others that do similar (but not as specialized) services. When your ideal prospects find that you know and do exactly what they need, they will instantly know you are “right for me” and they will act. And when you get connected to that ideal prospect, your effort to close the deal will be a whole lot easier. Because you really do know their challenges, their desires and the way they want to work. You’ll deliver more focused solutions that will get them the results for which they are happy to invest. And ultimately you will be competing in a much smaller arena where you can become a leader.

06 – EMPOWER TEAMS BY ASKING “WHAT”, NOT “WHY” – At every step of the way, where data and ideas meet, there is the opportunity to see results and ask “Why” did that happen? But the better question is always “What” is happening? And “What” do we do?

When we start with “Why” we immediately create a negative perspective where the answers identify blame, fault, guilt and trappings of the past. Asking “What” questions opens the path to potential solutions and a positive and empowering dialogue about moving forward.

“What” questions can be similar to “Why” questions, but the thinking and outcomes will very different. Consider being faced with a failed task or solution, we often ask, “Why did this fail?” and “Why didn’t it work?” But the better questions are, “What went wrong” and “What can be done?”

So focus on the questions and answers that will lead you to new solutions rather than the ones that tell you how you arrived at where you are at now. So, what do you think?

05 – EXAMINE YOUR FUNNEL FOR LEAKS – in this digital marketing ecosystem where the customer journey can become a long and winding road, there are more opportunities to lose customers along the way. And as customers continue to be less and less loyal to brands, there is a real danger your marketing efforts can be hijacked by competitors with similar offerings.

My friend Bill Threlkeld, of Threlkeld Communications, makes this fine point in his recent article, “If your awareness efforts are random, scattered and disconnected, you stand the chance of building awareness for the whole category your brand fits in. And, when that happens, the brand with the strongest presence in the marketplace (whether it be through paid, owned, shared or earned media) will win.“

That is, unless you broaden your messaging footprint and test your funnel for leaks. This means reviewing and aligning messages at each stage of the customer journey, from the awareness stage, into consideration and especially evaluation, and all the way through the sales pipeline – testing each stage. An awareness campaign should not be launched without synchronizing (not integrating one message, but synchronizing the right messages) across platforms, channels and subsequent stages of the customer journey. Amazon probably leads the way on this, but who else is doing a great job? What is your experience showing you?

04 – AUDIENCE INSIGHTS – Most brand insights are usually within plain sight. But often we are looking at the wrong things. We tend to see the brands POV as more critical than the audience POV. So we are looking for insights about the brand, when true insights are about the audience, and how they think and feel about experiences that might involve our brand. Insights won’t change the product or services as much as they will change the way you relate to your audience.

It is critically important to also find the core attributes that are shared among your audience, to hone in on the most valuable attributes that are shared among you most valuable prospects. If you are trying to speak to everyone, you will be heard by no one. Are you focused on the right brand insights? Here is more about focusing your target audience.

03 – NAMING AND NAMING SYSTEMS ANALYSIS – Names, labels, nicknames, handles and acronyms surround us daily. They can be obstacles in the mind, or they can be beacons amid the din. Whether it’s sub-brands, line extensions, versions or systems, naming is a crucial (and sometimes grueling) process that most companies neglect. Usually because they believe it will cost too much to make changes. But what is it costing if a name is not remembered or is sending the wrong message? Are you periodically analyzing your names and naming systems, doing competitive research and testing alternatives?

02 – IDEATION FOR NEW PRODUCTS/SERVICES – Change is the only constant and keeping fresh ideas pumping through an organization or brand is crucial to staying competitive and gaining ground on the segment leaders. Focused ideation in an on-going setting can create new revenue streams, improve products and services incrementally and continually add value to a brand. One or two focused sessions a year can be enough to identify innovative directions.

There are lots of ways to do this. Create a brainstorming or innovation lab where interested associates gather regularly to practice the art of focused ideation. Put together an internal idea bank where ideas from any staff member can be gathered and assessed – and rewarded. Are you doing it? Who’s doing it well? Who needs help?

01 – BRAND POSITIONING – Companies cannot be everything to everyone, they must find what they stand for and own it. It must be authentic, honest and rewarding, just to gain acceptance. It must have clear benefits and awesome value. It must also have a great personality – usually requiring some charm. And it must be human. “It” is your brand. And getting a brand to be all these things is not easy. It’s not quick. And it’s not painless. But it is necessary and it should be rewarding. And it starts with the hard work of defining a position that is true to the brand, desired by the audience and unoccupied by the competition. Do you have all your stakeholders in agreement? Does everyone from the CEO to the intern know it by heart? Here’s more on positioning.

Kent Land is a marketing and communications strategist, creative director, social entrepreneur and musician who can be found at brand67.com. Read other marketing and creative articles at Brand67 or you can email kent@brand67.com

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