I had a client once who liked to demean his internal marketing team (and us by extension) by calling them the “arts and crafts” department. You see, he was a scientist by trade. He did “real” work. Yet, somehow, he hoped that new customers would flock to his company, tell their friends about it and stick with them through good times and bad based on nothing but the quality of his product.
In large part, he was right. It’s the product, the service, the thing you sell that will win the day. But unless you offer a compelling reason to believe in you and try you, you’ll never get that opportunity. That’s what brand development is all about. It’s that simple.
Is Brand Development Worth Anything in 2020?
We’ve seen it time and again and it really becomes clear in times when the economy struggles and companies have to scramble to hold on to every customer they get—those who’ve spent time defining and promoting their brand are the companies that not only survive, but thrive.
So, yeah, 2020 is shaping up to be a year where branding matters. A lot.
It makes sense, too. People need a reason to believe in you, to come back to you, to trust you. When customers, in both the B2B and B2C worlds, have less resources to spend and have to be very particular about where they spend them, a company’s brand is often the only differentiator worth anything.
That’s because great brands build trust.
They understand their customer’s struggles and pain points, and they offer clear, process-driven solutions or quality products that solve those pain points. Then they tell it all in an emotional, compelling story.
Sounds great, right? Good. Now, go forth and do it.
Oh. Right. Not that easy.
A Repeatable, Successful Process for Both B2B and B2C
Whether you are going after the masses with a consumer good or targeting highly specialized industrial customers across the globe, there are common strategies and goals for branding that you’ll want to keep in mind.
Obviously, there are some very real differences—specifically in the activation phase and how you go to market with your message—but foundationally, this process will get you a long ways down the road to crafting a brand that resonates, convinces customers to trust you and hopefully spread the word.
The Best Corporate Brand Development Starts with Strategy
Good branding absolutely must reflect and move business goals forward. Anything else is vanity. Therefore, there are a couple questions you need to start with:
- Why a new brand now? What has changed in the marketplace or with our company that necessitates this?
- How long do we think this new brand will be relevant? Is our marketplace malleable and fast-changing? If so, we will need to be nimble and iterative and maybe trendy. Is our market relatively stable and slow to change? We’ll need to focus on fundamentals that last customer generations.
- What is leadership’s appetite for drastic change? Name change and logo change on the table? Do we have strong existing brand equity we want to capitalize on with a minor modernization of messaging?
- What are we willing to spend to bring this to life? As you’ll see, all the best thinking and hard work in the world will be for naught if you aren’t willing to put resources behind it. It’ll take dedication and budgets (both time/capacity and cash) to make sure all your great thinking is seen by those that need it. “Build it and they will come” is fantasy. Just ask the Tokyo Olympic committee. (Too soon? Sorry, not sorry.)
Prepare to Talk About Feelings
In the B2C world, marketing based on emotion is a no-brainer. It’s the key to survival and it’s why premium brands (and fast-followers) spend so much money on messages that seem to say nothing about the product and everything about how you’ll feel experiencing it. Take this Nike commercial for example (hint: the emotion you’ll feel is F*** YEAH!)
But if you’re sitting over there in your contract machinery company office saying, “Sure. That works for tennis shoes.” You’re missing a very important insight. B2B customers are...wait for it...human. They, too, despite their math degrees and engineering know-how still have to live by those cursed chemical reactions in their brains just like the rest of us. The key difference is, very often the primary emotion B2B buyers feel is fear. When choosing the wrong partner to develop your medical technology, for example, can literally sink your company, being afraid you’re making the wrong choice becomes a very real emotion.
So, yes, B2B brands will need to focus on differentiators and price and quality and delivery and all that. But they also need to trigger their customer’s emotions. And lest you think I’m not going to inspire you with an example of great b2b marketing, fear not. (hint: the emotion you’ll feel is No. Freaking. Way.)
A 3 Phased Approach
Like any good process, corporate branding needs to be approached in a methodical and studied way. Less than that is simply going by gut. That’s not how great companies are built. Brand development should start with understanding the lay of the land, then figuring out where you want to position yourself in that land, then finally, planting your flag and telling the world that this is your spot. Stay away.
Let’s look at the specific 13 steps.
Brand Development Strategy Phase 1: Uncover
We call the first phase of corporate branding Uncover. It’s when you take a real hard look at every bit of data you have and try to find trends, fundamentals and elements you love and hate. Things you’ll keep and those you’ll discard or replace.
Step 1: Discovery
The first step is the Discovery process.
Oftentimes, this’ll be a series of interviews and workshop type sessions. You’ll pull together a cross-functional team that can speak for the major parts of an organization and geographies. Yet, don’t get too many people in the room. Sessions with 20 or 30 people are counter-productive. It’s inevitable you’ll have people who never share their perspective or others who are too dominant.
The goal of Discovery is to understand where you’re at as a company.
- What are things you’re hearing from customers?
- What are their pain points?
- How can a new corporate brand help alleviate those pain points or reveal solutions to your customers that they didn’t know you offered?
There are some great guides on how to conduct effective, meaningful discovery sessions and we’ve shared some tips of our own in the Employer Branding 101 ebook, but for now, just focus on getting a range of people from all walks of your company. Encourage them to be forgiving and fearless and talk about what’s working and what’s not and where you need to go as a company.
And NEVER take your eyes off your customer’s needs.
Step 2: Research
Internal dialogue is important to building a strong brand. Whatever story you create, it needs to resonate and be fulfilled inside your walls. But we can’t overstate the importance of outside research. Yet, it’s such an easy thing to cut, especially when trying to decide where to spend those precious resources we mentioned above.
If we had a nickel for every time we’ve heard “We know our customers. We don’t need to do research,” we’d have...well, like...a lot of nickels. Maybe even a quarter. No, seriously, it’s easy to say that and they’re not wrong. They do know their customers. But, they don’t know their non-customers.
Talking to current customers is talking to people who like you and already chose you. It’s helpful, but to get a full picture, you need to hear from the people who didn’t choose you. Who never heard of you. Who went with competitors or found entirely different solutions to their problem you never would have imagined. It’s not enough to talk to people who like you.
And about that money...good research saves you a ton of it. Developing and launching a new brand carries significant risk. There are a myriad of horror stories out there. But companies who invest in frequent research will experience 11x the growth and almost double the profits compared to companies that do no research.
Companies who invest in frequent research experience 11x the growth and double the profits of those that don’t.
So, really, the question is, how can you afford NOT to do research? Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be that hard. There are a myriad of ways you can do some of it for yourself and hire professionals for the rest.
Brand Messaging Strategy Phase 2: Define
Phase 2 is an exciting phase. This is when the dreams start to become reality. With a clear sense of who you are as a company today and where you want to go, and with ample qualitative and quantitative research to corroborate assumptions and dispel others, you get to charge into defining who you are.
Define, like any of the phases in this article, is actually made up of several smaller steps, but we’re going to lump them together into two broad categories: positioning and presentation. We need to get to the third and final phase fast. That’s where the best efforts often fail and we have some critical tips to avoid that.
Step 3: Positioning
How many different ways do we have to say basically the same thing: if you try to be everything, you will be nothing. The jack of all trades, master of none. If everything (about your company) is important, nothing is important. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
You get the point. The first and most important step in Define is actually deciding who you’ll be. This will require hard choices about what you stand for. Your clients and customers don’t care enough about you to remember 38 different value points your company offers. They care about themselves, not you. They only care about you in how you help them with their problem.
That means you get to list out every single thing you are good at, things your customers care about and then scratch them all off the list. Well, almost all. Leave three to five. The ones your research told you are the most important.
These traits become your Unique Selling Propositions (USPs). From there, connect emotions to those.
- How should customers feel about those USPs?
- Why do they care?
- What emotions will they trigger?
From here, we package these emotions and USPs into a single sentence that tells you, your team and your customers exactly who you are, what you offer and why you offer it. It becomes your positioning statement.
There are a lot of details in here we necessarily glossed over. However, if you want a more detailed step-by-step, check out our Employer Branding 101 eBook. It details all of this. Much of the process works whether you’re talking to employees or to customers, though what they care about will differ.
But that’s why you did your research, right?
Step 4: Presentation
The strategy stuff behind us, now you have to figure out how exactly to tell the world. This is where brand messaging comes to life. Literally. It often helps to think of a brand as a person. If you met your company IRL (that’s kids speak for “in real life”), what would they look like?
- How would they speak?
- Are they formal, in a suit, with a careful demeanor?
- Are they casual and confident, jeans and a sport coat and smile a lot?
- Are they quiet and stable and someone you trust and want to rely on?
With this image in your head and all of your findings from internal reviews and analysis, you’re ready to start fleshing out your brand’s look and voice. Be sure you keep in mind what you discovered about your competitors and the marketplace as a whole when you do this.
Some of the things you’ll need to define:
- Brand Voice—How does your company sound in their brand messaging? Think about that personality and figure out how to apply it to your marketing.
- Visual Elements—Create guidelines around everything from style and topics of photography to color palette, typography, iconography, design elements or motifs, etc.
- Design Platform—Put it all together. Create examples of what the new corporate brand looks like in execution. These elements will be critical for the next, and final, stage.
Brand Development Strategy Phase 3: Align
Very often, this phase is the hardest for organizations. It makes sense. This is, after all, when the rubber hits the road. All of the research, conversation, testing and development is done, but through it all, there’s always the possibility that you can go back and change things.
Going to market, however, brings a whole new slew of risks and fear. While you should never treat your newly defined brand messaging as written in stone, it will take capital and time to launch that messaging. That, by its nature, makes iterating costly. It’s in that iteration, however, that the magic happens.
And, as you’ll see, not everything has to be expensive to be effective.
Step 5: Start with Business Goals
Good news! You already have these.
You defined all of these in the Uncover Phase (and almost certainly before that in your company’s strategic planning or long-term visioning sessions). Now, however, it’s time to start breaking the goals down based on business sector, audience, financial impact and value. Use the Pareto Principle. Twenty percent of your goals will get you eighty percent of the way to your desired state.
This feels like amateur level advice, right? Of course goals are important. No $h!t, Sherlock. The problem is, goals often get wrapped up in operational and sales worlds and the impact of brand on them can be undervalued or overlooked so we have to mention them here.
Don’t forget that some of your goals might not be directly tied to business development or products and services. It might be to roll out your new brand to an external audience. And one goal should definitely be to roll it out to your employees and internal audience.
Step 6: Create a Communications Plan
With clear goals, now is the time to break them down into manageable chunks and timeline the roll-out. The communications plan will take an overarching goal (say external brand launch) and break it into smaller objectives. Below is a fake communications plan we might use for a medical device manufacturer in the b2b world (Yes, we named them Vandelay Industries. You’re welcome.)
A strong communications plan needs to check all the basics:
- Objective targeted
- Measurable results the objective is trying to achieve.
- The range of tactics (specific tools and vehicles) you’ll use to drive towards those results.
- Timeline for when work will happen and go-live dates
- Estimated budgets
It doesn’t have to be fancy, nor does it need to be exhaustive. It can’t possibly cover all of the detailed steps that will happen in each tactic, but it should be something executive leadership can react to for a birds-eye view of your campaigns and something your team can use to guide execution.
Remember, each goal will take several objectives to reach and each objective will require several tactics. By mapping all of this out, you’ll have a greater understanding of what it’s going to take to fully launch and you’ll know exactly where you stand for results.
Step 7: New Website Development to Support Brand Messaging
There’s no question that one of the strongest tools for rolling out your new brand messaging will be your company website. Website development is a massively complex topic and there are significant companies and tools out there to help you do it right, but there are a couple things to keep in mind when designing a new site to roll out your brand.
Here is where B2B and B2C will vary greatly, moreso if you are an ecommerce site versus a brand awareness or sales support site. Ecommerce, luckily, has largely been solved in the world of usability and strategy.
B2B, however, has been slower to adopt best practices in some cases. A large argument is that their needs are so much more complex and one site experience can’t possibly account for all of them. We respectfully disagree. It just takes more time and planning.
A few points to remember when launching a new brand with a site:
- Audience, audience, audience. This is where your research from Phase 1 can really pay off. Build personas for your customers. Understand the different roles they play in their companies and how their jobs are measured for success. Then map out their journey with you. How do they buy your product? What information do they need?
- Information Structure. Take a close look at both your competitors and other affinity sites you like. Document what they’re doing well and what they do poorly that you want to avoid. Pay attention to how they structure their site.
- KPIs. Every page needs to have clear conversion goals and ways to track what your users are doing. Think hard about what they want to get done on your site and make it easy for them to do it.
- Lead Generation. A key goal for a new site will be lead generation. With your brand messaging in place, you know what kinds of keywords and phrases people use to search out companies like yours. You also will, in the next step, be developing a plan around digital marketing and content marketing. All of this will be used to drive new leads, but if your site isn’t optimized to respond to search engines’ algorithms, you will handcuff your own performance.
Step 8: Search Engine Optimization
I just mentioned at the end of the last step the need to think about search when creating your site. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical for effective digital marketing. Organic traffic (that coming via Google, Bing, etc.) makes up 53% of traffic to websites. If your site isn’t built to respond to those searches, your new corporate brand work will be lost to the back pages of the internet forever.
Good SEO will require more than just searching for some keywords and plugging them into your page titles and headlines, however. And if you try to do any of the spammy tactics of the early aughts, just know that those games will hurt you way more than they help these days. SEO will use a range of tactics from keywords to backlinks to content and articles. It’ll include influencer outreach and ways to network your content into other sites and it’ll require that your metadata and the invisible tags and descriptions of your new site are handled correctly and accurately.
Step 9: Paid Digital Advertising
SEO, while powerful, is also slow. It takes a long time for Google to begin to recognize your site as a resource for users and to begin to show it to people as they search. There is no lightswitch to turn on to get traffic. Only through sustained content and proof of value will that start to work.
That means, in the meantime, and ongoing even after, you’ll need to pay to get your message in front of people.
The good news, when it comes to digital media, there are more options today than at any point in history to zero in on very, very specific audiences and deliver that brand message. There are ads within the search engines themselves. There’s even social media advertising like on Facebook or LinkedIn. YouTube. Apps. News networks. Retargeting (when you serve ads to someone who has visited your site or other sites that share affinites with yours). And on. And on. And on.
The beauty of digital advertising is that you have near surgical precision in who you target. Everything from traditional demographics (age, gender, income, etc.) to location (down to the block) to personal interests and affiliation can be used. This is especially critical when promoting niche services and products that don’t have mass appeal or audiences that are hard to reach.
Finally, digital advertising has all of the metrics you could ever want built in. You will know within hours or days if your campaign is working. You can tweak and iterate and A/B test to your heart’s desire.
Basically, it’s a glorious day to be an advertiser and if you don’t include a robust paid strategy in your brand messaging plan, you are hurting yourself.
Step 10: Paid Traditional Advertising
There are no two but’s about it. Traditional advertising is declining. In 2019, over half of all advertising was digital, while traditional was around 46% of the spend. That said, there are strong reasons to keep traditional media in your arsenal.
Depending on product and topic, traditional advertising like television can offer a powerful and emotional medium. It can also make a statement about your organization, size and influence. Depending on the types of events and placements, you can be placed in broadcasts people want to watch live and thus don’t skip commercials on delayed playback (think sports, contestant shows, news broadcasts, etc.).
And, while nearly all categories of traditional have seen declines in use, outdoor and billboards have modestly grown. Billboards can be some of the most creative and eye-catching ads we’ll see on any given day. Best of all, users can’t click past them or ignore them as easily as they can digital ads with things like “banner blindness.”
Step 11: Email Marketing & Lead Nurturing
Sometimes it feels like email marketing was something really big in 2004, but, c’mon, man, it’s 2020. There’s got to be something better, right?
Not really. 59% of marketers cite email as their number one source of referrals. 60%!! That’s huge. Now, can you write and send emails like it’s 2004 and get that kind of result? Of course not. Email marketing has all sorts of tools from automation and sequences of emails to send to segmenting audiences based on activity and interest and how they came into your list. There are things like deliverability and how reputable your email provider is to consider.
Spend some time learning about what good email strategies look like in 2020 and beyond and then start building them into every communications plan you create.
Step 12: Event and Experience Marketing
When everyone and their mother is out there pushing digital marketing and their Facebook posts, companies are trying to find new ways to stand out. A key way that has exploded in recent years is the event.
Building experiences for customers will cement you in their mind in a way no amount of Google ads and tv commercials can. When a customer shows up to one of your events, every single thing they see, touch, taste, smell and hear is deliberate and intentional. It tells a story. It inspires and excites.
Remember how we talked about emotions?
Yeah, this is where they can really come to life. You can wow people with drama or move them to tears with compelling stories about the people you help. You can entertain, educate, heal.
Many events are one-time experiences or spread over a couple days at a trade show or conference. However, there are the smaller, but much more important, touchpoints of the everyday. These are the customer interactions in your stores or with your call center. They are the thank-you notes in the invoices and the unexpected gifts. Building a strong customer experience for every touchpoint of your new corporate brand will carry you forward for years and cement that new brand in your customer’s mind forever.
Step 13: Inbound/Content Marketing
A not-so-new tool, but still very powerful at lead generation is content marketing or also known as “inbound” marketing. The concept is simple. You write and create content (think long articles like this one, illustrated infographics, video blog, podcasts, etc.) that people are searching for and that you have expertise in. Put it out in the world. Watch people contact you.
The reality, of course, is more complicated. The most important part of that entire process is making sure you create content that people will see. If they don’t find it, they can’t read it and they can’t learn how amazing you are. And, as the whole world knows, the Gatekeeper of the internet is Google.
For inbound marketing to work, it has to be narrowly designed to the almighty Google’s algorithm. That means careful curation of what’s getting attention and writing content specifically to follow that pattern and respond to the same keywords and phrases. Yet, finding those keywords and clarifying search intent isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Of course, there’s also the challenge of giving the article a little nudge, a little push into the awareness sphere. Those who do that part well—the influencer outreach portion—and make the right connections with your content, well they’re the ones that drive incredible, business-changing results.
This is such a powerful tool, in fact, that we nearly always include it in our Align phase of brand development. Our advice to you: think hard about how you can use content marketing to drive new leads.
Step 13: Everything Else
There’s no way to exhaustively describe every category of tactics you might use to launch your new brand messaging. And, by now, you’re probably exhausted already just thinking about all of these and how to weave them together into a cohesive strategy.
The key is to keep focused on your Goals and Objectives and then Tactics. Try new vehicles and tactics as you learn about them. Iterate. If, after iterating and testing something isn’t paying off, scrap it without looking back. The key is to stay focused on your goal—launching and supporting your new corporate brand.
Brand Messaging Advice to Finish Strong and Win Every Time
Finally, you have your brand built out. You know how it looks and sounds and who exactly you’re talking to. Now, go break it.
Yeah, you heard me. Go and put it to the test and launch it and see where it doesn’t hold up and where it does.
Remember, the only cardinal rule in branding is to be flexible. Let data guide you—especially if you’re using the digital tools we just outlined. And be fearless.
For actual messaging around specific topics, we use creative briefs to guide our strategy. You should, too. Maybe in a future article we can outline our specific brief and how we approach it, but it really comes down to a few blanks you have to fill in to get going:
- Who, specifically, are we targeting. The audience. To a T.
- What, again specifically, is their pain point? What problem are you going to solve for them?
- What’s the goal of your message? Notice what I didn’t say. Goals. Singular—goal. You’re only allowed to tell them one thing that they care about. Make it count.
- Why should they believe you and care? This will always, always be tied to an emotion. How do you want them to feel seeing or reading your message?
With the answers to those questions and your brand language and personality you defined in Phase 2, you can start brainstorming messages and visuals. It won’t be easy, but the more you live in this new brand and the more you stay focused on the needs of your audience versus your own needs, the better your brand messaging will resonate.
Now, go give it a shot. And if you have questions, shoot us a note! We love to talk through this stuff, even as a free consultation. It’s why we exist.