Brand – First, critically, we use brand as a noun, not a verb (“branding” is something that a cattle rancher does; if only it were that easy in marketing and advertising!). The actual verb we use is position (or, as we often say, the act of “positioning”).
In the simplest possible terms, then, if we are successful in the positioning process then we are more likely to end up with a successful brand:
First, brands exist, and businesses use them, for three reasons:
To make buying decisions easier for the customer
Command greater margins relative to competitors
Provide focus inside the company
Brands reside in customers’ minds; they are not products on a shelf – or aircraft sitting on a tarmac. As such, specific products can come and go over fairly distinct life cycles, but a strong brand is timeless. (Compare, for example, the Apple brand today and the early Apple II series computer.)
Brands must fight for space in the mind with all the other stuff customers try to keep in their brains. We often talk, therefore, about “where a brand is” or “the share of mind” (level of awareness) that our brand has relative to competitor brands.
A brand’s mental image is made up of everything we know about it including what we’ve been told about it, what we’ve experienced with it ourselves if at all, and how we feel about the brand (positive, neutral, negative); thus a brand can have factual and emotional components, or a rational/irrational dimension. Yes, brands are often complicated, even messy.
How to build a great brand, i.e. one that your customers and prospects have heard great things about, have had great experiences with, have developed a far more positive than negative feeling about:
At the top of the list: create, execute and deliver a great product or service. You can only sell “sizzle” so much, at some point you’ve got to serve up a great steak.
With focus and discipline, serve a niche – you cannot be all things to all people. You must make it clear what market – and its customers – you serve; put another way, you must know what business you are in, and it must be well-defined, specific and narrow (“the riches are in the niches.”)
The first two points above have to do with marketing. This last point has to do with selling: to build a great brand you must also be successful at properly positioning the brand in the minds of your customers and prospects.
Brand Efficacy Profile – a comparative profile that we create for our brand as well as the relevant competitive brands.
Each brand’s (ours and competitors) Efficacy Profile captures and distills three critical pieces of input:
First, it portrays a relative rank ordering of each brand’s top-of-mind awareness: which brand “stands at the front of the line” when customers and prospects think of the category, which brand is second, and so on
Second, it illustrates the two mental components of a brand:
What we know about the brand; what it gets credit for from its customers; and
What we feel about the brand, including what our sense of the brand’s personality is.
Third, it reflects both the realities of a brand’s current situation, its clarity and coherence, and its aspirations for the future
Think of the Brand Efficacy Profile as critical to helping us define our current Brand Position, and then in getting us started to the path to creating a new Brand Positioning Objective for the future.
Brand Position – is the current status of a brand: where a brand sits in the customer’s mind today, and includes the specific strengths and weaknesses of the brand versus the competition. Analyze your market, customers, products, etc. to understand what your current Brand Position is.
(Compare to Brand Positioning Objective)
Brand Positioning Objective – if, in the analysis of our current Brand Position, we conclude that is has deficiencies, or is simply not viable anymore in a changing market, we then must create a new Brand Position for the future, which we call a Brand Positioning Objective. This is a goal, therefore, that we set strategy and tactics to in order to achieve the future we want for our brand.
(Compare to Brand Position)
Challenger Brand – typically a brand that is #2 or #3 in a product category, and one that has made the conscious decision to “go after the Leader” and try to capture from it the top position in the category.
This is not easy to do, given all the benefits that accrue to a Leader brand; if a Challenger brand is to be successful it must:
Have the ambition to go after a Leader. “Well, of course the Challenger will be ambitious,” you might offer, “ambition is a given.” Perhaps, but we are talking here about the real in-the-gut, burning desire, down to my last gasping breath ambition; this is “want to” at its fullest.
If a Challenger does have the ambition, it must also have the energy, and in most cases the aggressiveness necessary to take on the Leader, to challenge the authority of the leader. Taking on the Leader, in virtually any category, is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not just energy and aggressiveness; it also requires the commitment of the necessary resources, time and money. (If “ambition” is the “want,” we can say that “commitment of energy and resources” is the “will.”)
If a viable Challenger has the necessary “want” and “will” then it must also definitely have “the goods.” Remember, the Leader gets to set the rules and frame the debate, so a successful Challenger must seek to shift the debate, essentially moving the debate to a new playing field with different rules, a field on which the Challenger can have an advantage. Of course, it’s easier said than done to shift the debate; the Challenger must have at least one of the following, and it’s better to have two or three:
Demonstrably better quality (broadly defined) than the Leader.
Demonstrably better value than the Leader.
“New” in the form of category innovation that can disrupt the Leader’s protocol(s).
Customer targeting and profiling, demographics and psychographics – it is critical to know and understand our customers and prospects, and at its most basic we look at two broad areas when targeting and profiling them:
Demographic profile – who, and where, are the customers; how many total possible prospects are there (Total Available Market, or TAM); how are they described in relevant terms: size of company, flight mission profile(s), size of current fleet, etc.
Psychographic profile – what do customers know, think and feel about our products (our brand) versus key competitors? What hopes, concerns, fears do customers have about our product category? Importantly, how are these attitudes and opinions in flux in the market due to generational change, or environmental or economic reasons?
Leader Brands – are exactly what the word “leader” implies – they are the top brand in a given category, and usually lead in most if not all relevant measures: tops in market awareness, market share, revenues, profits, stock valuation, reputation. It’s good to be on top, as the benefits of leadership tend to be positive and reinforcing.
These benefits – in terms of brand, and positioning – typically include:
The ability (the privilege) to speak with authority in their categories: with this authority they can define the debate on what’s important in the category, can set the rules for this debate, and, critically, can say things that a Challenger cannot.
Because of that authority, Leader brands speak with self-assurance and confidence, which only reinforces their authority. (And the “best” Leaders are so self-confident that they are charismatic, a velvet glove for the brute force that all Leaders can bring to bear.)
In the end, we (the buyer, the customer) have a high degree of comfort with the Leader brand, as it is familiar to us, and trustworthy.
Market research – there are two reasons to conduct market research (essentially talking to your customers and prospects in a systematic, ongoing fashion) and measurement for your brand:
New Product Development (see)
Product/Program Sales Results and ROI Modeling (see)
In essence: you talk to your customers during the process of new product marketing development, and you measure the results of your selling activities.
Marketing versus Selling – Selling is getting rid of what we have in the warehouse; marketing is putting product into the warehouse that is easy to get rid of.
New Product Development Research – you want to develop the best, most differentiated products you can (this is what we call marketing, i.e. putting products into the warehouse that are easy to sell), and a critical part of doing this is through talking to the customers for whom you are designing the products. You can do this informally or formally; if you do it formally that means you are conducting a systematic and focused inquiry using accepted guidelines of business-to-business market research.
When you go through this process of formally talking to your customers about new products (or making significant changes/enhancements to existing products) you greatly increase the chance of having success.
And it’s not just the testing of new products that pays off; you should evaluate, with your customers, a new service and support structure, a new advertising campaign or web site, even a new theme line or logo for your brand.
“Other” Brand – When Jack Welch became CEO at General Electric in 1981 he famously decreed that GE would only participate in industries in which it had a # 1 or # 2 competitive position – basically keeping either the Leader or top Challenger in each category – and selling off all of the “other” brands that were in positions # 3 or lower.
Of course many of these other brands were nonetheless solid businesses, with good products, sales and profits, just not counted in the top two brands in their respective categories, and thus not part of Welch’s business strategy going forward.
Now, even though these “other” brands didn’t suit Welch, aren’t they still Challenger brands by definition?
The simple answer is “no.” Let’s look at what an “other” brand is and is not:
It’s not a Leader brand, although perhaps it once was and has lost its way.
It’s also not a Challenger brand if it lacks the ambition and/or the energy and/or the willingness to commit the resources necessary to challenge the leader; an “other” brand may simply not be up to what it takes to challenge, whereas a true Challenger brand will absolutely revel in what it takes to mount an assault on the Leader.
Not all is necessarily lost for these “other” brands, however, because with good products and good customer service to a profitable niche, these other brands can be a nice, even very lucrative business for its owners and employees; they may have fewer long-term growth opportunities, however, and in the long run may be in danger of obsolescence.
Positioning – Positioning is the process – the acts you take – to win the battle for both “share of mind” and the creation of a positive brand image. With or without your attempts at positioning the customer will have some image of your brand (or none, since perhaps they don’t know a thing about you). So you undertake positioning with the objective of shaping a great brand that will enable your long-term business and revenue/profit objectives:
Your positioning must use your company and product strengths, must be differentiated/unique and fitted to your market niche, must be focused on a single idea, and must reflect the kind of brand you are and aspire to be in order to shape the desired future image of your brand.
The way you position your brand must work internally: all of your employees (and all other stakeholders) must, at a minimum, “get it,” and they should be excited and share in the vision and end objective of the position, and your sales guys must feel energized about selling under the flag of your positioning.
And of course the positioning must work externally for your customers (and even your competitors, who should say, “crap, why didn’t we think of that?!!”). Just like your employees, your customers will “get it” and instantly understand your uniqueness that will benefit them. Your positioning should allow for creative approaches in your advertising, social media, sales promotions, PR and other tools; all of which contribute to and support “easy to sell.”
Last, let’s be clear about this: if you don’t do your own positioning your competitors will be more than happy to do it for you, and we can pretty much guarantee you won’t like the results. (Politicians are expert at positioning their opponents negatively; for all the evidence you need of this just look at the 2016 presidential campaign.)
Product/Program Sales Results and ROI Modeling – of course you’ll track units sold, revenues and profits, but do you track the effectiveness of your sales and advertising programs over time?
You must be able to show what’s working in your marketing and sales programs, and your media efforts, and know what is not working so you can fix it in a timely manner. With both the digital and Big Data ages upon us you must get in front of this.
If you don’t currently have a comprehensive measurement program in place, do it now, ideally before your CEO asks.
Sales Propositions – are the link, or bridge, between your (strategic) Brand Position and your (tactical) product sales and advertising activities; if your Brand Position is what you want your customer to know, feel and believe about your brand, then your Product Sales Propositions are what you want your customer to know and act on with respect to your products or services:
You will have a sales proposition for each of the products you sell – if you sell ten products, then ten sales propositions
Sales propositions should be short and sweet, the simpler the better. You may say that you have a very technical, or complicated, product, and therefore need to “say a lot about it.” Fine, but all of that detail simply becomes support for the sales proposition, which itself should not be weighted down with extra freight.
The sales proposition becomes the platform for all of your selling communications: it becomes the basis for your product “elevator speech;” it becomes the organizing principle for the section of your web site where you present the specific product; and it should be strong enough – i.e., based on a unique, differentiated strength that matters to the customer – that you can give it to your advertising agency and they can make a creative, arresting, engaging and sales-generating campaign out of it.