Your branding story is your identity, and the point of engagement with your audience (photo credit: Mario Caruso on Unsplash)
Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I have always felt that some styles, like leg warmers, big hair and polyester pants, should never come back in style – ever. But there are a few branding truths that never go out of style when building a new brand story. The identity of your company and the experience you are providing for your customers and potential customers have never been more important in today’s competitive markets.
Over the past year, I worked on a company-wide initiative to uncover a new brand category that encompasses a huge challenge our customers face. In parallel, we developed a story at the brand level where our customers can see themselves – one that puts their needs first and focuses on the challenges they are trying to solve – vs. one that focuses on our products. During the process, I discovered the top five truths about branding.
Your CEO Needs to Get It
It’s important to bring your CEO and leadership team along on the branding journey, getting their buy-in early and often and keeping them updated on your findings, plans, and results. SmartBear CEO Frank Roe was 100% on board with creating a new category and developing and investing in our brand story. An active participant in the process, he continues to be an advocate, rallying everyone else around our story. If your CEO or anyone on your leadership team doesn’t get it, start educating them about the importance of branding today.
Leverage Internal and External Experts
Outside agencies can provide, yes, an outside perspective. Our agency challenged us beyond our usual thinking and helped us deliver something different. Our in-house creative team was skilled at bringing the brand to life visually and with the power of words. Working with an outside agency also gave the in-house team additional perspective on what internal customers expect. Getting perspectives from both inside your company and outside is important.
Get Your Entire Organization Involved
A brand story isn’t something that is created in a vacuum in marketing alone. Put your customers and employees at the center of your branding strategy so it is authentic. They are your brand, the ones at the heart of your identity as a company, experiencing your brand. They will likely have different insights than your team. Bringing key stakeholders along on your journey ensures authenticity and buy in, while creating ever-important advocates across the organization that will clinch a successful launch and continued brand development.
Feedback, Feedback and More Feedback
Conduct surveys with customers, employees, prospects and third parties. Do brand studies and hold focus groups. Simply talk to your customers about what they think about their experience with your company. How are you solving their problems? How are you perceived in the industry? Marketing is one topic that everyone seems to have opinions on – me included. We like what we like.
Lean more toward the high-level “let’s change the world” message when others are going for the more tactical approach. In most cases, you are not the target audience you are trying to reach. Ensure your message is the right one and at the right level for your audience. It’s critical they see themselves in your story.
The Job Is Never Done
It’s a great feeling when you’ve worked on something and it launches. It’s on your website, social media, a billboard or maybe in print. And you think, woo-hoo, it’s out in the wild! But there’s a little voice in your head (or sometimes it’s your CEO’s voice) saying, what’s next? Keep optimizing your work and updating your story. Be relentless about keeping up with or ahead of your audience’s latest challenges in order to stay relevant.
Playing the long game when it comes to branding is critical, especially if you’re telling a new story. Give your audience time to adjust and let the thinking resonate. From a metrics perspective, you may see a dip at first as the new message settles with the market and your audience has a chance to engage and see themselves in your story. When the numbers pick up and hopefully surpass what you were doing, measuring over the long term gives you a holistic view of trends and what is working.
Like fashion that’s always “in” – such as that staple pair of jeans that always looks good on you – giving your audience a first-rate brand experience will never go out of style.
Maureen Plowman is SVP of Brand and Corporate Communications at SmartBear