In a highly competitive marketplace, it’s critical for B2B companies to take an active role in shaping and maintaining their brands. This holds true for companies in every sector — manufacturing, service businesses, financial products, logistics and distribution, you name it.
But often, companies struggle to articulate clearly what their brand is and how to keep it relevant to their target audiences and customers. Compounding the issue, the term “brand” is used interchangeably to describe many aspects of things that are — and often are not — relevant to brand.
People usually think of their brand as the more tactical aspects, which include:
- Brand Image: Your name, logo, tagline, color palette and anything else that identifies you in the marketplace. Often, these tactical aspects are referred to as “the brand,” but while important, these are not strategic pieces that comprise a brand. They are instead the visual manifestations of the brand’s concepts. Brand image is powerful, though, as it can help convey what the brand stands for quickly and impactfully.
- Brand Persona: The relatable human emotions that can be ascribed to your brand and its market presence. This can run the spectrums of fun to serious, smart to goofy, sophisticated to accessible, etc. A brand’s personality should be developed to complement its promise and competitive differentiation.
- Brand Essence: The distillation of your brand. If there was a word or short phrase that you would want your current and prospective customers to think of when they thought of your brand, what would you want it to be? The answer to this question can serve as your brand essence, and it can become the rallying point for your employees to help them keep the brand, its promise, and its delivery top of mind in their day-to-day work.
- Brand Guidelines: Consistency is crucial to telling your story effectively. Having a clear and consistent story that you are putting in front of your current and future customers is key to shaping that perception. Creating a set of brand guidelines that helps guide how your brand is put into the marketplace can help ensure the consistency of your brand’s messaging.
However, there’s work to be done before starting to develop these tactical pieces. This is where a deeper dive into branding occurs.
Here are three strategic guidelines for thinking about your brand:
1. YOUR BRAND IS AN EXPERIENCE THAT SHAPES CUSTOMERS’ VIEWS OF IT.
Consistency is crucial to telling your story effectively. Having a clear and consistent story that you are putting in front of your current and future customers is key to shaping that perception. Creating a set of brand guidelines that helps guide how your brand is put into the marketplace can help ensure the consistency of your brand’s messaging.
2. BRAND IS WHAT YOU SAY AND — MORE IMPORTANTLY — WHAT YOU DO.
There are two sides to every brand. The first is the “promise": what you say you are in your communications to the market, the reasons you give for choosing you over the competition. The second is the “delivery”: how you, as a company, are set up to deliver on the promises that you make. The delivery is often where brands get broken. Many companies neglect to align their operations around the promise of their brand. They claim to be about one thing, but are actually providing the kind of experience that indicates something completely different.
One way to help prevent this is to educate your employees about your brand’s promises, making sure they understand the expectations that you are setting externally and how that should inform their day-to-day work. Doing so will also help to make every single employee feel like they have a role to play in delivering the brand promise.
3. BRAND IS HOW YOU ARE SEEN AS RELEVANT TO YOUR AUDIENCES IN A WAY THAT’S DIFFERENT FROM COMPETITORS.
Brands don’t exist in a vacuum. Your customers and consumers of your products and services have choices, and they have means to make informed choices based on research. You need to give prospective customers compelling reasons to choose your company or your products over competitive offerings. An optimally positioned brand sits at the confluence of:
- How you are different from your competition…
- …in a way that’s meaningful to your customers…
- …that you can believably deliver on
Each of these three parts holds equal weight. If you don’t do something better than the competition, then you become a commodity, and you only win when priced the lowest. If you are differentiated from the competition, but that differentiation is not important or relevant to your customers, then it’s not a compelling reason to choose you. And if you claim to offer something that you don’t appear to be able to do, you end up breaking the trust of your target audiences. But if you hit all three of these targets (differentiation, relevancy, genuineness), you have a compelling story to tell that can drive a strong preference for your brand and your offerings.
A strong brand is the key to success
The key to success in any product or industry category is a strong brand. Starting with the strategic aspects of brand is the smart approach for creating and deploying a brand that will stand out in an appealing way to potential customers and partners. Don’t get too focused on the tactical aspects until you have a good handle on how you will shape the customer experience with your brand, deliver on your promises and identify the meaningful competitive differentiation that sets you up for long-term success.