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The ground rules for branding are rapidly evolving. Social media, content marketing, the younger generation, second screening, thought-leadership and the demographic shift are just some of the many things that are challenging brands to think differently. Creating and sustaining customer trust and loyalty is more difficult than ever before. Building relationships with consumers has never been more challenging, with so much competition for their attention. Look at the constant barrage of pop-up and video ads that flash before our eyes every time we use our phones, turn on our computers or tablets.
Being an on-trend, relevant, inspiring, purposeful, innovative and community-centric brand – these are the things that will make people pause, listen and pay attention. Customers want to identify with a brand they can grow with, that earns their trust and makes them feel valued. People want to evolve with a brand whose products and services help give their business or life meaning and significance. End to end, a brand must become a consumer’s best friend.
Whether you are a Fortune 500 company, business owner or entrepreneur, here are six brand strategies that all chief marketing officers (CMOs) must not ignore :
1. See Consumer Engagement That Others Don’t
For example, Beyoncé launched her most recent album in a unique way that would fully leverage her relationship with her fans and advance the image she sought to create for her brand. Instead of releasing a new single (as advance promotion of the album), she released the entire album on iTunes with a full library of supporting music videos.
The drip-system is a good tactic, but everything is relative to the maturity of your brand and the engagement experience you want to ultimately create with your target audience. People like surprises and want variety. Don’t be too predictable. Mix it up. Don’t grow complacent. Stretch your thinking. Every brand is vulnerable. Don’t take your audience for granted.
This is why it’s so important to give your brand a refresh every year (not every 3-5 years). Remember that consumers are reevaluating their needs more often than you might think. Instead of being reactive to your audience needs, be on the front end and help guide them as they reinvent themselves. Manage your consumer engagement strategy or someone else will do it better.
2. Establish An Identity That is Easily Relatable
Too often brands complicate their unique value proposition (UVP) to get attention. In their efforts to reinvent and renew, they complicate things that frustrate their consumers and shareholders. JCPenney is a perfect example. Consumers used to know what to expect from JCPenney, but in an effort to reposition the brand, they lost their strategic focus and their identity along the way.
A brand identity is most powerful when it evolves and its value proposition strengthens in alignment with the changing lifestyle demands of its audience. Make things simple. People don’t have the time to figure out what your brand is trying to solve. Consumers want brands to be deliberate with their identity – straightforward while at the same time forward-thinking.
When I launched by first entrepreneurial venture, I sought to reinvent the old-school processed gourmet vegetables category. My brand – Luna Rossa – was an attempt to introduce a fresh produce identity to a traditionally processed category. Our brand identity was easy and relatable: Hand-cut and packaged within eight hours of harvest. Within a year of launch, we found ourselves in grocery and club stores throughout the country. As our brand matured and we began to understand our consumer better, we slightly modified the logo and added our new tagline that read: Romance You Can Taste. It was our way of saying that our products would deliver a better experience when used as a complementary ingredient and/or side dishes with your favorite entrees.
3. A Lifestyle Platform that Inspires People and Communicates Hope
Brands influence lifestyle and one’s state of mind. If your brand is not a lifestyle platform that inspires people and communicates hope, the impact and influence of your brand message will quickly begin to wane. Brand platforms like Target (A Bullseye View) and Coca-Cola (Coca-Cola Journey) recognize that stimulating a new or existing consumer relationship requires the ability to educate, communicate and inspire your audience about the totality of your brand – what it represents and what it stands for.
Today’s consumer expects more from your brand – not only the message it communicates – but how it is delivered. That is why content marketing is so important and must be flawlessly executed to be effective (here are 8 powerful tips).
Consumers want your brand’s value proposition to come to life and impact their lifestyle with messaging that is educational and applicable. A holistic approach to branding that gives people hope will accelerate your ability to earn consumer trust and loyalty — and create more transparent dialogue and feedback to keep your brand in continuous innovation mode.
4. Continuous Innovation with Flawless Timing and Execution
Innovation may seem to be an obvious strategy, yet many companies still fall short (or are too late) in their efforts. Just ask Blackberry, Blockbuster, JCPenney, Volvo, etc. It’s no longer just about introducing new products, line extensions and/or technological advances to strengthen your UVP. Today’s marketplace demands perfect timing and flawless execution with each new strategy you implement.
Consumers want to know that you are ready when they are. That means your timing must be in perfect sync with your audience demands. Don’t launch a new product, service or packaging/logo strategy if your brand’s audience isn’t ready and/or you are not prepared to execute the requirements for sustainable success – all the way through to the end. Short-cuts are slow death in a marketplace where consumers expect brands to over-deliver before they actually commit to purchase.Once you have established your reputation for excellence, your innovation efforts become a public relations strategy that pre-sells your consumers well before any new product event. Just ask Apple.
5. Promote the Genuine Spirit of Giving
The spirit of giving must be a central part of every brand’s DNA. Unfortunately, many brands forget to “give-back” to those who supported their growth. Being a great brand is not just about market share gains and profitability; it’s about genuinely sharing the success of your brand with others (whether they have purchased your product/service or not).
Whether you have a few thousands, millions, or billions of dollars in sales, make it a point to show your respect and gratitude to the people and communities your brand is serving. Take the time to interact in ways that go well beyond the obvious. Provide sponsorships (only if you are genuinely interested in supporting the cause), be consistent with your community outreach efforts, and actively participate in and support charitable events and organizations. Fully deploy your corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy (if you have one). A great example is what PepsiCo is doing with its environmental sustainability project.
If you have limited resources and/or just want to keep it simple, be sure to at least say thank you and show your gratitude. Brands today have a much deeper responsibility to society and the more your brand touches the needs of the world and helps to make it a better place, the more abundant you will find the opportunities before you.
6. Serve Others to Leave a Legacy
Much like leaders must lead with a legacy-driven mindset, so should their brands. As you develop your brand, what is the legacy that you are mindfully attempting to leave behind? What is your brand known for? According to Wikipedia, brand legacy begins from a point of origin (core idea) and considers historic message layering to derive a current perception as it pertains to the target audience. A core idea is a word or thought that encompasses all facets of the brand. For example, IBM’s core idea is computers, while Cadbury is chocolate.
What is the experience and/or product association you are attempting to leave behind for your brand and what will your audience remember most about how it impacted their business or lifestyle?
The most successful brands never fall victim to an identity crisis. They know who they are and the responsibility they have to those whom they are serving. Their innovations are consistently delivered, genuine and true. They are focused on what matters most to their consumer and on continuously making the experience better. Sometimes they may fall flat on the excitement scale, but their customers remain extremely satisfied. You know that you are building a solid brand legacy when your customer loyalty is so strong that they are not fazed by your competition.
When your core idea becomes synonymous with your brand, expectations rise and so do your strategic responsibilities. This is when you must begin to allow your customers to play a more hands-on role in your brand’s evolution. This is when you begin to witness the convergence of your brand’s growing community (intimate followers) with the advancement of commerce (growth in the business). Allow your customers to play a more significant role. Align your brand’s identity closer to their own.
Each one of these brand strategies is equally important and they build upon one another to create and sustain the ultimate customer experience. You must be ready to take on such an ambitious commitment, and then stick to it until you know your audience inside and out. Always be accountable to their needs and take responsibility to keep the momentum of the relationship moving forward. Implement these six brand strategies, and you will build a power brand for the 21st century consumer.
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