A brand is effectively the perception your customers have about your product. It’s what they think that matters and this can very often be different to what you want them to think. Crudely then, branding is the discipline of influencing what customers think.
As most entrepreneurs enter the market with something new on the table that challenges market conventions, your ability to set up and deliver a clear, compelling and consistent perception is paramount in creating demand and driving value.
It’s all about having a powerful brand strategy. Where many entrepreneurs have a clear view on what product they have created and what they want their business to achieve, it’s often, we find, the quality of their brand strategy that is missing.
So, here’s an express course on brand strategy. If you can answer the following question, you’ll be that much closer to creating a brand that is differentiating, relevant and authentic, the magic triumvirate in any branding endeavour: “what’s the one thing that we do best, that our customers want most, that our competitors do least?”.
The best way to answer this question is to dismantle it into its component parts. What does your product or service do best? It’s the old school USP question, but how readily can you articulate your benefits and attributes in an ownable way? A neat trick to help you is to think about your ‘more words’ – which adjectives and adverbs best describe your offer compared to the current landscape? More professional, more time-saving, more stylish: by thinking in terms of ‘more’ you’re forced to consider your offer in relations to others, crucial if you are going to differentiate.
The second component part: what do your customers want most? This question assumes you first know who your customer is. Do you? Another technique we often use with our clients is to create a pen portrait of your ideal customer. Give him or her a name, describe where they live, what they do, what they care about, what makes them happy and what makes them angry. With that character in mind then ask what role your product can really play in their lives. Try to go beyond the functional. If you save time, what does that enable them to give time to and why is that important? Keep asking why? And you’ll likely come to a much more fundamental and more emotional need.
Final part: what is it that competitors offer least? If you’ve had success in your first two tasks, you’ll be well on your way to understanding your answer to this. One technique to consider here is the concept of paradigms. You’ll often find that brands that operate in the same sector display similar characteristics. It’s the mimic effect: find yourself at a party with a heavily accented person and you may find yourself awkwardly aping their accent after a couple of drinks; come on, we’ve all done it. Can you spot those group-think traits and work out how to disrupt them? If tech brands are about being innovative and futuristic, can yours be about being basic and for today?
For centuries, British banks were built on the premise of solidity and trust. Next time you’re in the high street look at a bank’s façade: stone and metal work purposefully designed to resemble the resilience of castles and keeps. Then along came First Direct who disrupted this paradigm with an offer based on a heightened sense of service. Not a faux portcullis in site.
Virgin is a star of the disruption game. Before Virgin Atlantic, the airline paradigm was based almost entirely on the premises of sophistication and demureness; the classic ‘posh’-ness that was so typified by the likes of British Airways and American Airways. Riding off its record industry heritage, Virgin Atlantic had the simple vision of ‘entertainment in the sky’. Out with the snooty and in with the booty. From Bart Simpson-esque PA announcements to using Alice Cooper in their ads, putting green in the club lounge to the first ever fully stocked bar on board. Virgin Atlantic is sexy, irreverent, fun, and opinionated - the measure of a great disrupter.
As an entrepreneur it’s very tempting to just get your URL and go. Whilst that drive and gusto will inevitably serve you well, it only works if you can take time to truly reflect on your brand. Being clear on the reputation you want to have, and ensuring it’s a reputation your customers will understand is key to running a successful business.