Sunday, June 22, 2008

This is the final installment of my three-part series on branding that appeared in Business People. The other two are here and here.

Launching your brand
Tips for starting from scratch--or starting over

This is the last of my three ProSpeak columns about branding. You’ve read about what branding isn’t, and learned from the example of a few world-class brands. Now comes the most important part: putting those lessons to use with your own brand launch.

Whether you’re introducing a new brand or looking to re-energize an existing one, there are a few important steps to follow. The key is to invest in some not-so-glamorous groundwork before taking your brand public. You’ll need patience, but this approach will make the end result well worth the wait.

Here’s what it takes to make sure all systems are go for a successful launch:

1. Get real. Successful brands are authentic: they communicate a consistent message that accurately reflects the experience customers have when they interact with your product or service. This authenticity is a direct result of differentiation: great brands don’t attempt to be all things to be all people, but instead try to offer something distinctive to one specific audience. It’s crucial, therefore, to know your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. You’ll likely recognize some of these on own your own, but you also may be too biased to see things as they are.

That’s why research is a vital component of your launch. By gathering opinions from your customers, and from your competitors’ customers, you can get an objective opinion of what you do well, where you need improvement, and what points of differentiation you can authentically claim. Each market and each target audience comes with its own challenges, so it’s important to rely upon more than guesswork. Work with an established research partner who can help you determine whether a qualitative or quantitative study best fits your needs.

2. Set goals. One of the most common misconceptions about marketing is that results are hard to quantify. In reality, however, every dollar you invest should elicit a response—but you have to know what response you’re aiming for, and how you’ll measure success.

How does this translate to a brand launch? That depends on what kind of product or service you offer, of course, but it also depends upon why you’re launching your brand:

  • Are you simply trying to build awareness? If so, you’ll need baseline research to understand your customers’ existing perceptions, including perceptions about your competitors. You’ll also need to conduct follow-up research to see whether your efforts moved the needle.
  • Are you looking to generate media coverage? Then you’ll want to engage a clipping service and use technology to help you learn when you’ve been covered in the media and what dollar value you can ascribe to that coverage.
  • Maybe you want to elicit a response from interested prospects. In that case, you’ll need to track inquiries carefully, either with a phone number, business reply cards, a specific website landing page, or a combination of touch points.

No matter what your goal is, be sure that you continually measure your progress so you can adapt as needed.

3. Educate your staff. Branding is often seen as the marketing department’s responsibility, but marketing just oversees the effort. In reality, branding is the responsibility of everyone at your company. In fact, those who have significant customer contact are your strongest brand advocates, since the things they say and do often will determine whether you retain your customer or lose him or her to a competitor. Accordingly, then, they need to know what branding is and why it’s important to your success.

Consider working with a partner who can give your staff an overview of branding. Provide an opportunity for your staff to see how they already are branding experts, given their experience as consumers. Then shift their perspective to their position in the organization. After they buy into the power brands have over their own choices, it will require little effort to show them how their words and actions influence others’ choices. Demystifying branding will go a long way toward making them understand how important they are to your success.

4. Audit your message. If you’re relaunching an existing brand, you need to take a good look at everything you use to communicate with customers. Your website, advertising, brochures, logo, and even identity materials like your business cards and letterhead may need to change so you don’t send a mixed message. This certainly may mean you need to make a substantial investment in your new brand, but it’s worth the expense—and less costly than cannibalizing your own message and sabotaging your own brand launch.

Most importantly, this is the time to decide who you’re going to target and what messages you’ll use to communicate with them. Armed with your research findings and your goals, you should be able to pinpoint the right audience. Just remember that your target should be specific, and your message should be designed to resonate only with them.

5. Launch. Now you’re ready to get your message out to your customers and prospects. This may entail an advertising campaign, public relations efforts, or a combination of the two. The specific tools you use will depend upon what you hope to accomplish. But committing to the four preceding steps will help clarify which tactics are most likely to succeed.

As I’ve discussed throughout this series, nearly every type of organization can benefit from the development of a robust brand. There are no shortcuts, and it requires some investment on the front end, but it’s well worth the effort. By building a brand that stands out, you’ll make it easy for others to connect with your story, including the people who matter most—your customers.

1 comment:

Dred Porter said...

Not all Clipping Services are the same, some claim to cover nationally, but they only cover the daily newspaper, and skip the Grass roots publications, The same goes for TV monitoring Services. You best bet is for find someone local who can provide local service, and draw upon their own resources to provide additional coverage of national clips through a network of service... Magnolia Clipping Service is a Regional Service covering Mississippi and Alabama, but can also provide national coverage whether it be Television News Clips, or Newspaper Print Articles.