Branding: Phase 1. Brand Strategy
Behind every successful brand is a thoughtful strategy. Getting this phase right is critical to the overall success of your brand,
Conduct an Internal Review
Begin by considering your firm’s overall business strategy. Start by gathering your management team to conduct a discovery session. Capture your team’s goals, market strategies and individual perspectives. Don’t be surprised if you discover a variety of points of view, and even fundamental disagreement. It’s common and part of the process.
This is good time to pull out your business plan, if you have one, and any other guiding documents. Think about how your company changed since those documents were drafted and what adjustments you might need to make to your marketing.
Now, a lot of firms stop here. That’s a mistake. There are other perspectives you need to consider before you can formulate an effective strategy.
Identify Your Target Audiences
Next you should identify all of your key audiences. You can approach audiences in different ways, so you will have to decide which angle makes the most sense for your firm:
- By industry served (what industries are your clients in?)
- By service provided (who is buying each of your services?)
- By role (what people at your clients’ companies are involved in buying your services)
Don’t forget non-client audiences, too, if they are important to your business success. These might include partners, influencers, referral sources and prospective employees.
Research Your Audiences
Identifying your target audiences is important. Why? Because your next step is to conduct research into them to attain an objective view into their needs, challenges and motivations. Here are some specific issues you’ll want to cover:
- Their priorities
- How they perceive your firm
- Who they consider your competitors
- How strong they consider your reputation
- How visible they believe you are in the marketplace
- What they see as your firm’s strengths
- What weaknesses or vulnerabilities they see in your firm
- If they are a client, why they selected you
Many of these questions could be sensitive, so we highly recommend you engage an impartial third party to carry out the interviews. You will get far more honest and useful information than if you carry out the research yourself.
Comparing the input you receive from clients and prospects against internal perceptions often exposes wide gaps — gaps you will need to close to build stronger bridges to your audiences.
Identify Your Differentiators
With this body of data you can begin identifying differentiators — characteristics that distinguish your firm from similar competitors. Most firms can uncover 2 to 5 true differentiators. Your differentiators must meet three criteria:
- It must be true
- It must be relevant to your target audience
- It must be provable
Be careful that you select actual differentiators, however. It’s easy to fall into a trap and choose characteristics that simply describe what you do rather than set you apart. And it’s just as easy to choose characteristics that are so common in the marketplace that they have little power. Examples include: “we have the best people,” “we have a proprietary process,” and “we offer the best client service.” While these could be real differentiators, you will need to present a great deal of evidence to convince a jaded marketplace.
If you need help working through your differentiators, we’ve put together a helpful guide.
Write Your Positioning Statement
Now you are ready to draft a positioning statement. A positioning statement is a compact, carefully worded expression of your brand. The best ones are both honest — accurately describing who you are today — and a little bit aspirational —speaking to the firm you want to become.
Many people confuse a positioning statement with a mission statement or a vision statement. It is neither of those things. Instead, it is a paragraph, usually 4 to 6 sentences long, that lays the foundation for your firm’s messaging. It is a well you can return to again and again as you write headlines, develop your elevator pitch or need to understand how you fit into the marketplace. It is a practical resource that distills the essence of your brand into an easy-to-digest package.
Here’s an example of a positioning statement for an accounting firm:
At Newco, we help retail franchise owners grow their businesses faster and more effectively. How? We combine the expertise and reliability of a CPA firm with automated, real-time reporting — all tailored to the franchise business model. Our experience and technology give clients strategic insight beyond their finances, giving franchisors the tools they need to achieve higher profits and greater growth. When you’re looking to expand your operations or increase the profitability of your retail chain, Newco gives franchisors the power to feed their bottom line.
Notice how it describes the firm’s unique characteristics (specializing in franchise owners and offering automated, real-time reporting) and expresses these as tangible benefit to their clients (higher profits, greater growth).
Tailor Your Message to Different Audiences
At this point, you may want to take the next logical step and apply your differentiators and positioning to each of your audiences. For instance, you may need to say different things to different industries. Or a CEO may need to hear one set of messages, while an HR Director needs to hear another. This type of document is sometimes referred to as messaging architecture.
A good way to approach your messaging architecture is to break out each audience and develop a list of messages each may need to hear during the sales process. These lists may include some or all of your differentiators, as well as more commonplace messages — the basic things an audience needs to hear to be reassured that your firm delivers the services and experience they want.
You may find during this exercise that several of your audiences don’t require different messages. In this situation, to keep things simple, you can simply group those audiences together.
You can take these messages to another level of sophistication by developing a set of objections for each audience, then drafting responses to each, drawing on your audience messages for inspiration. Whenever possible, support your points with specific examples or evidence. By supplying proof, your arguments become more persuasive.
At the end of the process, you will have a document your business development team can use to overcome common objections in the marketplace. And your marketing team can mine it for talking points on your website or in marketing collateral.
Address Any Confusing or Complex Brand Situations
As professional services brands evolve they sometimes produce new business divisions, spin offs, stand-alone products or sister brands that may or may not have an obvious connection to the parent brand. If this applies to you, you should take time during the branding process to clearly establish the hierarchy and relationship between these brands. It helps buyers and clients make sense of your business and varied offerings — any time you can eliminate confusion, it makes the buying process easier. This discipline is called brand architecture. We’ve written another post that explores the issues around brand architecture in detail.