8 Reasons to Prioritize Brand Management Strategy
Branding is the oldest concept in advertising, traceable to the earliest periods of human history in which we were better described as hominids. In this stage of our evolutionary development, our ancestors branded cave walls with hieroglyphics containing the narratives, events, ideas, and symbols worth sharing.
Given the duration of time branding has existed in one form or another throughout our evolutionary development, it’s no surprise that it remains an integral part of any marketing strategy in today’s contemporary marketplace. So integral is the brand management strategy to an organization that it should be prioritized before any other facet of brand management, and revisited more frequently than modern business practices suggest. If the eonian age of branding isn’t enough to persuade you to prioritize your brand management practices, the following 10 reasons should suffice.
1. Your Price Point Implies Something That Your Branding Doesn’t
Pricing is a major component of brand management strategy, and while pricing errors are common, they’re as preventable as they are damaging to any brand’s long-term success. If your pricing fits the below descriptions for establishing price and selecting the correct pricing strategy, you aren’t home free, but you have won the major price-branding battle.
Low price isn’t always good, and high price isn’t always bad. Rather, it depends on the demographic profile of your ideal customer and his or her needs, as well as the way in which the brand’s messaging is layered and sequenced in the context of the competition.
Effective high-price branding works well with older established products, and has an additional layer of efficacy when customers are frustrated by repair services (e.g., laptops, video game consoles, and cars. The differences here can be subtle, so be careful: If you’re selling pencils, high price points don’t work. But if you turn that pencil into a pen, it does work. A general rule of thumb is to never mention pricing in ads, and to instead use ads to form perceptions that justify the price point that will work in relation to your competitors.
In contrast to high-price branding, low-price branding works best with anything new, whether a new industry or a new product suite. After all, why would anyone spend large sums of money on products too new to have established criteria about what’s valuable and what isn’t? In the rare event you’re an industry pioneer with no competition, you have tremendous latitude to subjectively determine what makes your product great. For example, Levi’s did this as the first seller of blue jeans in 1853, and they determined that tough denim material was best, despite that attribute not yet having inherent value in the blue jeans market.
One example of how deeply, enduringly, (and seemingly objectively) this process runs exists in a recent Wrangler jeans campaign, which illustrates how even Levi’s blue jeans competitor, Wrangler, has to abide by the standards for blue jeans quality set forth by Levi’s more than 150 years ago.
For example, Wrangler’s Brett Favre campaign takes the Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers quarterback and positions his tough-as-nails image as aligning with their denim’s durability. Now, because of Levi’s (not the inherent value of denim), we think tough denim is the gold standard in good blue jeans, no matter what Wrangler says. While it may seem unoriginal, Wrangler played that campaign correctly. The lesson here in the price point is threefold: 1) choose the cheapest production material possible without compromising customer experience, provided you’re in the enviable industry pioneer position, and 2) remember that your branding strategy must be determined by the industry leader as equally as it is determined by you. 3) It’s easier to occupy the top rung of a new ladder than it is to shoot for the top rung of the ladder already occupied by the industry leader.
If you haven’t picked a price yet for your product, conduct market research with cogent experimental design that reveals the true price point. For example, once you’ve established your customer persona, bring 100 people into your office who you believe will be your target customer. Show these people how the product works and its benefits, then give them 2 options: the option to purchase the product at what you think is the right price, or a fixed sum of money per person. The correct price is likely the one at which 50% or more of the study’s participants choose the product over the equivalent cash offering.
2. There’s Been at Least 1 Failed Marketing Department Build-out
You’ve made at least 1 attempt to form a marketing department with a manager, director, or VP, and are yet to see the measurable results for which you’re looking (leads generated, sales, etc.) While incurring the sunk costs of a failing marketing department is never a good thing, having a baseline for what hasn’t worked is highly leverageable ground for analyzing where the branding has failed. Even the most talented, intelligent, and skilled marketing department can fail when the brand strategy doesn’t align with other aspects of the marketing mix.
3. Infrastructure Hinders Internal and External Communication
In our experience, most organizations aren’t even aware of the biggest roadblocks to closing more deals, and many of these roadblocks are simple to diagnose and remove. This usually happens when companies make the mistake of trying to grow and expand before outlining an information architecture in their CRMs and accompanying technologies. The oftentimes fatal consequence of this behavior is letting attribution and the finer details of streamlining a customer pipeline fall by the wayside. Simply put, if you’re not effectively capturing and measuring what works and what doesn’t, you’re not just on a journey without a compass: you’re already lost.
If you’re not sure what you should be measuring, or how you should be measuring it, the expert judgment of a marketing consultant can provide you with insight on these matters, including tips and recommendations for technology that facilitate the necessary implementations. When your attribution infrastructure makes it impossible to measure the results of your marketing initiatives, things tend to go south quickly and without you even knowing it. Proper attribution modeling requires careful consideration of the variables, fields, and platforms relevant to your target audience. While simple online tools like Google’s Campaign URL Builder speed up the attribution modeling process, they neither direct that process for you nor automatically understand what data matters most to your sales pipeline.
Moreover, marketing attribution isn’t just about the initial stages of a sales funnel (like lead generation); it’s about ensuring relevant continuity in your information architecture in your CRM from lead nourishment to the post-sale cycle. When you’ve applied a sound attribution structure for your customers and how they’re generated at each stage of your sales funnel, you’re one step closer to having engineered something far more valuable – a sales cylinder. Another sign that technology infrastructure is failing you from a branding perspective is misaligned sales and marketing departments, which fail to sync even after legitimate attempts to synchronize interdepartmental processes. While HubSpot’s ‘smarketing’ materials (smarketing is a portmanteau of the words ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’ here) are great starting points for identifying issues in the alignment of marketing-sales objectives.
4. Uncontrollable Events Disrupt the Brand’s Position
Whether it be competitor innovation, legislation, economic downturns, or other variables outside your company’s locus of control, the disruptions these phenomena cause usually warrant prioritizing (and revisiting) how you brand your organization, products, and services.
One common error I see in these positions, is to assume that the path taken by an organization up until these points of disruption was the only correct way to exist in the market. However, with the proper perspective and rebrand efforts, setbacks can become opportunities.
For example, when COVID-19 struck, the solar industry was fearful of market turmoil. Given that selling solar panels to new customers “required” in-person energy assessments, the lockdown made it harder to get sales. However, this allowed us to use our existing battery backup product suite as a set of emergency preparedness devices given how fearful homeowners had become of power grid failure. With a rebrand strategy built around this concept, we were able to maintain stable sales with a lower budget and employee headcount while also increasing overall marketing performance.
5. Irrelevant Product Extensions Make the “Why?” of the Brand Unclear
In short, not everyone is your customer, nor should they be. While it may be tempting to extend your brand into various products and services with which your buying base doesn’t associate your company, this detracts from focus and has led to the downfall of many otherwise great brands.
E.g., when people think of Bic, they think of single-blade razors and sometimes ball point pens. When the company tried to extend its product line to another market segment with the release of an underwear line, the company’s sales as a whole dropped markedly. They would’ve been better off sales-wise without having invested effort in this extension.
As world-renowned marketing expert Seth Godin notes in his landmark work Tribes, growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of cancer (and, clearly, failed businesses). While many product extensions have worked well throughout the history of commerce, they work solely because the extensions are in alignment with the way the prospect perceives the brand. Without this alignment, a new product launch is destined to fail.
6. Existing Branding Is Based in Delusion(s)
When most CMOs or marketing VPs are asked about the goals of all their marketing budgets and initiatives, the typical response is to “become number one in the market.” But 99% of brands in every industry will never be able to become number 1.
The reality is that the pioneering company in your industry (defined as the organization that first came into the market) will almost always be the number 1 player in the industry, and the consumer interested in your product will already have their minds made up about them being the preferred choice to you, unless you stop advertising who you aspire your brand to be and begin marketing who you actually are.
When this is done correctly, you can carve out a new hierarchy within your industry with you at the top of your new ladder, but you shouldn’t strive to replace the number 1 player unless your sales prove you’re in serious contention to do so as a number 2 brand.
“But what if my product’s features are no different than what our industry leader offers?”
In Al Ries and Jack Trout’s landmark book on branding, entitled Positioning, the dynamic marketing duo argues organizations to remember that marketing is about perceptions, not products and services; they also illustrate this idea cleverly through vivid examples.
E.g., take the case study of car rental company Avis. Avis offers the exact same service that Hertz, the number 1 pioneer in the car rental industry does. However, in positioning themselves as a brand with a personality that insists ‘We try harder,’ they carved out a new identity on an entirely different ladder in the same market segment, which boosted their sales by millions. To further extend this point in the automotive industry, everyone knows the Chevy brand. But what does the typical consumer know about its host of features, bells, and whistles across its entire line of vehicles? Virtually nothing.
Regardless of whether your brand is number 2 in your industry or number 10 in your industry, this concept applies equally. Moreover, when a brand is honest with its target audience, it creates trust that drives purchasing decisions: while it may not have seemed glib or appealing to brand themselves as a ‘try hard,’ the subtext of Avis’s message admits to the negative of not being top dog in their industry.
7. Branding Initiatives Ignore or Underemphasize Competitor Analysis
One reason that people who become marketers fail at marketing is because many of them are “failed” artists, and artists aren’t competitive people. To them, expression is more important than victory. This, however, makes it difficult to reach an advertising-saturated customer and inspire purchasing behavior. Finding the right message isn’t about cheap, clickbait-laden tricks or the use of superlative language to describe your brand in relation to the competition. Rather, it’s about the proper use of comparative language. Most marketers and even fractional CMOs hired to solve marketing problems insist on communicating to their prospects about the features of their products and services. This strategy is futile because it embarks on the advertising process as if competitors didn’t exist. Incongruence between the price point and the messaging is one example of this.
8. Your Products and Services Are Purchased by the Wrong People, for the Wrong Reasons, or Both
Sales are sales, right? Wrong. There are sales that create more sales, and sales that stop further sales. Thoughtless brand management strategy is usually to blame for the latter. While there are examples of brands selling products and services that eventually earned all their future sales for unintended reasons, these examples are the minority.
Even if they weren’t, the upside takes decades to see. For example, what we know as Play-Doh today was invented in the 1930s by a soap manufacturer (Cleo McVickers), who originally intended it to be used as wallpaper cleaner. 20 years later, his son, Joseph, repurposed the goop as clay for preschoolers, which is how we know the product today. Getting your product in the right hands hinges on what you say, how you say it, and to whom you say it. This requires product marketing-based metacommunication: What is it, exactly, that your product implies in its design, use cases and purposes?
While working for a Utah-based marketing agency in college, an entrepreneur came to us with a product that helped runners, golfers, and other kinds of athletes improve their footwork for their sport of choice in real time via Bluetooth and application-integrated technology in numerous ways, from improving efficiency in movement to reducing injury, without the expensive help of a coach. I named this product the Mettis Trainer, deriving the name from the Greek God of good counsel and planning, Metis.
The naming of this product oriented the company’s branding objectives around providing athletes with godly technological counsel for enhancing athletic performance via their patented devices. 2 years later, the product won the 2016 CES Innovation Award. Had it been named something else, the internal and external branding initiatives may have created confusing language about what the product is for. Like many truly innovative products, it wouldn’t be easy for a consumer to identify the Mettis Trainer’s uses and purpose without previous understanding of why it was made.
Need Help Identifying Whether Your Company Fits the Above Conditions?
While marketing consultants may be hired at the earliest stages of a company’s existence, they’re typically most valuable under the aforementioned conditions. However, it’s not always a good idea to hire a brand management strategy consultant.
Sometimes there’s too much work that still needs to be done in building a brand before a consultant can even help spearhead brand management strategy initiatives. This is the case because their expertise is usually in diagnosing and resolving problems with existing systems and marketing infrastructures, not in building the brand from scratch.
Unlike each of our writing services and marketing services, the scope of a marketing consultant’s skills range drastically. Like most marketing problems, these issues can be chocked up to the language and messaging used to reach your target audience, and resolving these problems is WordWoven’s foremost specialty.