Build a strong brand in 10 steps
In recent years, we have seen a worldwide trend that brands get much more attention. Brand managers and top management are increasingly aware of the considerable contribution to the company results of their brands. The focus is shifting from short-term results to long-term brand building by creating trust and connection and by propagating the ‘purpose’ or added value of the brand. This trend is increasingly driven by consumers (and employees). They are critical about brands and know flawlessly which brands deliver their promise and contribute to society.
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"Be selective in what you promise and be honest. Consumers are critical and quickly detect insincerity."
The Grand Marketing Survey 2018 shows that brand awareness is the most important KPI for 51% of marketers. The same research, conducted in 2017 found that successful companies focus on brand value. In short, brand is high on the agenda. But how do you build a strong brand? To succeed with your brand in the outside world, you have to start inside, in your own organisation. Below – based on insights from our own Brand Performance Study – is a step-by-step guide to achieve a strong brand with an optimised brand organisation.
1. Convince management that the brand is important
We have seen that management increasingly recognises the importance of a brand, but does not always invest in it. Without management involvement and investments in the brand, the brand will never achieve its full potential and brand building might just be limited to marketing communications. Therefore, it is essential to convince your management of the importance of the brand.
Numerous scientific studies prove that it pays to focus on brands within an organisation (e.g. Gromark & Melin, 2011). Work with management to find out which KPIs are crucial to them and monitor these continuously (see tip 9). Fluctuations in their scores may be a justification to provide the brand with the right funding. Create a ‘Wall of Shame’ to visualize KPI underperformance. Revealing shortcomings in the customer journey might show brand importance.
2. Create a strong brand promise
Define a relevant, credible and distinctive brand positioning to establish what the brand is and what it promises. This can be implemented using brand values, brand promises and/or a brand personality. Many organisations tend to promise too much. You need to be selective in what you promise and be honest. Consumers are critical and quickly detect insincerity. Our Brand Performance Study, for example, shows that organisations with three brand promises are more able to deliver on their promises than organisations with four or five brand promises. These promises are best when there is a combination of emotional and functional values.
3. Focus organisational strategy on brand
Our Brand Performance Study shows that strong brands are not just used in marketing communications, but are the main focus for the organisational strategy; from product development processes to employee behaviour. Strong brands are seen and treated as important organisational assets and are also used to distinguish from competitors. In order to prevent the marketing communications department from seeing the brand as their property it’s better to not use the word ‘brand’. Words like ‘purpose’, ‘identity’, ‘mission’ or ‘DNA’ generally perform better as justification for everything the company does.
4. Set up a brand steering committee
Setting up a brand steering committee helps to ensure that the brand is central to all activities of the organisational departments. Make sure managers from all relevant departments are represented in the committee. Monitor together (under the leadership of the brand manager) how the brand delivers on its promises based of concrete goals (KPIs) and determine what needs to be done to improve the brand performance. This way each department gets responsibility for implementing and building the brand.
"Monitor how the brand delivers on its promises based of concrete goals (KPIs)"
5. Use the brand promise as starting point
The brand steering committee has an active role when determining the optimal reflection of the brand in the main brand touch points. By working together and deciding for each category of brand touch points how the brand values become visible, tangible or noticeable, the foundation is laid for the brand implementation throughout the organisation. This means all departments are involved which forms the basis of a coherent brand experience.
6. Choose a matching style for the brand promise
It is important that brand promises are carefully translated into the so-called brand style, consisting of a corporate identity, tone of voice and behavioural guidelines. This is the basis for brand touch points, environments, some products and services, and also employee behaviour. Our Brand Performance Study shows that strong brands are not too strict in the translation of brand style to guidelines. They allow a degree of freedom in the application of the brand style to create a coherent appearance. Today, brand touch points no longer need to have the same visual layout, as long as there is coherency in how they convey the core brand message and contribute to the brand values and promises.
7. Keep control throughout the customer journey
For a coherent brand perception it is important that the application of the brand style and the design of brand touch points is tested. This is not about checking if the brand style is applied in compliance with the corporate identity guidelines. It is more about testing if the core message and visual appearance strike the right chord. It is advisable to set up processes for the approval of brand carriers. Tools can help. For example a brand portal can capture approval processes and design brand assets using the design modules in it. You can also employ online communities to test and control the brand application.
8. Involve employees and the HR department
Employees play an important role in advertising the brand. With strong brands, employees act as brand ambassador and they communicate the brand message in the correct way. HR plays a crucial role as an intermediary, and therefore it’s important that the brand is incorporated into a number of HR tasks like hiring and selection, onboarding, performance reviews, training and development.
"With strong brands, employees act as brand ambassadors."
9. Measure and monitor the brand and improve brand performance
Without knowledge of the brands performance, it is difficult to make improvements. Make sure you know the brands health so you know what could and should be improved. First, choose (in collaboration with management) which brand KPIs are most important to your organisation and draw up a plan to determine how and with what metrics you will measure the brand. You will need to measure it on a regular basis. Daily monitoring for some brand KPI’s is recommended and can done through a Brand Dashboard. By making the fluctuations visible, adjustments can be made in real-time. Don’t forget to use these results as input for your brand (management and implementation) plan.
10. Think carefully how you spent your marketing budget
When negative fluctuations in the brand KPIs become visible, organisations often choose to invest in extra communications (create media attention, email marketing, advertising etc.) to improve brand performance. It is true that investments in communication can improve brand performance in the short term, but investing in products and services, environment and behaviour to deliver on your brand promise is a better and more sustainable solution to improve brand performance. The success of your brand increasingly depends on how your target group perceives the added value from your brand, and much less on the amount of messages you sent them. Consider spending part of your marketing budget on brand optimisation. Start by following the steps above!
What are the costs of a brand change?
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