BRAND MEANING: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

by Anne Berg

Know Your Marketplace.

New marketing finds itself in a state of dramatic change – a type of evolution driven by a power shift of epic proportions. Today, true brand power exists not within the hands of a manufacturer or service provider, but rather within the hearts and minds of the customer. You can seek to influence perceptions of your brands, but the truest meaning of those brands lies firmly in the experiences of your many audiences. Understanding the evolving dynamic of today’s marketplace is critical in helping organizations make better marketing decisions. Increasingly, successful companies integrate the customer perspective from product development all the way through to ongoing support after the sale. Such customer-centric thinking promises a vast world of opportunity for your brand, particularly those with the agility to innovate around what really matters.

Tune Your Strategy

To harness this opportunity, it’s important to approach marketing as a way to fulfill business strategy. Marketing effectiveness is driven by strategic choices and disciplined execution. Yet the key is to begin with a solid strategy. Many businesses fail to gain traction when it comes to marketing because they start with tactics. Business slows down and the typical corporate reaction is to create an ad or build a website or host an event. Any of these tactics may be effective for you in the short-term, but they’ll only be truly successful if based on a strategic framework.

So how does such a strategy begin? A good starting point can be as basic as answering the three simple yet insightful questions made famous by Jim Collins in his book Built to Last. To paraphrase:

  • Deep Purpose: why do we exist?
  • Core Values: what behaviors do we value?
  • Audacious Goal: where are we going?

Every organization should have a clear sense of the answers. Within those answers lies the essence of how to deliver value to your marketplace. More specifically, if the answer to the first question doesn’t focus on solving a customer problem or addressing a customer need or desire, you better start again.

Once a company has answered these questions, management is now equipped with a clear business strategy that is customer oriented. The next challenge is asking the marketing team to execute on that strategy in a way that’s meaningful to the marketplace.

For decades, the standard concept of the Four Ps ruled the marketing mix. This approach includes the analysis of four key elements of strategic marketing: Product (or service); Price (the cost your customer pays); Place (distribution channel); and Promotion (marketing communications). Although your consideration of these fundamentals continues to be at the core of a solid marketing plan, the true driver of high-performance marketing may be the three newer Ps which include: People (individuals responsible for the customer experience); Process (how your product or service is delivered to the customer); and Physical Evidence (tangible signs of customer engagement). Note that these new features all focus on the customer.

Honor Your Customer

Your customer is more important than the product or service you sell. And any given relationship you nurture is ultimately a more valuable connection than any given sales transaction. With that kind of value in play, it’s worth evolving the way we think about some classic marketing concepts. Marketers must integrate an ongoing customer dialog into all facets of their discipline. Today’s great brands build the opportunity for a relationship that respects the interests of the customer above the interests of the brand. Here are some new ways to think of old marketing concepts:

Elevator Speech arrow Elevator Conversation
Talking Points arrow Listening Points
Key Messages arrow Key Questions

If you consider value to the customer your first priority, you’ll be serving all the stakeholders tied to your solution. To challenge your mindset in favor of customer centricity, its worthwhile to think about what the customer values most. While that may require an investment in market research (often called Voice of the Customer research), it will more than pay off in simplified decision making and delightful customer experiences. This customer insight helps you engage audiences with more meaningful content. And building customer relationships ultimately creates enduring brands.

Many organizations are seeing the value in marketing to one, the antithesis of mass marketing. More and more tools for personalization and customization are available and have the potential to enhance loyalty and increase profits. Increasingly, the power of data – including deep analysis and targeted application – will be what separates the winners from the losers. Leverage technology and keep in touch with your customers. Know what inspires them. Consistently deliver value. And reap the rewards of their allegiance.

Evolve Your Brand

Today, our marketplace expects continuous innovation. If we take a global perspective, we see a struggling economy, a flat world, and a social revolution. Meanwhile, digital technology is changing everything. Survival in this new environment requires major improvements. Businesses lacking the will to reinvent themselves are destined to suffer or even fail. Customer-focused innovation drives brand performance. It’s that simple.

When you choose customers over other priorities, brand performance ultimately accelerates. Yet success depends upon your ability to take the long-term view, even though market pressures and investor expectations encourage short-term thinking. However, your brand’s performance requires a more thoughtful perspective. High-performance brands are the result of a sustained and cumulative effort. Without a long-view mindset, you risk creating a brand bubble rather than a strong brand with increasing equity.

Remember, your brand resides in the mind of its consumers, so the new imperative places your customer at the heart of your marketing discipline.

When you execute your brand idea across multiple touch points (the various places and times in which the customer interacts with your product or service), while at the same time constantly renewing your product or solution, you create a consistent yet dynamic brand. The alignment of brand experiences that reliably deliver on the overall brand promise creates trust in the hearts of consumers. That trust garners loyalty. And that loyalty delivers real dollars to your bottom line.

Know that the marketplace determines a brand’s value. And the market forces that create brand equity are both numerous and complex. Marketing is a multidimensional endeavor that requires clear strategy, customer centricity, and constant originality. With the understanding and application of these principles, you can build enduring brands that deliver significantly higher returns over time.