I’ve worked on the agency and corporate side, and it’s incredible how overlooked the brand strategy is. I don’t care if you’re thinking about your company or your personal brand – everything you do is about your brand and links back to it. This is your DNA. Your why. Where it starts and ends. I learned that when I first started at Walton Isaacson from an incredible mentor, Aaron Walton. He showed me that a company’s brand is the vision, mission and essence of why you’re in business. It represents your people, your culture and your customers. If a brand doesn’t stand for something and isn’t authentic, you will not be able to connect to real people and customers. Without a brand strategy, you’re just creating a marketing plan with content and demand generation, hoping that someone will convert. You won’t be building your customer lifetime value and most importantly ensuring the lifeline of your business.
Whether I’m helping a jobseeker, small business owner or a huge Fortune 5 company like Microsoft, I use the same strategy for building a brand. While I was at Microsoft, I spent nearly two years thinking about why businesses should partner with the Microsoft Partner Network. It was my job to change negative perceptions of a 20-year-old ecosystem and help business owners believe that Microsoft cares and is easy to do business with. Through in depth qualitative and quantitative research, I helped create a new narrative and messaging for the Microsoft Partner Network with the goal of partners feeling like they WANT to work with us, not have to work with us. Bo Smith helps lead Microsoft’s brand strategy and has been an incredible partner and mentor throughout my experience. You can see how some of our work has come to life on the Microsoft Partner Network website with the message ‘Partners make more possible’.
Whether you’re building your personal or company brand, your goal should be to create human connections and fans. That is the essence of brand strategy. As the Co-owner of StandOut Authority, my goal is to help people understand who they are, how they’re different, and how to use their brand to stand out, get clients or land their ideal career.
So how do you create a strong brand? Here are 3 things you must do:
Write a value proposition
I use a pretty traditional value proposition framework. I’ve studied marketing during my undergrad at the University of Wisconsin, Madison Madison’s Business School and during my Texas MBA. In fact I was a MBA Branding TA for Dr. Broniarczyk, who is the Associate Dean for Research at Texas McCombs. To put it as simply as possible, a value proposition looks like this:
(You or your company name) is
For (target customers)
Who are dissatisfied with (the current alternative and main customer pain point)
Your service or product does (describe what you do)
That provides (key problem-solving capabilities, differentiators, and reasons to believe to help customer painpoints)
Unlike (the product alternative, competition).
This is a framework to help get your thoughts on paper. From here, you can build your narrative, key messaging points and content strategy. The major thing to think about is this:
What can you credibly say that differentiates you from your competitors?
At the end of the day, who are you and how can you help your customers.
Always be authentic and honest, and customers will come.
I think Lindsay Kolowich from HubSpot did a really nice job talking about value proposition development in her blog. Remember a value proposition isn’t your slogan – this isn’t your “Just Do It” from Nike. This is your why.
Understand what your audience wants and needs
When building your value proposition, it’s important that you get some feedback from your current customers and your potential customers. Yes, you can do very extensive research but that can be expensive and time consuming. Another option is to get more scrappy with it and use readily available resources already out there on the internet. With a simple Google search, there are thousands of articles on every topic you can imagine that can help serve as your third party research and validate some of the positioning you’re thinking about. It’s incredibly easy to go on your LinkedIn, Facebook , Twitter, or Instagram channels and simply ask your audience what you want to know. If you’re a job seeker, think about what recruiters are looking for and ask people who are in the roles that you aspire to be in.
We have access to so many communities and types of people yet we never ask them what they want before we build our brands and go into business. It’s not true that if you build it, they will come if you haven’t understood what they want. The best marketers and branding experts ask their customers what they want and need, and bring that value every single day.
Create ongoing brand content
We are in a content heavy, social media driven world which means that your messaging and the words you say matter. They must be relevant and authentic to your brand’s value proposition. Consistency is key. Your core messaging points and differentiators should be the same across all platforms, all of the time. How, when and where you say your messaging points is what your content and demand gen strategy is all about. That’s where you use creative campaigns to help talk about features, new products and services, and more. But those go-to-market plans always must circle back to the core of your brand.
“A study from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising on marketing effectiveness in the digital era shows that direct response efforts yield fast results and quick hits. However, they become gradually less effective over time. Brand marketing works on a very different time horizon. It takes longer to ramp up, but it delivers better returns in the long run. A year later, when the fruits of lead generation have long since fallen by the wayside, the results of successful branding are still going strong. That is, as long as a company has the patience to stick around and see their branding efforts’ success blossom.”
The study shows that in the long run, focusing on the brand over short term campaigns yielded greater results. Additionally, The same IPA study shows that the optimal balance of brand and demand is a 60/40 split – 60% branding, 40% direct response, in both digital and traditional marketing. That’s how you get optimal impact – pricing power, awareness, sales.
A brand that I think does a fantastic job staying true to their values, their why, and brand identity is Bumble. Alex Williamson is their Chief Brand Officer who I had the honor of being on a panel with, and I think she’s done a great job at staying true to their brand essence as they bring on new products and offerings like Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz. It’s always about empowering females, and has consistent coloring and messaging no matter what channel you see them on.
When there are highs and lows, your brand will stand the test of time because it’s who you are at your core. Take some time to really think about your why, how you’re different, and write it out. Talk to you audience. See how you can bring value and how to best articulate that with the words you use and the actions you take.
What is the hardest part for you as you build your brand and marketing strategy? Comment below, I’d love to hear. And if you enjoyed this article, please like or share it!
If you’re wondering how to build your personal or company’s LinkedIn brand and presence, please send me a message and I’d be happy to help.