Tag Archives: brand development

How to Discover your Brand: Part One

7 Dec

Eureka!When I first learned brand development techniques, my mentor at the time cautioned me not to give up the secrets he was laying on me, lest competitors steal my mojo. But let’s face it, every firm and consultant with half a pulse has some sort of “exclusive” brand development process, many followed by a ™, as if their process alone could tease the brand from your benighted company. (Note: we are talking specifically about organizational brands here, not product brands, though many of the same things will apply.) Over the years we’ve refined our process to a point where we can tell a client confidently that it will work (IF they make a serious commitment to it), but I don’t know that our “exclusive” process is so different from everyone else’s. I suspect it’s not. And if experience — good and bad — has taught me one thing, it’s that the practitioner is as important to the result as the process.

That being the case, there seems to be no good reason to hide our brand development process from the masses. If you think you can do it yourself, go ahead and have at it. If you think you have a better way, we’d love to hear about it.

What is Brand Discovery?

Brand Discovery is a process by which you create clarity around what precisely makes (or will make) your brand different and compelling within your category. If you already have a strong and well-understood brand, you may have nothing to discover; you already know what your brand is all about. I’ve already written about when and why you might consider rebranding (or at least refreshing your brand), so I won’t go into it here. Let’s just say your brand isn’t working for you and neither you nor the people you work with — much less your customers — can articulate what it’s all about. Time for the first step in Brand Development: Brand Discovery.

The reason we call it “Discovery” and not “Creation” or “Brainstorm” (or “Brandstorm,” which I’m certain some shameless branding firm must have trademarked), is because the whole idea is to find the brand that’s already lurking somewhere inside the company. I think of it the way Michelangelo thought of sculpture: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” This is an important distinction for those who think branding is all smoke and mirrors. If the goal is to create a brand the organization can sustain and grow, the brand has to be built into its fabric. Put another way, the brand strategy must align with the business strategy, or neither will work to their fullest potential. Assuming the organization already has a business strategy, the goal of Brand Discovery is then to find out how to reach that alignment.

So Brand Discovery is about learning about what precisely makes — or could make — our brand special and compelling within our category. For that, we need to be clear about:

  • What exactly is our category?
  • What do customers expect from the category?
  • What are they getting from our competitors?
  • What makes us different and more desirable for some of them?

What’s more, the organization needs to reach consensus around the answers to all of these questions.

How do we start “Discovering”?

We start with a room, preferable off-site to impede distractions, comfortable, but not too luxurious. Then we gather the right people — the boss, of course, senior managers from across the organization, individuals who have important knowledge within the organization, or others will be involved with the Brand Development process as it plays out. What’s important is that everyone who is ultimately responsible for key functions within the organization is involved. I find it’s healthy to include curmudgeons, too. Because they can be troublesome later if not heard earlier. They also tend to be truth tellers, which is a good thing.

What’s the right number of people for a Brand Discovery session? We’ve done it with as few as one person (a start-up, of course) and as many as 30+. Ten to twelve seems a good number. But what’s most important is that the organization’s key people are involved. If they’re not there, they can’t be involved; if the crowd’s too big, their involvement will be limited. One session we did with eight people, which seemed to be a good number. But, against our recommendations, the CEO had only invited sales and marketing executives, under the mistaken impression that this was “a marketing thing.” The session went OK, but the results didn’t stick very well. Be forewarned.

OK, I’m over my blog limit for the day. Next post: Operating a Brand Discovery Session.

The role of research in brand development

30 Nov

It surprises me sometimes when clients (and prospective clients) balk at the idea — and the cost — of research within the brand development process. After all, who is the brand for? Whose perceptions define it? Customers, channel partners, employees, prospects — just about everyone BUT the CEO. Of course, it’s fruitless to ask customers what they want our brand to be;  they just don’t know or care. It’s up to the company to create the brand. But it makes perfect sense to find out what customer perceptions are and whether they can accept our vision. In fact, it’s foolish not to. There are also important roles for other constituencies. Here are a few ideas on what and how to research within a brand development process.

  1. Market Research. Your brand is what separates you from other competitors within your category. Doing some market research sheds light on the category and competitors. This doesn’t have to be primary research. Buying existing third party research about the category, visiting web sites, paying attention to competitors’ social media presences — all of this may be enough to get a good idea of the landscape. Put together an analysis and share it with the brand team after brand discovery.
  2. Validation Research. OK, you’ve been through brand discovery and you’ve developed your brand story and other fundamentals — time to see if they make any sense to your customers, before you spend any more time considering how you’ll communicate them. This is best done with qualitative research techniques because you can’t really predict what respondents will say and you’ll want responses in their own words. We’ve used both well-moderated focus groups and one-on-ones successfully. Phone focus groups have worked very well when we need respondents across a wide geography. What you can learn about is respondents’ attitudes about the category, how you fit within the competition and — by exposing them to elements of the brand fundamentals you’ve already developed — whether they can accept the brand you’ve envisioned and whether it may be compelling. Listening closely to customers in this way has the added advantage of hearing the words they use, which can supercharge your communications. And you don’t have to stop with customers. This type of research can be valuable with channel partners and internal groups, too.
  3. Creative Research. Before you make decisions on your branding elements, it can be valuable to test them with customers. We’ve found this is best done quantitatively in online surveys or one-on-one interviews, depending on the complexity of the materials. The point is not to ask what respondents like best, but which best communicates what you are trying to communicate, so you make make educated choices.

See, that wasn’t so difficult. Imagine the advantage your process gains by including customers and partners. Is it worth the time and expense? Is car insurance worth the cost?

How Keywords Build Brands and Brands Build Keywords

23 Nov

Brand specialists and SEO people don’t always mix well. The first group tends to be most interested in the forest; the other in the trees (sometimes even the lichen on the trees). But there are certain places where their interests connect. One is keywords.

Every SEO will ramble on about the importance of keywords to search. They are, of course, the very foundation of search. One of the first pieces of business for any SEO effort is to develop a set of keywords, which find their way into content, links, page titles, and maybe into keyword marketing. These keywords come from brainstorming and lots of research. (If you are interested, here are a couple decent articles about developing keyword lists:  one from Associated Content and one from Bruce Clay.)

Since you can’t build a brand without achieving some level of visibility, and it’s difficult to achieve visibility these days without appearing in the appropriate web search, shouldn’t your keywords relate to your brand, and vice versa?

Lately, we have begun developing a primary keyword list as part of Brand Development. What this does is establish potential search patterns that relate directly to our brand characteristics, as we want them to be. Theoretically, this should also mean the people who search and find the brand are the ones who should really be interested in it, i.e. the best prospects.

Of course, the list generated as part of the Brand Development process still has to be researched and amended. Ultimately, it will also evolve as keywords in use are analysed for effectiveness and improved. That’s when it’s a good idea to bring the updated keywords back to the Brand Story and ask the question: Is our brand aligned with what people are really thinking about us, as reflected in how they search?

If the answer is “no, not so much,” maybe it’s time to revisit your Brand Story. I’m not suggesting your brand should follow your key words slavishly, or vice versa. I’m just saying it makes sense, in world where decision making about your brand is driven to a large degree by search, for you to make your brand as accessible as possible to your customers’ searches. Likewise, if it appears your customers are searching for a brand with different attributes than yours, maybe you need to fix that.

It’s time to close the loop.