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Get Under the Hood and Tune Up Your Brand - Part 1 of 2

The 4 Critical Business Systems That Drive Your Brand's Performance

Kevin Walker, President - Boardwalk, Inc.

Image - Hot Rod Flames

Your brand is your most valuable asset, and it is the only asset that increases in value over time. In an ever-accelerating world, decision-makers respond to your brand as a short-cut to make instant judgements about your business, your offerings, your values -- ultimately, your worth to them. That’s why it’s so important to understand exactly what your brand is saying about you.

According to The International Brand Valuation Manualwith proper care and upkeep your brand can represent up to 70% of the overall value of your business. If that’s a true statement then shouldn’t you be spending 70% of your time working on your brand? Unfortunately, the everyday pressures of running a business usually don’t allow for that kind of attention. Nevertheless, every brand strategy needs maintenance if it’s to perform well over the long-run.

Think of branding as the engine that drives marketing and sales. Like any engine, it will need tune-ups at regular intervals. Here are four periodic checks to ensure you are continuing to fire on all cylinders.

1. Check Your Products and Services

The strength of your brand depends, on how well your products and services fulfill your target market’s needs. You must make sure your offerings align precisely with the wants of your customer base. That said, Henry Ford famously stated, “If had I asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Customers don’t always know what they need, especially when current business solutions seem to still be working for them.

Instead of asking them directly about their needs, canvass them to learn about what’s going on in their world now, not just in their dealings with you, but in the rest of their business, and in their whole life. You’ll need your sales team to get close to their customers. Ask them to be genuinely curious and get as much detail as they can. You may uncover a need that you could easily satisfy with just a minor tweak to one of your offerings.

Recently, the CMO of a $500 million B2B company expressed to me, “I’ve only been there two years and, already, I feel like I’m falling into their corporate group-think.” Once a sense of equilibrium settles into a place of business, no one wants to upset the apple cart. It’s great to have a smoothly running office. But, all too easily, this can slide, imperceptibly, into a kind of inertia, the classic that’s-the-way-we’ve–always–done-it mentality.

Reinvigorate your brand by switching gears. Find ways to shake out fresh ideas. Tear down some silos. Set up some cross-functional teams to spark innovation, and see how you might better serve your market.

2. Check Your Customers’ Experiences

To build a strong brand, Customer Experience (CX) is paramount. Today’s B2B buyers are increasingly influenced by the ever-more-sophisticated experiences they encounter as consumers in the B2C world.

A recent SiriusDecisions study reveals that 80% of B2B customers base their buying decisions on CX rather than price. Take the time to examine your customer’s journey. How can it be made easier? How can your brand provide more value, be more informative or entertaining?

Most B2B marketers think that CX begins when they first talk to the customer. That proved to be true -- in the past. Today, as marketers, we are all aware of the statistic: Prospective customers make it 67% of the way through their buyer’s journey before they even reach out to you. They’ve examined your website, read your blog, checked you out on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Google+, Twitter, and even Facebook. By the time they contact you, they already know a lot about your company, so be sure they have a really positive CX while they’re researching your brand online.

To make sure your tactics are still aligned with your strategy, conduct an audit of all your marketing communication.

  • Do your product names make sense?
  • Is your visual identity, your website, your communication fresh and current?
  • What kind of impression are you making to new customers?
  • Is everything consistent and on-brand?

It is important that your company present an image of smart, modern, and organized -- leveraging the latest advances in technology. Running a marcom audit is a valuable exercise, providing you insight into how your company is perceived by the outside world. (Part 2 outlines the process.)

3. Check Your Competitive Environment

We all get hung up in our own world, keeping our noses to the grindstone. But, while we’re at it, the rest of the world is moving -- and changing. Some of those changes are bound to affect your brand positioning.

  • Have you conducted a thorough competitive analysis lately?
  • Do you know what’s been going on with your competition since the last time you took an in-depth look at them?
  • What’s new in your market?
  • Has your competition already adapted to it?
  • Are there any new players moving in?
  • Did any of the old ones dropout of the mix?

In addition to general market conditions, you’ll need to survey the specific kinds of brand strategies your competitors are implementing.

  • How are they attempting to relate to the market?
  • What opportunities do they leave open for you?
  • What market segments can you serve better than anyone else?

The answers to the above questions are continually changing which is why you need to ask them repeatedly at regular intervals.

4. Check Your Company's Internal Values

Every business has a code of ethics, either written or unwritten, that reflect the internal values of their company culture. These values must align with those of the market the business serves.

A severe example was during the Industrial Revolution when it was perfectly acceptable to hire children as workers, keep them out of school, ensconce them in deplorable conditions, pay them little or nothing and provide them no benefits or job security whatsoever. But businesses dropped these practices as the values of the market evolved and deemed this sort of treatment as repugnant. Some businesses, however, simply transferred the same practices overseas -- but the market always catches up.

There is nothing more damaging to a brand than when a company’s value system doesn’t align with that of its customer base. Sometimes, the offense is a deliberate attempt to increase profit by skirting the laws. More often, it doesn’t really involve criminal activity at all. It’s just that the values of the market have evolved while the company had been busy building its business.

The trick is to never fall behind where the market is, and that means pay attention. The savvy brand builder stays attuned and ensures the company’s values are genuinely matched to those of the market.

A good, strong branding strategy should last a business 15-20 years. But a company’s strategy must  be flexible enough to adapt to change. If you never measure your brand strategy against market conditions – or give it a tune up – how can your company stay relevant in the marketplace? Your brand will remain locked in park while the market changes all around you. That’s how brands turn stale and lose market share.

As I mentioned at the opening of this blog piece, owners and managers of the company's brand assets really need to monitor daily. But since that’s not always possible, a formal and in-depth brand tune-up covering the above four aspects of the business should be performed regularly -- annually, at the very least, to ensure that your brand stays on the road to success.

The above is the first of the two-part series on continually driving brand performance. In Part 2, our focus is on the process of Running Your Marcom Audit.

I welcome your comments, and invite you to share this information.

Photo - Kevin Walker - Boardwalk, Inc.

Kevin J. Walker, President
Boardwalk, Inc.

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