Consumers may now shape and define brands. But it’s still the marketing team behind a brand that builds it. This post outlines four key team principles for outperformance brand building.
The Challenge of Synchronising Mid to Large Brands
To direct their team’s brand management efforts, a CMO typically employ a variety of tools and resources, such as brand books, branding guidelines, marketing plans, automation software, NPD systems, web and social media policies, and so on.
Yet for all of these, they can find that the decisions and actions of team members are misaligned. And as a result their brand’s performance continually fails to live up to expectations.
This occurs more commonly with mid to large brand teams that have a variety of functional specialists, people responsible for different parts of the product portfolio and/or with managers for different geographies.
Whereas small teams can be more easily coordinated, and ‘super large’ global brands have resources dedicated to monitoring and managing alignment, brands in the middle are more challenging for a CMO or other designated brand guardian(s) to synchronise.
The Power of Principles
What’s needed by these brands is not more guidelines, policies or processes, but principles for team members to work by.
In sporting terms, the former are playbooks or techniques. But many winning sports teams also have a few simple ‘rules’ that all players understand and follow, that contribute to their success.
In fact some coaches prioritise principles over everything else. For example, youth basketball coaches often stress things like keeping even spacing between players, always getting in front of the player with the ball, and getting the ball to the player in the best position to score (rather than just trying to pass it to the strongest player).
These types of principles work because there aren’t that many of them, they’re easy to remember, and they are applicable to all situations.
So here in brief are four fundamental team principles for brand building. They aren’t new. But they are important. When well adopted they produce results.
- Think Strategically
This is a call out to teams to think carefully about the effect on the brand of every decision they make and of everything the brand does.
Questions to be answered include: Is it on brand? Will it help strengthen a desired brand association? Will it conflict with an association? Does it fit with the brand’s architecture?
Traditionally the focus of this was on reinforcing a brand’s desired positioning. Now with a far broader range of touchpoints to deal with, it’s often about ensuring there is a contribution to some layer of the overall brand story.
If, as has been suggested, brands are built like bird’s nests, one twig at a time, then will the ‘twig’ fit into the nest the team wants to build? To do this team members may reference back as much to a brand’s purpose, beliefs or values as they do to its positioning.
It also means applying the three ‘strategic cube’ filters to options about what to say or do, being:
- Will it be Relevant to the brand’s consumers?
- Can the brand credibly Deliver on what is being claimed?
- And – ideally, but not always necessary – is it in some way Unique compared to competitors?
This thinking should be applied to every brief, for every initiative, both big and small. From campaigns, new products and websites to pack claims, sales promotions and point-of-sale.
- Action Creatively
Legendary ad man Bill Bernbach said “It may well be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors.”
In line with this, teams should consider how they can execute differently at every touchpoint.
Even if the message or activity is the same as a competitor, how can creative flair or lateral thinking make it stand out from the pack? Where can things be made more interesting for customers?
This plays to the Ehrenberg-Bass school of thought that consumer perception of actual product difference is typically low. So instead brands need to make themselves more distinctive. The challenge for brand teams is then to create points of distinctiveness at every opportunity; again, both big and small.
Once more this principle now has to be applied with greater flexibility. As long as it doesn’t conflict with the first principle, teams should be given the freedom to innovate for the consumer context of each touchpoint.
- Focus on Integration
Integrated marketing – the establishment of a seamless brand experience across all touchpoints – has long been a tenet of marketing management. So the inclusion of integration as a key team principle needs little further explanation.
This said, as already noted, the expanded number of touchpoints that now exist have made this far more complex. So in practice integration has become harder to manage.
As such, teams should be encouraged to pay closer attention to the following.
- Going beyond the traditional ‘matching luggage’ approach of a single campaign idea replicated everywhere and/or glueing communications together with branding, to drawing on a distinguishing brand character to underpin every communication and action.This requires identifying the essential human characteristics of the brand. People sound and behave differently at different times and in different situations. But those with distinct personalities project these constantly. Similarly brands with defined characters don’t need to rely on cookie cutter conformity.
- Linking as many components of owned and paid media to each other as possible.
- As has been outlined in the first two principles, achieving consistency in messages – and the overall brand story – while also adapting them for different channels and the contexts in which people will consume them.
- Leverage Synergies
Integration is essentially about improving effectiveness. In comparison, leveraging a brand’s synergies is more about efficiency.
Many brands have assets and resources specific to a particular part of its portfolio which potentially could be better used to benefit the brand overall.
For instance, ‘hero’ products with higher market profiles, good reputations, strong associations or a known heritage. Or product ranges or sub-brands that have particular customer bases, communications’ properties, proven promotional events or established social media programs.
This principle asks that the team members responsible for these properties consider what other parts of the broader brand portfolio could be advantaged by them. Also, if these could be more impactful if another part of the portfolio was involved.
Similarly it asks those responsible for ‘second tier’ components to seek out and consider how they could use the stronger properties that exist within the overall portfolio.
As said, these principles aren’t new. But experience suggests many brands don’t apply them well.
So, in summary, for more successful brand building, marketing teams should practice SCIS:
If any of the points made resonate with you, then share these with your team. Use them to test what you’ve been doing and to look for improvements. Use them as a checklist for planning. Stick them up so they can be referred to every day.
And if you know of other proven principles, please share them with us.
:Thinkshots | Thinkshot posts are observations and ideas relating to current issues and trends impacting the future of brands, marketing and marketing communications.
Our blog aims to provide thoughts and insights into brand strategy, brand management and brand building for navigating a changing world.
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