A well-crafted and well-executed brand strategy can cut through the noise of competing messages, articulate your promises to customers, set you apart from your competition, and establish yourself as a leader in your space. However, I see companies make the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to branding. Do you recognize yourself in the list below?
1. You don’t claim your brand position. Instead, you let the market do it for you. If you allow yourself to be positioned by the market, it most likely will not be your optimal brand position for growth. So, the number one mistake is to underestimate the importance of brand positioning – by not intentionally claiming your brand position at all.
2. You delay. The sooner you establish a brand strategy, the better. Know your purpose now – you can always revisit it later as your product gains momentum. Refine your direction as you learn more about your customer, the competitive space, and your own strengths as a business.
3. You focus on the category benefit of your product. Many businesses pin their brand strategy on ‘table stakes’ – a category benefit that’s not only not unique to that market, but is promoted as a ‘must-have’ for anyone in that space. For example, if you sell pancake mix and your brand isn’t dominant, avoid relying on ‘table stakes’ like “comfort food on Sunday mornings.” Instead, focus on something that only you can bring to the pancake experience. Identify what you’re particularly good at, isolate which of these are truly unique, and determine what resonates best with your target audience.
4. You don’t choose a focus. Brand strategy includes choosing what you’re NOT going to focus on (even though this can be scary). By choosing what falls inside your brand’s purpose, you’re also choosing what falls outside of it. Focus is how you win. Shining a light on one aspect darkens what lies outside of it.
5. You fail to get your customers’ attention. Customers can engage with your business only when they know it exists, so make it easy for them to notice you. Don’t shout loudly, but speak with bracing clarity – which most businesses fail to do. Be crystal clear about what your business is, and why it matters to customers.
6. You forget to consider your customer’s frame of reference. A frame of reference is what your customer would be using if your product or service didn’t exist. It’s what they would buy instead of your offerings. Businesses tend to think about their frame of reference from the business’s perspective, instead of from the customer’s perspective. This is a huge missed opportunity. Remember that your target is constantly evaluating your offerings against other competitive options.
7. Your brand doesn’t have ‘teeth’. Your brand strategy must make people believe it, trust it, and follow it because it offers compelling proof that it’ll live up to its promises. In other words, it must have ‘teeth’. Those teeth can be an attribute, feature, fact, guarantee – anything special that it delivers.
8. You fail to narrow down your target customer. Your target customers are the people you want to attract more of, because of your distinctive strengths. Most businesses characterize themselves in a superficial way and end up describing little of their customers’ inner world. Instead, view your target customer as empathetically as they view themselves.
9. You’re too low or too high on the benefit ladder. A ‘benefit ladder’ spells out the layers of your benefits – from product features and specs at the bottom, to functional benefits in the middle, to emotional benefits at the top. Shine a spotlight on the rung of the ladder that’s as high as your customers currently permit you to go, but no higher. Don’t emphasize layers that are either too low (features and product attributes) or too high (intangible, ethereal benefits).
10. You use one-size-fits-all messaging. There are five stages of a customer’s journey with your brand – unaware, aware, consider, purchase and loyal. You should craft a messaging hierarchy for customers at every stage of this journey. Unfortunately, many develop messages so encompassing that it tries to serve all stages of that journey. Resist this temptation. There’s no one ‘magic message’ that’ll advance all customers at all stages.