Brand tools we actually need

Last week, I shared a modern take on staying ahead amidst infinite possibilities: Selectively choosing which activities and actions build your brand (and professional) reputation.

This is about so much more than strategy, though. It’s about being more effective with our time and resources, or the tools we would use everyday to make big and small decisions. It’s also about less misinterpretation and, ultimately, realizing a common goal, purpose and vision.

Whew, that sounds way big

No worries, this is going to be hands-on.

A happy by-product of a more strategic approach to brand communications are customer-message-brand fit (greater resonance within your target groups) and better decision-making when evaluating developments and unfolding opportunities.

So with this theory of strategic, selective brand activity in place, how do you actually go about it? What tools are available to you to help you put theory into practice? In the next few issues, we’ll explore what that looks like.

Today, we’ll lay the groundwork: What will guide our decisions when evaluating trends or new developments?

The proposition as a guidance beacon

Here’s an uneasy truth: There is no one right way to go about this. Every organization is different. Some feel more inspired when they can turn something abstract into a tangible action plan. Others need a very concrete and clear story and purpose to fulfill.

The most important aspect of this to remember, though, is to formulate a proposition that will be integrated and unfolded in your employee’s everyday actions.

Three forms of a guidance beacon:

  • The value proposition specifies what makes the product attractive to prospective customers, providing a reason why for purchase and clear differentiator to other brands. This is the most by-the-book form, typically part of most management consulting practices.
  • The customer promise takes a customer-centric viewpoint, outlining what the experience and customer benefit are that the brand promises to deliver. Direct customer feedback and insights are beneficial for this and should be regularly polled.
  • The manifesto is the most comprehensive and prose-like, declaring the brand’s purpose, motivation and what it has dedicated itself to deliver. Not restricted to a single statement, the manifesto is up to a few sentences long, and should be inspiring and concise.

The goal is to develop a common, guiding understanding of the brand in the team.

Why the team and not the customer?

Simple: The team is responsible for developing activities that will attract or engage the customer. Although customer-centricity is crucial, the human brain thinks in “I”. Team members will develop something based on that before the instinct of “what would the customer want” kicks in. We always think of things in relation to ourselves before others. (Tons of research to back this, not going to go into details here.)

Each form of proposition is anchored in the brand foundation and is typically hidden away in the company’s brand strategy or manuals, wikis or intranets, sometimes alongside values, persona or tone of voice. Compared to propositions, though, values etc. do not fulfill the same criteria that help build a sustainable brand footprint by fostering a unified brand understanding.

A few things to look out for while developing your proposition:

  • Words are powerful instruments of meaning, but only if you are intentional with how you use them. Avoid buzzwords at all costs (which can date a proposition) and challenge the use of any typical marketing jargon (i.e. impact, sustainable, enable, empower). You want to be as simple, clear as possible to prevent misinterpretation.
  • Balance top-down with bottom-up. Although it is management’s task to provide the general outline or focus, it can be incredibly enriching to workshop out a proposition across various departments, roles or regions in order to mirror a full circle brand outlook — from research & development, production, sales, legal or marketing.
  • Incorporate it into your brand communications development. This may feel forced at first, but like forming a new habit, it will become second nature with time. Questions like “Does xyz really deliver on our promise?” or “How does xyz fit into the bigger picture or experience?” really help challenge an idea and come to a decision that builds on everything else.
  • Finetune and revisit on a regular basis. Things change quickly these days, so give yourself the flexibility to further develop and carefully adjust your proposition should you feel it necessary. Beware not to overdo, though. If you feel yourself switching things out with every new campaign or format, you should consider a do-over altogether — and that’s ok, too.

Also in this series: Brand collaboration and culture.