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Why having a strategic brand can drive your business more than you think

Tay Kae Fong
Tay Kae Fong

May 4, 2020

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A strategic brand can simultaneously optimise your business in terms of customers, innovation, and people.

Having helped companies sharpen their brands for close to two decades, I’ve observed one thing that differentiates whether a client will fully reap the benefits of their branding investments, and that is how they see the role of the brand and how much leeway they give the brand to drive the business.

But isn’t branding about having a sleek, modern logo, or constantly getting on social media and connecting with the latest memes & trends?

Look at it this way, if you see branding only as your logo and digital marketing, then it’s like buying a Swiss army knife and using it as a hammer. Sure, it could work but why would you not want the other benefits?

Swiss knife by Victorinox
The CyberTool M by Victorinox

Companies that see their brands as more than a sales and marketing tool, but also as the company’s North Star to drive innovation and culture will be able to unleash the brand’s full potential and stay ahead of the curve.

Moreover, as the world gets increasingly uncertain and agility seems to be the order of the day, you can take solace in the fact that your brand is the one aspect of your business that should not be so quick to change; something you can rely on to stay true amidst the waves of trends and changes.

This article will talk about how you should view your brand and how it can drive your business in the 3 key areas of customers, innovation, and people.

What a strategic brand can do for you: Customers

Free yourself from the price and features comparisons

One of the biggest misconceptions is that having a great product is all it takes to succeed. That’s about as true as saying having fast internet is all it takes to make a great office. It’s probably more accurate to say having a great product is the first step to success, and companies need to do a lot more.

Too often, companies focus on product specifications and features, and get sucked into comparisons. Before you know it, you get transactional customers who will switch for a 5% discount. While there is a time to talk about features, it cannot be the only ingredient in your relationship with your customers.

You are not just your product, and your brand provides the added dimensions to connect with customers and convert them into fans.

A man driving a Harley Davidson motor
Harley Davidson is the classic example of a brand going beyond its products to “fulfill dreams of personal freedom”. Photo by Harley-Davidson on Unsplash

Having a brand that communicates what you stand for can free you from fighting on price by adding something unique to the equation that fans will recognise and pay for. Some brands, like Harley Davidson and Apple, even become part of a person’s identity and drive lifelong loyalty.

Connect with customers who buy from brands sharing the same beliefs

What do you stand for? How will you make the world a better place in the long-term? How are you being sustainable and responsible?

These questions may sound like an interview with The Economist, but they are real considerations for some customers when they decide whether to buy from you. This is not new — in a 2015 survey of more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, Nielsen already reported that 73% of Millennials and 72% of Gen Zs will pay more for sustainable products.

To connect to our earlier point, this is how consumers use the brands they purchase to build their personal identities. That’s why they put their money where their mouths are when it comes to spending with businesses that make the types of difference that they care about.

A clothes store with neon light hanging on the wall
Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

That said, it’s important your brand stays true because you don’t get many chances with the younger consumers. Deloitte reported increased skepticism about businesses and their agendas in their 2019 Global Millennial Survey, so just saying things without doing them throughly won’t work.

What a strategic brand can do for you: Innovation

Provide a filter for what you should focus on

“I’ve got just the right amount of work”, said no one ever.

When you already have too many things to do and get told to “innovate” & “keep up with best practices”, it can be frustrating. Why is it so hard to do the right things? This is when you can appreciate the power of a strategic brand.

If done right, it can be a filter for you to stay focused so that when there are 10 good ideas on the table and you only have time for 5, you can use your brand to rank and rationalise why you’re focusing on the top 5.

And yes, this means saying “no” to some of the customers or important stakeholders. But it will be crucial if you want to spend your limited resources, time, and attention on the right things. Besides, once customers know your brand, they self-select so you get more of your ideal target customers anyway.

Become the starting point for innovation

a blue velometer
Victorinox has leveraged its brand’s association with quality, durability, and ingenuity to enter other product categories of knives, watches, travel gear and fragrances. Photo by Piotr Janus on Unsplash

Talking about innovation, your strategic brand is also a good starting point to free you from having to respond to every new initiative that rivals implement. Instead, chart your own path, starting from first principles and fundamental beliefs, to identify innovations that play to your strengths and aspirations.

As an example, we helped a restaurant client, well-known for their tasty food and great services, to use their brand to identify potential new areas to enter by ideating how their brand and core competencies can be competitive advantages for them in other sectors. It ultimately resulted in them starting a boutique hotel where their great food and generous service shone through.

What a strategic brand can do for you: People

North Star to guide your team

A question I often get from business owners is how they can get staff to also behave like owners. For many leaders, getting staff to see the big picture and caring about the business have not been easy. In an ideal world, employees make the same decisions, do the same things, and are as efficient as their leaders, but that’s seldom the case in the real world.

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO of Amazon

That said, a well-defined brand can help staff understand what change or “dent in the universe” the business is trying to make. A strong brand will not only communicate what the company stands for to everyone, it should also connect with them emotionally, adding a layer of meaning to their work.

Google's brand mission
Google’s brand lays out their Big Hairy Audacious Goal to inspire staff and customers alike

Build an A-team

If you think your brand is only good for attracting customers, you’re only utilising half of its potential. Internal stakeholders can be as important if not more so than external stakeholders. An authentic, well-articulated brand should also tell employees (today and future) why they should work for you.

Three young people sitting and working at the table
The workforce of younger people (Millennials and Gen Zs) wants to work for companies whose philosophy gives them a sense of meaning. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Just like how consumers choose brands they identify with, the best talent, especially younger ones, are choosing to join companies whose values and philosophy they resonate with. Apart from motivating existing employees, it will help future employees self-select, so you can get the best people you need.

One thing to note, when done right, a strategic brand speaks to both internal and external stakeholders, so there is no need to create a separate or additional “employer brand”. You should certainly message your brand in relevant ways to different audiences, but it’s the same strategic brand.

Ultimately, your brand should bring meaning to your business on all fronts: meaning for customers beyond price and features, meaning for staff beyond compensation, and perhaps most importantly, meaning for you in terms of the change you want to create and the legacy you want to leave in the world.

Coming soon — how to create a strategic brand

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