By Jeremy Korst
“In a world where there are seemingly infinite ways you can improve your product to go after new markets, you still cannot be all things to all people. You need to identify your target customers and zero in on them with laser precision. This means making tradeoffs, some of which can be extremely painful. By knowing who the people are that you’re optimizing for, and exactly what problems you’re trying to solve for them, you have already established the solid underpinnings of a successful brand strategy.”
Lindsay Pedersen, Author, “Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide”
We see it time and time again. A smaller company or startup takes off like a rocket, growing by leaps and bounds. And yet despite all of its early successes, company leaders haven’t taken the time to define their brand strategy. They often think of “brand” in simple terms. Perhaps a color scheme. Or a logo. Or the company’s name.
Organizations that approach brand strategy from this perspective are at a significant competitive disadvantage. Yet it’s relatively common, especially in technology. In my own experience a surprisingly large number of very smart and savvy professionals, who take great pride in their products and services, view their customers essentially with indifference. It sounds funny – and isn’t often voiced out loud – but they believe it’s up to the customer to realize how fantastic their product is, and once that happens they’ve crafted a successful brand strategy.
Such a narrow view can be toxic to everything you’re working so hard to accomplish. If a company approaches brand strategy from this perspective, oftentimes indifference towards the customer turns to disdain when the customer disappears. Which is completely backwards. Yet many of us who have been deeply involved in marketing have seen it happen first-hand over the years.
So it’s essential to build a successful brand strategy – very deliberately and with intent – early on. There are many facets to consider, but mainly you need to understand how your brand is positioned in the market, and how you can bolster your approach to win the hearts and minds of your target customers. Crucially, this applies to every business under the sun – from fast-growth startups led by entrepreneurs, to fully established brands. And everything in between.
I recently had an engaging conversation with brand consultant and leadership coach Lindsay Pedersen. Lindsay just published her book, “Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide,” in which she defines brand strategy as “the north star that guides your company, from how you engage with customers and employees, to how you fuel your growth and unleash your competitive advantage.” Yet, despite this power, many leaders still fail to take time to shape a solid brand strategy.
So what can leaders do to develop a successful brand strategy? Here are five steps to do it, and do it right:
“Choosing a target customer is essential. And it’s practical.”
Choose Your Target Customer
It’s almost a cliche at this point: “you cannot be all things to all people.” Yet although this is a basic concept, there’s a lot of pushback today about choosing a target customer. We’re seeing a resurgence in the mindset that if your company offers an amazing product, then surely it will appeal to anyone and everyone.
Smart marketers, however, understand that choosing a target customer is essential. And it’s practical. You have to know what you are developing, and who you are optimizing it for. Different people are going to have a different relationship with your product, and the problem that your product solves.
You need to deeply understand which group of people are going to get the most value from what you’re selling, which group brings the most value to you, which group has the most disposable income, which is likely to establish brand loyalty, and so on.
By optimizing for these people, you can prioritize those who bring the most value to your business. And it all starts by asking: “Who is the person that we’re optimizing for?” which segues directly into “What is it that we need to bring to that person?”
This is the first step, and it’s at the very heart of developing a successful brand strategy.
Curiosity is Key
The next step is to listen to your customers, and to identify insights from which your products or services will serve them. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to think that you know what’s best for your customers, without understanding their underlying needs. Which means you’re not going to ask intelligent questions like: “What is it like to have a particular problem?” or “What does this customer value?” or “What type of solution appeals to this customer and why?”
It’s critical to start from a genuine place of curiosity. Identify the challenges your customers face, what type of solution they’re looking for, why they need it, and what the competitive landscape looks like.
Which might sound easy, but it’s not. It takes a certain amount of humility to keep an open mindset, where you are trying to engage and learn from your customer. And it’s precisely why a whole lot of companies struggle with it.
“Identify the target customers you can serve better… and propel your business to the next level.”
Find Your Opportunity
After listening to your customer, and identifying what they need, it’s incumbent upon you to figure out your strengths, the strengths of your competitors, and to identify existing opportunities.
For a concrete example, let’s consider a small sandwich shop. You may make the most delicious sandwiches, using the freshest of ingredients, but you also need to understand the intersection of what your customer wants, what you’re good at making and serving, and what your competitor is not particularly strong in delivering. This allows you to identify which target customers you can serve better, and it becomes positioning territory that can propel your business to the next level.
Define Your Brand’s Promise
Once you’ve found your opportunity, it’s time to define your brand’s promise. Understand what problems you promise to solve, the solution you’re delivering, as well as all of the underlying features, attributes, and proof points that lend credibility to your promise.
Give Your Brand A Personality
If you’re successful in delivering on your brand’s promise, you’re already well on your way to establishing an emotional connection between your customers and your brand. It’s time to give your brand a voice, and a personality. This is – in effect – the holy grail of successful brand strategy.
*Note: The full version of this article originally appeared in Entrepreneur.