How do brands keep improving? If you’re already a market leader, where should you expend your energies to future-proof your business? A lot of the advice we read in the business press focuses on weaknesses and vulnerabilities and what needs to be fixed and updated. But if highlighting what isn’t working doesn’t work for your brand culture, maybe take your cues from the strengths movement and focus on further improving where you already shine.
This approach works particularly well with upbeat cultures that value performance and achievement. If motivation is already strong, talking about what hasn’t happened will only serve to dampen energy levels. Instead, I suggest you concentrate on your recognised organisational capabilities and look for ways to elevate these to new levels of proficiency.
Here are six areas in which you can lead your brand from strength to strength:
1. Product strengths – if you already have a distinctive and highly respected offering, use that kudos to your advantage. A lot of brands still focus on the technical supremacy of what they are doing. They bang the “quality” drum. There’s no point in doing that – it just draws you into a features war. Instead, use success to position your brand as the authority in the space.
Seek trust supremacy. It’s harder to counter. By driving thought leadership in the sector, and presenting the success of your products as proof of that leadership and the difference you have made for your customers, you can look to shift market perceptions and consumer inclinations in your favour. Make your products the proof and the expression of what you think rather than the other way round.
2. Channel strengths – if you are readily available now, use that accessibility to your advantage. Be the easiest brand to buy. Look for ways to increase the range and volume of encounters that people have with you in the channels they know. If the problem is over-familiarity, perhaps look for ways to access new channels or markets that will help consumers see what you offer in new, even unexpected, contexts.
The risk here of course is incongruity – your brand quite literally looks out of place. But done well, a change in venue can help change not only where people see you but how they value you. Where could you be that others aren’t? And why would you prosper being seen there when others wouldn’t?
3. Competitive strengths – if you have high-performing teams that thrive on bettering their rivals, use how you compete, who you compete against and the collective appetite for competitiveness to your advantage. Raise the bar by setting an outrageous vision for the brand and challenge your people to make it happen. Don’t present this as a new goal. Rather, explain it as a resetting of the horizon and communicate why you need to make this journey now.
The critical balancing act is to temper ambition with support, so that teams agree on what needs doing and move forward together rather than looking to discard the individuals they perceive as the weakest links. Clear targets and communication of achievements need to be backed by training, recognition, resourcing and opportunities to collaborate that help people feel what is being asked for is do-able, desirable and achievable. Then expect your people to perform, and hold them accountable to agreed targets. In today’s market, powerful brands harness their energy from the inside and use it to out-pace and out-muscle others who are lethargic or complacent.
4. People strengths – what attributes do your people have that you could make more of? Why did you choose these people to work in the brand in the first place – and how can you encourage them to make more of those strengths? If you hired the people with the greatest skills, how can you grow their skillsets? If you hired the smartest people, what’s the biggest problem you can task them with resolving? If you hired the people who were most team-oriented, how can you improve working conditions for teams and how can you help them work more effectively together?
Everyone talks about people being their greatest asset but often when you ask organisations why they hired who they hired, they struggle to express their decisions in terms of how those choices made the brand more competitive than it was and how they will position it to continue to be more competitive than it is. If you have an HR team with that strategic capability, apply their talents to deciding who, in the words of Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood, you “buy (acquire new talent), build (develop existing talent), borrow (access thought leaders through alliances or partnerships), bounce (remove poor performers), and bind (keep the best talent)”.
5. Adaptive strengths – are you faster and more inclined to change than those around you? If so, how can you use that accelerated ability to adapt where, what, how and when you work to your advantage? Being first-to-change can be a powerful advantage, particularly in industries that are seen as reticent and risk-averse. It can mark you as the sector refresher – the one that everyone looks to for next generation shifts in attitude, delivery or business model.
The most important take-out for consumers is not that you are first, but that they are – in other words, because your brand is the one that dares to change, they as your customers are always the first to benefit. It’s about delivering them more of the latest and the best, the newest and the most powerful: turning your customers into pioneers.
Nimble brands must gear themselves for customers with short attention-spans, meaning significant investments in improvements and breakthroughs and a lively communications programme to keep everyone up to speed so to speak. The temptation you must resist is the urge to go faster for the sake of doing so. Instead pace must always be aligned to results that directly matter to those who buy: the changes they want that can’t come quickly enough (until you deliver them).
6. Awareness strengths – as they say in the world of professional speaking, visibility is credibility. It’s very hard to stand out today but if your brand has a recall advantage, look for ways to make more of that top of mind. Why are you so well remembered – and what can you do to strengthen that at the expense of the profiles of your competitors? What can you do to get more-like-for-your-buck? And where should you be building awareness that reinforces the associations customers have with your brand and that delivers you real value for money?
My advice: chase inclination not demographics. Be where you are best seen rather than where you are most seen. Create an elevated presence but make sure that presence pays. Otherwise, it’s an ego trip.
It’s rare in my experience that changing one strength alone will be enough to propel your brand to a new level of competitiveness.
I suggest raising the bar across as many of these areas as possible, but focusing on two or three that will, in time, change how you perform. The secret here is to build your strengths in combinations that your competitors will find difficult to emulate – for example, “we’ll take a new level of product in this sector to a new level of awareness” or “we’ll not only change faster as a brand, we’ll introduce those changes into market via new channels at a pace that our competitors will not be able to match”.
Ambitious? Absolutely. But realisable because you’re working from what you’re already great at, not trying to catch up to or match what others already do well.