Marketers often talk about brand leadership as if it is one thing. But there are many different brand leadership strategies that a brand can use to distinguish itself in a marketplace. The critical decision for brand owners is deciding how you will lead and why that will work.
Scale – The immediately obvious brand leadership strategy. You build a bigger, more imposing brand than your competitors; one that enables you to heavily influence critical market rules. You use this size and market dominance to become the looked-for brand in your sector across the world. This strategy focuses on footprint and familiarity but of course it takes time, acuity and plenty of capital.
Price (not discount) – You can develop brands that attract above-market margins because they’re craved. The focus on margin-per-product means you can pursue leadership through returns, so size is actually far less important. You can even be low profile. This market leadership strategy focuses on excellence and esteem. You’ll fight the price-cutting imitators though all the way to the bank.
Thinking – You can drive what the market talks about by putting your brand at the epicentre of what gets discussed. Thought leader status will get you attention and coverage which will in turn increase your overall presence and potential influence. Your biggest challenge will be to convert that reach into bankable returns.
Likeability – You can be the brand that everyone would like the others to be and the one whose behaviours, products and attention to detail are quoted as exemplary. Building brand affinity with a truly likeable brand is a powerful market leadership strategy. You’ll need a powerful and compelling sales funnel to convert all that love into dollars. And public emotion can shift quickly, so whilst this is an enjoyable option it’s not necessarily a bankable one.
Change – You can rock the boat. You can drive shifts in performance, mindset, reach, payment, interest, audiences and/or product. You can be the research-driven brand that everyone looks to for next actions; the brand that never sleeps. Not everything you do will score a home run (perhaps it’s not intended to), but you’ll need at least one shape-shifter hit to make all the prospecting worth it.
Story – You can tell the story that has everyone listening. Similar to leading by thinking, but this approach focuses on involvement. Purpose and journey underpin how you lead. Engagement is how you stay addictive. Storytelling is how you connect. The trick here is to balance the elements that have people hooked with those that get them paying. Get it right and this is a difficult strategy to counter.
Attitude – You can be the brand that everyone cheers: the people’s champion; the challenger; the dissident. You lead because you act, and those actions and your outspoken views garner reaction from all and sundry. The amplifying effect of all that can be dizzying in terms of social media attention. The challenge, once again, will be to convert the agreement and dissent you generate into money.
Expertise – You are technically better at what you do than everyone around you. A lot of brands like the idea of this, but in reality it’s an extremely difficult way to gain brand leadership. It’s a crowded approach. It’s difficult to substantiate. It’s even more difficult to maintain. And unless you combine it with strong storytelling, it can be cold and unappealing. In a global market where everyone is good, someone has to be the best – but why you, for what gain and for how long? Those are the key questions to consider if you’re pondering this approach.
Place – You can lead in a specific market or markets. The secret to doing this successfully is ensuring you have the scale your brand requires and telling a story that emphasises the connectedness you have with the area/region in which you operate. The advantage of this approach is that you are competing within an environment that you know, commercially and culturally. This is a highly effective approach for those who want to focus their competitiveness geographically rather than casting their net far and wide.
Culture – You can build market leadership in your sector from the inside-out. This is all about developing the most high-performing, purposeful organisation possible. Two things are critical – how you measure that, and how you expound on your achievement-focused approach in the marketplace. High performing cultures are efficient, talent-focused and tight. They have a powerful sense of their potential, their purpose and the opportunities. Often, they have a strong sense of moral worth that pushes them to excel. The challenge is to ensure that the energy turns outward so that people encourage each other to achieve the most competitive whole.
Ultimately, how you lead as a brand is decided by what, where and why you compete as a brand. Every brand leadership strategy will incorporate several of these elements in their leadership blend: the differences are in how and to what effect – particularly for character. Large or liked? Storied or placed? Profitable or purposeful? These critical decisions about priorities will significantly influence how you compete and how and where you present yourselves across the world.
Photo of “one world” taken by Kai Schreiber, sourced from Flickr