Brand will tell you a lot if you let it. How you brand, what you brand, where you’re found, who buys you and how often … these and many more questions are all things that competitive businesses ask themselves on a regular basis. I see brand as a highly effective lens for assessing the relevance and competitiveness of a company.
Here are 10 ways that you can use “brand” to reveal what your business may need to change or capitalise on:
1. Margin – are you making a rate of return that’s above what the market delivers by default? If not, there’s a good chance that your brand has or is in the process of downgrading to “commodity” status. You need to take action to change how you are valued and/or who you are more highly valued by.
2. Competitiveness – if you’re losing market share and/or you need to sacrifice margin to maintain volume (meaning your bottom line returns are decreasing), then your brand is not maintaining competitiveness. That could be because you have been eclipsed by others, the market itself has shrunk or you are not the brand you once were. You need to double down on your marketing to re-lift your profile or reposition your brand so that it is seen as part of a rising/more relevant sector.
3. Currency – one of the reasons that you may be losing competitiveness is that consumers see your business as past its best-by date. You need to find new ways to re-assert your currency by revamping your product lines and/or introducing new thinking into your offerings to make them exciting and interesting. That probably requires you to retool your product development and bring-to-market processes.
4. Distribution – how you are found and where you are found influences everything from price expectations to ease of access. If your volumes are stalled, take a good hard look at where you are outlet-ed and how efficient your value chain is in getting your goods there at a price and in a timeframe that works for you. Remember – you’re often up against one click and (free) overnight shipping online. How quick are you?
5. Capacity – if you’re running excess inventory, how carefully have you calibrated your production and your promotion systems? It’s damaging to generate demand you can’t meet and wasteful to do the opposite. Sales, marketing and operations need to be tightly co-ordinated if you are to make, market and close with minimal waste and delay.
6. Behaviours – purposeful brands understand the value of behaving in ways that are ethical and consistent. If your culture isn’t aligned on what it deems acceptable and the behaviours that it condones and rewards then you probably need to examine the values and purpose that lie at the heart of what you should be about. If these are undefined or outdated, your people could be doing your brand and your business serious reputational damage. You need to set out clear rules for what is on-brand and what is on.
7. Service – every business should deliver customer experiences that align directly with what they wish to stand for. If your marketing and your service standards are out of alignment – if you promise more than you deliver – then you are putting customer retention and loyalty at risk on a daily basis. If your returning customers numbers are below target, use a mystery shopper service or survey to find out where the shortcomings are. Focus your training on fixing those areas as quickly as possible. Define the branded customer experience that you want your customers to have and train your people to that level. To ensure that service is more than just a formula, make sure to include a mix of fixed and flexible elements, so that every service experience is predictable but also endearingly personal.
8. Loyalty – loyalty is no longer about stopping people from leaving, it’s about proactively keeping them inclined towards your brand at the expense of a competitor. Often, no-one knows better than staff the simple things you could be doing to move the business forward and to be more outgoing. Every business should be asking every employee on a daily basis “What can we do better to keep our customers excited?” That simple question is how you lock in and drive a suggestion culture.
9. Leadership – brands should always look to lead because the whole point of being a brand is to be distinctive. If you’re not breaking with the pack, you’ll always be absorbed by them. Why and how you are seen to lead is a question that pre-occupies marketers, but should also be high on the agendas of managers across the business. Without thought leadership, you will lack authority and/or foresight. Without product leadership, you will always be in catch-up mode.
You lead or you lag – and your brands are tangible proof of how the market sees you and whether you are out in front. If you cannot point to clear areas of your business where you exhibit leadership, and there is no awareness that things must change, then the leadership of your business and/or the willingness of investors to contribute vital capital needs to be called into question. Frankly, managers in this situation either lack the skills and ambition or the resources and teams to put the business ahead. You can’t lead at everything, but you must lead at some things and those things must be things that really matter to your customers.
10. Visibility – if you’re not seen, you’re unseen. If you’re not being discussed, then you are being ignored. The brutality of profile is that there is no middle ground. You either have it with your brands or you don’t. Awareness doesn’t always translate to profits, but for all mainstream brands, lack of awareness is a death-knell. What people see and how they see you are obvious brand issues, but they are also a reminder to the technicians in the business that excellence that is not seen is not acknowledged.
Brands are not just present in the business for the marketing department. Your brands are the sum total of everything about your business. Therefore, nothing about the brands you market exists or should be assessed in isolation. They reflect your strengths and weaknesses, your abilities and ambitions – and their performance functions as a talisman for how well the business as a whole is competing and changing.