Marketing Branding Strategy

True branding can be a bewildering challenge for many managers: either they don’t completely understand the strategic benefits of authentic branding, and/or they assume that branding simply consists of a name, logo and proprietary graphics. And most certainly don’t realize the full potential for applying relevant branding principles to improve their marketing and communication practices, especially when faced with new competition, changing customer preferences or other market-based trends.

Entrepreneurs are generally obsessed with a new product idea. I conducted a workshop on branding with a group of ex-MIT inventors a few years ago, and used the theme/headline (borrowed from a friend, Wayne Cerullo): “You Have a Great Product. Now Forget It. It Ain’t Enough.” In short, these brilliant entrepreneurs must learn to better research and define their target customer, and then create a brand identity that will focus on the product’s benefits for them, before just pushing it into the marketplace.

Then there is that large group of start-ups that have been already launched in the last fifteen years and are today preoccupied with gaining greater distribution and acceptance among a core base of customers, but growth has slowed down significantly. Invariably they don’t know how to go beyond the boundaries of their current business model to re-ignite sales. While their brand positioning may be well-established (in their minds), how can it be modified to really inspire new creative initiatives and to rejuvenate growth?

In all situations or types of companies, perhaps the biggest challenge for management is to open their minds to new perspectives and creative ideas from outside their business. Having encountered this typical reluctance to seek fresh advice, I am summarizing ten common misconceptions or questions about branding by entrepreneurs, along with suggestions that can help a start-up resuscitate their growth at any stage:

  1. Is Branding Just About the Name/Look? – Smart branding is strategic and involves a clear promise to a select target audience, making an impression that is distinct and relevant, so it involves much more than the name or design.
  2. Branding is Too Abstract – Is There Any Practical Impact for Marketing and Sales? – The brand positioning is the heart of marketing and even sales, an essential “compass” for building a strong relationship with customers in all communications when managed properly.
  3. What Can Branding Do to Motivate Customers? – Marketing is all about ultimately influencing the behavior of customers. They will be far more inspired by a brand that offers relevant content with an emotional promise and has an appealing personality, effectively communicated in marketing and sales.
  4. How Does Branding Help Engage Customers? – Developing and implementing an insightful brand strategy starts and ends with the target customer, and is crucial for targeting today’s millennials, who are not as responsive to normal advertising, but want to be engaged.
  5. What Emotions are Most Important for a Brand? – This depends on the customer needs and the product/service, but generally trust, authenticity and credibility are more critical than ever today, particularly among millennials.
  6. I Have an Innovative Product – But Will Enough People Care and Buy It? – Many start-ups begin with a novel, brilliant idea, but this product obsession often overshadows the need for resourceful customer research which is essential for positioning the product brand to gain trial and build the business.
  7. We Started This, So How Can Anyone from the Outside Help? – To sustain growth in any business these days, one must be more creative and open-minded, even adding an outside dimension to “think out of the box” via an ideation session or similar brainstorming initiatives.
  8. Delivering on Your Promise – How Important is It? – We are living in a new digital world where quantitative metrics are easily gathered to measure a brand’s performance, so the authenticity and credibility of any promise is absolutely crucial – especially when targeting the skeptical millennials.
  9. What Marketing Tactics to Use Today? – There are so many traditional and digital options to choose from, but it is best to use vehicles and content that can communicate emotions well and are engaging, such as storytelling. All must reflect the brand personality and strategy.
  10. How to Transition from Branding to Marketing Execution – It starts with a smart, researched brand positioning that is genuinely relevant and distinct, and then using this brand identity to closely guide the development of all creative content and innovative marketing initiatives.

Most entrepreneurs for start-ups may not be aware of the importance of these basic branding principles. And most will admit that they don’t have answers for all such challenges ahead. After all, they know their current business inside and out, and there is a natural inclination to try to improve any adverse situation within its current parameters. However, a well-defined brand positioning can serve as a catalyst for new thinking and ideas, whether in the beginning or when faced with new challenges. This is essential for encouraging people to be more creative, to seek new growth opportunities and/or to expand the appeal to different segments of the market.