So many businesses think they have to hire branding consultants and spend oodles of money to grow their brand. That can work, sometimes. But more often than not, the positioning and branding statements they paid so dearly for just don’t feel right after a few years. Then it’s back to the drawing board, starting the branding process all over again.
There are always exceptions to that rule though, and many brands do manage to nail their positioning and cleverly work their way into the global consciousness.
Look at Starbucks: they have managed to weave ubiquitous coffee into a cultural phenomenon. And Nike have leveraged the emotional connection that people have with fitness to become the world’s most famous sporting brand. Their vision in the mid-90’s was to “crush Adidas”, and they sure have. Even in hard times these iconic monoliths still manage to increase their profits year after year.
So what is their secret? How do they do it and how do they “keep on keeping on”? And more importantly, how can smaller brands follow in their footsteps and stand apart from their competitors?
Part of the answer lies in the way successful companies communicate their values. They consistently deliver authentic, customer focused messages through their advertising, design and content.
But there is more to it. Today I want to show you a way to start thinking, acting, and growing like the go-to brands we all love, without mortgaging the house.
LEAD WITH PURPOSE
The key to establishing a successful brand is a surprisingly simple concept. Simon Sinek calls it your WHY. I call it YOUR PURPOSE, and it’s the place where all great brands start.
Today it is not enough to tell people what you do and expect them to buy. Offering incentives, or posting incessantly on Facebook, are also wearing thin. No, in our information-rich world, savvy consumers are influenced by, and purchase from, brands they can relate to. And especially ones they can trust. For any long-term marketing strategy to work, what you believe and stand for needs to be ingrained in your DNA.
Under the bonnet of a great brand, purposeful leadership is not a theory. It’s a down-to-earth process where:
- The whole team contributes. Meetings should be as open as possible. Everyone should be asked for ideas to improve the brand, and where possible, the people who created them put in charge of their ideas.
- Everyone is encouraged to walk-the-talk, authentically. The question “What is our company’s purpose and vision?” should be asked, and asked often. Meetings should start with team members invited to explain, in their own words, what they believe the company believes in. Purpose and vision are the glue that holds your brand together.
- A constant stream of suggestions and ideas come from the team. Fostering a positive company outlook inspires everybody to share. Keep a keen eye out for the pearls of wisdom contained within what everybody says.
- Positive language is promoted. Especially when it comes to describing challenges and testing times. Clear, effective communication is paramount.
- Rules and systems are simple. Detailed operations and policies belong on the company intranet, not communicated via overbearing emails. To build a great brand, everyone needs to be on the same page, thinking clearly and not burdened with procedures.
- People can be frank and speak the truth. Key staff, including yourself, should feel they can work in open and engaged ways. Not with only clients and customers, but also your suppliers, stakeholders, and more. Your brand is a reflection of the sum total of those relationships: it’s not created in-house and pushed onto the world.
PURPOSE DRIVES SUCCESS
For the past 50 years, experts have agreed that a true brand was defined by its “promise”. But today, it’s not just making a promise that separates one brand from another. In a marketplace in which consumer confidence is low and budgetary vigilance is high, what you believe is everything. When you lead with purpose, integrity follows. From the iconic brands mentioned earlier to history’s greatest politicians, it’s their purpose that resonates so deeply with us.
Think of Amazon and Apple. Or Martin Luther King and Barak Obama. It’s because of what they stand for that they are able to stand apart. We believe in these brands and people because they show us the world in a new way.
There are also very sound economic reasons why your business should lead with purpose. In a famous six-year project at Stanford University, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras studied eighteen exceptional and enduring companies.
Porras and Collins determined that the primary driver for building a successful company is the ability to nurture a clear purpose.
They discovered that purpose-driven companies, such as Disney, have outperformed their competitors on the stock market by a factor of 12 since 1925.
When you adopt a purposeful approach to doing business, you’ll more than likely experience:
- Organic growth. Authenticity from within, not forced from the top down, will propel a brand.
- A closer connection to the marketplace. This is because the people shaping your brand come from every part of your business, not just marketing or sales.
- A more genuine brand. Growth is a result of you telling the world, in a genuine way, who you and your people really are.
- A more durable brand. Your brand’s essence will be shaped by empowered staff who believe what you believe. So your brand will continue to build for years, with or without you.
- More effective communications. A sincere brand which is driven by people at all levels who live it every day will outperform any brand that relies on ads or marketing campaigns alone.
The fact is, a brand that’s driven by a few leaders with the help of some consultants might work. It might be accepted by the consumers, inform adequate marketing and advertising, and make a profit. But a brand that develops organically with input from the greater whole is very special.
Manufacturing processes and price pressures have led to a world dominated by homogenous products. Price and quality are easy to replicate. These common me-too brands offer the consumer little that is new and different.
This means the opportunities and rewards for a brand driven by purpose has never been greater.
Associated Best Practice Benchmarking Statements
BEST PRACTICE BENCHMARK: We can easily summarise our brand purpose and what our brand stands for in a couple of sentences and it underpins and guides every business decision we make. #branding #culture
About the SMART-Connect best practice brand strategy advisor
For 25 years+ I have been a design and marketing consultant, leading a traditional agency through the economic and technological challenges the past few decades have confronted us with. My move towards the digital side of the industry began some time around 1999 - 2000. Witnessing the degree to which the internet reshaped our industry led me to shift over time and focus on helping business & corporations to strip away the hype surrounding new media and focus on strategic planning and design that attracts.
Today you would have to say that I’m 100% fixated by differentiation. Why? Because all of the great brands that we love succeed by finding a unique position in the marketplace, and we believe small and medium sized businesses can too. So we’ve made it our mission to help passionate entrepreneurs and business creators make the transformation from a business, to brand of choice, through the power of education, strategic design and branding that connects.
Instead of merely helping my clients attract attention, I focus on helping them find their point of difference and the values their prospects will respect, so the resulting designs and branding reflect what’s meaningful to the them.
Too many companies are drawn to social media as “the answer”, but without a strategy of any kind, they actually don’t have anything worth saying or sharing. For many companies, social media simply relays faster, with greater efficiency, and to more people than ever in history, that their brand lacks depth and meaning.
By thinking strategically, making real observations and planning, anybody can build a brand that stands out (and not blend in). Having nothing to say and no distinct way of conveying your difference and value will only result in your messaging using cliches, which means you're promoting your category, not your brand.