Brand strategy and management impact all areas of the business, including but not limited to marketing, sales, operations, service, human resources, accounting, and finance. A brand strategy encompasses the mission, vision, values, core beliefs, and promises to its clients and customers. A brand strategy is an interdepartmental plan for a brand to achieve specific goals, and, ultimately, real results.
Over the course of my career (and while discussing case studies in business graduate school), most organizations blame people, processes, and technology for unachieved goals. However, the root cause for unmet goals stems from either poor brand strategy and/or poor brand management. If brand strategies are not executed and managed properly, clients/customers and employees lose trust and interest in the brand, which causes negative, even disastrous, impacts on organizations.
I have seen many poor brand strategy and management cases, but here is a sampling of three issues that I have seen over the course of my career.
The Serial Entrepreneur Issue
Entrepreneurs are visionaries, and they are often distracted by the newest shiny thing. This attribute can bring forth amazing opportunities for the organization, but this attribute can also cause confusion and a lack of focus. Over the course of my career, I have worked with a variety of serial entrepreneurs, and many of them chose to engage with me because they were not achieving their goals. More often than not, they blamed the failure of goal attainment on poor employees, inefficient processes, or outdated technologies. However, in most of those cases, there was one underlying issue, the brand strategy was nonexistent or was reinvented every day.
After careful and confidential analysis, I found that employees in these situations are confused and think, "Who are we today?" The only brand strategy an employee can see in this situation is that brand strategy changes based on the interests of the business owner each day. Therefore, there is no focus, and the messaging and goals keep shifting. Decisions are no longer strategic, but reactionary based on the passions of the day. Funds are often spent without having a return on investment.
Customers are confused, as well. They will often make comments on social media, in the community, and to employees that the business/business owner has no idea what they are doing; that the business is just trying to find a quick way to make a buck; or that the business must be in real trouble because they keep changing things. Customers who are confused do not trust the brand. Therefore, brand equity and loyalty are never achieved. Customer retention and acquisition goals are not met, thereby causing a shortfall in revenue.
I have worked with a variety of serial entrepreneurs who tried to incorporate too much into a brand, whether that be too many unrelated products, services, industries, or target markets. In such cases, I advise these serial entrepreneurs to create different brands because each brand, in these cases, has different promises to its customers and clients, missions, visions, values, and core beliefs. For example, a sports equipment manufacturer and convenience store/restaurant should not perhaps be the same brand. (Yes. I have encountered this.)
The Newbie Mistake
As a business owner myself, I have dealt with this issue. During the beginning stages of MPWRSource, I broadened our brand in response to the needs of our clients. I deviated away from the "why", of the brand strategy. We didn't focus on brand strategy, management, communications, and market insights at the beginning. We focused on those services AND technology, compliance, cybersecurity, risk management, sales enablement, and more. (Yes, more, unfortunately.) For the clients we initially began our journey with, we became their everything when it came to growth, marketing, sales, etc. However, everyone else (including the MPWRSource Superhero Squad) was left scratching their head, asking "What does MPWRSource do? Who are we, today?" While we were generating revenue, the opportunity cost was the inability to scale and grow the business.
I am happy to say that MPWRSource has gone back to its initial brand strategy, and MPWRSource is following its purpose and remaining focused on its promise to its clients. The internal and external confusion about the MPWRSource brand and what we do is dissipating, and our brand equity and loyalty will become strong.
Poor Brand Management
Too many times, I have seen a small business engage with a branding agency, and an amazing name, logo, website, and brand assets have been beautifully crafted. The small business is committed to utilizing the new assets. They scrap the old logo, website, and collateral and replace them with the new brand assets. Unfortunately, this is the extent of brand management for far too many businesses.
Brand management is the blueprint for building strong brand equity, and informs all teams and departments within an organization of the research, guidelines, and strategies to make sure that every touch point a prospect, client, or customer has with the brand's product, service or human interactions is, in-fact, on-brand. Unfortunately, I have seen organizations make decisions that are not aligned with their brand strategy. Some examples include:
- Touting a fun and inclusive culture, but hiring people who don't demonstrate such values
- Designating client centricity as a core belief, but making decisions that put other values first over the client
- Promising expediency in delivering products or services, but never making deadlines
- Purchasing technology, like software, that does not encapsulate the brand strategy (Remember you always want to make it as easy as possible for people to do business with you.)
- Proclaiming to serve as a trusted advisor, but constantly hiding fees, nickeling and diming, or invoicing incorrectly or untimely
All of the examples above, lead to a business not achieving the results they seek.
In conclusion, every brand strategy should be clearly defined and managed in order to achieve business results and goals. A brand strategy should include:
- Mission, vision, values, and core beliefs (This sets the culture of the organization.)
- Brand language and visual guidelines to ensure consistency
- Market insights to understand the current market, industry, and client/customer base
- Departmental processes and policies that align with the brand
- SMART goals that align with the brand strategy
- Investment plans and future expansions or acquisitions that align with the brand strategy
- Internal and external communications that are transparent, authentic, and in line with the brand strategy
I leave you with this quote from Steve Forbes, "Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business."