Branding. Brand marketing. Soft, squishy, conceptual, and so on and so forth. I beg to differ. It’s taken me a few years to really embrace the power of branding but here we are…sitting in the middle of the noisiest ecosystem of all time and perhaps our most powerful tool is, and continues to be, our ability to position ourselves beautifully.
This, my friends, is branding, and whether you want to own it or not – every marketer is now expected to be a brand marketer. We have to understand how to position our products, how to differentiate our experiences, how to get them in front of the right people and leave them with a lasting impression. We must do all of this through our content, our interfaces, our design and our communities. I for one…am freaking stoked. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
With that said, before you jump in, you need to set yourself up for success. I’ve noticed, through my experiences leading brand, that the most skipped step in brand marketing is doing your branding due diligence. Sadly, it is also the most important step. Without it, you could be setting yourself up for failure and a huge investment loss. Let’s not do that. No one likes losing money.
So what is branding due diligence? It’s a deep analysis of legal, industry, competitive, operational and product brand risks that will affect your ability to build a successful brand and set it up for advantageous differentiation.
Sounds complicated? Meh, not so much. All that really means is, you vet the potential of your brand concepts before you start to design them. Think of this as brand agile development – build a little, get some feedback (like talk to real people…WHAT?!), iterate, ship, repeat. It’s easy for marketers to see “branding” as a creative step, and therefore somehow it sits squarely in the creative camp (which traditionally is done with little diligence, as it’s considered an intrinsic skill/trade, i.e. you are either good at it or you aren’t).
That is dangerous, like performing on a balance beam after a night of margaritas dangerous…don’t do it. You’re gonna crash.
Branding due diligence sets you up to launch a brand your market will love. So how do we do that? Historically, there are five areas you’ll want to explore. They are well outlined in this pretty boring article, but the gist is below (and more fun to read if I do say so myself);
Area 1: Legal
Have you sat down with legal and talked through the legal risks, concerns, opportunities? This can include trademarks of slogans, imagery, verbiage, etc. Is everything registered that needs to be? Are you infringing on existing trademarks? Cover yourself on this. Nothing is worse then creating something beautiful, shipping it, seeing it succeed only to learn – yeah, someone else owns that. #sadsadsad
Area 2: Industry
Have you sat down with your product and business development teams to understand industry trends, concerns, opportunities? I can’t stress this enough. As a brand marketer, we are asked to build for the future. We are building a beacon that we are then going to ask our acquisition and development teams to build demand and direct that demand toward. This could include economic trends, technological trends, political trends, etc. Brand marketers hold a lot of responsibility here. We are building the lighthouse, that other teams (product, BD, growth) will use as a finish line. Know if you’re building in the right place.
Area 3: Competitive
Have you sat down and truly understood your competitor brands, do you understand what arena they have won, are playing in, are entering? Some of this may have been covered when you did that bi-annual competitive analysis (wink, wink…you did that right?). Companies over focus on what features their products are shipping and underestimate the power of their competitor brand teams. They say the best brands in the world end up owning a word. That’s one word. Volvo = safety. Apple = design. Zappos = service. If that is true, you better understand where your competitors are placing their bet, it should/will impact your ability to own yours.
Area 4: Operational
Have you sat down and mapped out how this brand will be managed, what internal risks, concerns, opportunities exist? Your brand is a thing. Like a real thing. That will need investment, budget, and support. Do you know who and how it will be supported? Inevitably, after you launch your brand you will need to manage brand risk and problems. It could be bad press or a product malfunction or a community mistake. Whatever the issue, so much of you brand success will depend on how (a) quickly and (b) authentically you respond. This includes legal, design, product, tech and often operations support. What is the operational process for shipping quick updates and responses? You and your teams should know this and be ready to react.
Area 5: Product
Have you sat down and documented the proprietary product and feature arenas you want to own? Understood the risks and opportunities that exist? This is what most marketers think of when they think about “building a brand.” This is what is largely known these days as your What, How & Why (Thanks Sinek!) and marketers obsess over this, which is great. It’s only one piece of the diligence process though. You should spend many cycles digging in here – what makes you great, how do you do it better than anyone else, why should people care? I think brand marketers have a huge opportunity to contribute to the culture with this analysis and it’s findings. In many ways, this should set the rally point for the entire company.
Okay. I know that was a lot, but it’s super important. The world is growing restless and noisy and shiny. Millennials and centennials are increasingly defined as the generation that is obsessed with self-identification, which means they want to find the brands that are them. Today’s brands need to know who they are and how to stand out, which requires more than a great idea for a brand. It requires diligence, process, and support.
Go forth and brand…I can’t wait to see what you build. #buildallthebeautifulthings