A strong well positioned brand acts like a marketing rudder. It creates coherence and simplicity, effortlessly sorting tactics from strategic activity.
Maybe I’m guilty of hopelessly oversimplifying it, but the essence of marketing is simple. There are four parts. Identify what’s unique (or at the very least distinctive) about your product or service. Identify your customer base(s). Tell them about the distinctive aspect of your product or service. Again. And again. And again. Keep doing it. More. More. More. That’s it.
- Identify what’s distinctive.
- Identify your targets.
- Tell them about your product or service.
- Keep doing it.
This is extremely simple from 40,000 feet. When you zoom in – that’s when the confusion starts. It’s in the breaking down that we see clients get themselves into difficulty and political arguments about who knows best and what can or can’t be omitted.
All our clients are smart, clear thinking people. But what frequently gets in the way is corporate politics, over-complication and power plays which are the enemy of great brand and marketing initiatives. All this stuff stalls decision making and creates a kind of ‘institutional confusion’ about what marketing is and what role it should fulfil.
Often, we see organisations going around in circles, creating for the sake of creating, or to satisfy an internal mandate, but without any end product marketing application. It’s amazing just how often this internal confusion is then mirrored on marketing output to the outside world. They are creating to make sense from the inside out, when they it should be the other way around.
If we go back to the four stages; and look at them in a bit more detail, we can see how objectively simple it should be:
1. Identify what’s distinctive
If you haven’t done this, you need to. And I don’t just mean at a surface level. You need to peel back the layers and look deep into your organisation. Consult widely and arrive at a solution that’s been well canvassed and considered. It also needs to be brutally simple. This is the tricky bit and given that the essence of strategy is knowing what not to do – this is a key point. You just can’t be all things to all people. What’s the one thing that makes you really stand out? The enemy of this simplicity is the ‘brand onion’. They’re desperate things which invite marketeers to overcomplicate & obfuscate what should be a really simple truth that lies at the heart of their brand. Force yourself to be reductive, and keep chipping away at the stuff that’s marginal. It’ll pay dividends later. Outside, objective help can make this process easier, but marketing should lead this exercise.
Take soundings from across the business, but don’t let anyone else take control. It’s a strategic function, and must be considered within the wider context of audience and distribution. It’s the foundation of your brand. Think BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. Engineering’s an aspect, but the benefit of all that engineering is in the driving experience for the end user.
2. Who is your user base?
Again, focus is important, and this is the aspect that most organisations have already nailed. They have a lot of data about who buys what, when and where and are usually able to segment into light, medium and heavy user profiles.
The thing we MUST remember here is that whether you’re a B2B or B2C brand, there’s no need to speak to these groups in specialist or overly technical language – certainly not at the headline level. We are all ‘consumers’ and whether I’m in the market to buy machine parts or a can of Cola; I’ll respond best to simple, human-focused messaging.
Don’t over segment, or you’ll end up down the rabbit hole quicker than you can say “urban millennial males aged 18-24”. It’ll just cause more confusion. These audience sub-sets may be different and they may need tailored messages, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be hived off into separate groups with alternative approaches. This complexity will kill the original concept.
3. Tell them about your Product/Service
So, we know our key brand differentiator (with a creative articulation) and we know who our audience is. We now need to tell them about it. But, it’s a wee bit more complicated than that – and we often see clients getting stuck in a rut here. It goes to the heart of what it is you’re going to tell your customers. You need to communicate different things to customers at different times. In these cases, it’s often best to think about your marketing messages & timeframes like this…
So, think about BMW again and how they use The Ultimate Driving Machine (TUDM). They manage the hierarchy of their brand messaging brilliantly.
Their Tier 1 messaging might just be at an awareness level – about driving any one of their cars – the ultimate driving machines – out on the open road. Roof down. Sun shining. What’s not to aspire to?
Tier 2 might be a new car launch. It’s still badged as TUDM, but the focus of the message is about the new car. They sell me on the benefits of this new model: performance, style, comfort etc.
Tier 3 could be flyers, emails or showroom posters. The subject matter might be more informational or factual e.g. opening hours or service plans. It will be endorsed as TUDM, but the messaging focus will be much more tactical: the nuts and bolts of everyday marketing.
Because the brand positioning work is simple and crystal clear, they don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time they have Tier 2 or Tier 3 requirements. (So much marketing spend is wasted in this circular creative merry-go-round it’s unbelievable). The lesson here is simple. If you have a clear positioning, it can flex to deal with high-minded aspirational messages, as well as more detail orientated, informational messages without compromising or confusing the overall direction of the brand.
There is also a lot to be said here about which channels you use to push your messages. From ATL press to social media, but that’s a whole other blog post. However, the over-riding message again, is: keep it simple and beware the emperor’s new clothes! (The shiney new media channels aren’t always the ones that deliver you the best return).
4. Keep Doing It
This is the easy bit, but to big corporations it seems hard. It can get boring looking at the same creative again and again. Many stakeholders tire of it and ask for something new, or the boundaries pushed. But this is to miss the point. Internal boredom means you’re doing something right. There’s a consistency about what you’re producing. So, stick at it. Remember that you are seeing it every day. Your customers aren’t. The over-arching task is to build that “mental availability” Byron Sharp talks about. Building memory structures in your customers’ heads to make your brand recognisable in the long term. You think Coke made red, white and their logotype the most identifiable brand on the planet by chopping and changing these elements for 130 years? It’s really that simple.
The only time to consider a change is if it’s time to evolve or update the brand identity (which should be an evolution) or if there’s an over-riding commercial requirement. Otherwise, leave it alone. As Wally Olins used to say, “if you don’t need to change. Don’t”.
As I said at the start, this might be a horrible over-simplification of the marketing process, and of course, I accept that at each level there are other more complicated issues to be considered. However, there’s something about that simplicity that’s just irresistible to me when met with a branding & marketing challenge. It’s always the best way to start.
At Good we help companies figure out their brand communication challenges. Give us a shout if you think we can help.