Thought Leadership

In an economy subject to ever-changing market dynamics and to heightened competition, brands have never been more important. Brands influence purchasing behavior and, when managed properly, can accrue significant value to their owners. A strong brand is also a buffer against the inevitable ups and downs of business.

A brand should reflect accomplishment, embody a company philosophy, and define a path forward – succeeding in this endeavor is more a function of good management than of good luck. That being said, anyone tasked with the responsibility for building a brand needs to be creative, innovative, venturesome, nurturing, disciplined, and service-oriented.

With that in mind, here are seven necessary elements for building a strong brand.

Understand Your Audience

Successful brands demonstrate a thorough understanding of their target market; what their interests are, what motivates them and how they communicate. Understanding the target market provides direction for every aspect and every action of the brand.

Attempting to appeal to everyone–ignoring the concept of a target market–is the leading cause of brand dilution. A brand that can get inside people’s heads is usually the brand that can also get inside their wallets.

Communicate a Compelling Idea

Underpinning every successful brand is a compelling idea that captures customers’ attention and loyalty by filling an unmet or unsatisfied need.

Establishing a powerful brand identity within a niche market requires something distinctive. It need not always be a revolutionary idea–simply one special thing that separates the brand from the competition. And it’s okay to be “a one trick pony,” so long as that trick is a meaningful one.

Bring Passion to What You Do

While it is certainly possible to build a brand in the short-term without passion, it is almost impossible to sustain it in the long run, much like any meaningful relationship.

Successful brands, like successful people, all have a serious passion that keeps propelling them to work hard and to deliver greatness on a continual basis.

Passion and enthusiasm are infectious: this is what compels customers to voluntarily spread the word with missionary zeal. But passion has to be heartfelt – you cannot fake it.

Passion is the only thing that can help you determine what about your brand cannot change and what must change.

Be Consistent

When consumers come back to a business for repeat sales, they usually expect to receive the same level of quality as they did the first time. Inconsistency is, more often than not, ample reason for a customer to take their business elsewhere.

Trust is built with consistency.

Leadership in every form comes down to consistency and to strong, confident action upon which any team can rely–and this doesn’t mean imposing a bunch of rules. So it is with brand leadership. Change what you have to change, but stay true to your values and to your principles.

Be Competitive

Brands that have made a name for themselves thrive on competition and constant improvement. Successful brands do not rest on their laurels in the hope that their customers will do the work for them. Instead, they tend to work tirelessly toward building and optimizing their brand, going above and beyond expectations. Competitiveness is what distinguishes a leader from a follower.

Create Exposure

Successful brands reach customers through multiple channels.

Obviously, larger companies have an advantage gaining exposure by dint of bigger marketing budgets. They can pay for television commercials. They can be featured in globally-recognized magazines, they can rank highly in search engine results. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the Internet and social media have narrowed the gap between small companies and large ones. There are more tools than ever before that offer any company a fighting chance at establishing their brand.

A few generations ago, people didn’t have a way to share information to a lot of people. But now they do. Right now, even the softest voices can be heard.

Be a Leader

Just like any thriving community or winning sports team, there’s typically an influential leader behind every successful brand. For large companies, this may be the CEO. For smaller ones, it’s usually the owner.

To coordinate the efforts of team members and guide the strategic vision for a brand, someone has to step up and captain the ship, resolving complications and reconciling divergent views.

Every organization needs a brand champion to act in the best interests of the brand and of the company. The brand champion has to embody the brand itself, understand the underlying sources of the brand value and protect and build on them.

Renewing and refreshing the brand to ensure continuing relevance, differentiation and credibility is not a job for the faint of heart. Without such a person, the brand is rudderless.

In conclusion…

Having a clear and concise brand strategy leads to stronger overall brand equity–how people feel about or perceive your product or service, and, by extension how much they are willing to pay for it.

I can not stress how important it is–particularly for young companies–to develop a brand narrative (story) and codify your brand messaging. And don’t confuse narrative and messaging with slogans. Slogans are what you write on the side of the truck and, like trucks, can go out of date. Clever turns of phrase are not what separate powerhouse brands from mediocre ones. If only it were that easy!

Andy Beck is executive vice president of Makovsky’s energy, manufacturing and sustainability practice, and general manager of Makovsky’s Washington, D.C., office. Previously, Andy served as the director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Energy.

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