How to build a distinct, emotionally connected brand strategy.
You’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts and watched the presentations. You’ve gotten the message: A good brand is great, but a great brand is gold.
Often, though, messages about branding stop short of laying out strategies. They talk about the what and the why behind great branding but don’t walk the talk with actionable steps for creating a distinct, sustainable brand.
We’ve talked to some of our industry’s branding experts about their branding philosophies—to remind you what makes a brand great and why you need to build one. We also talked to them about their best practices—real steps you can take to evaluate and elevate your brand. With a five-step brand strategy development framework and a discussion of how technology affects the effectiveness of a branding strategy, we move past theory, strip the jargon and give you a simple guide to achieving the gold brand standard.
What Makes A Brand Great
Iconic brands—think Coke, Apple, Tupperware— achieve that status because they satisfy something beyond a utilitarian need.
“The end consumer isn’t necessarily thinking ‘I can’t wait to engage with the brand Coke!’” says Ryan Goodwin, Chief Marketing Officer for LiveVantage, a health and wellness company based in Sandy, Utah. “But they may be waking up in the morning hoping that Coke can help them engage with people they know.”
Of course, the quality of a product has to be solid. Unless the product has that intangible layer of unique appeal to our hearts and minds, we don’t remember or grow loyal to it. It’s just another option. Brands are not logos and taglines. They are the visual, verbal and emotional attributes that distinguish your company from the competition.
Brand Building Blueprint
Because they are the experience and perception people have of a product or service—not the product or service itself— brands are ultimately amorphous and subjective. But the process of creating a consistent experience is concrete. The “5D Framework of Brand Strategy” is the architecture of a meaningful, relevant, differentiated brand.
Before you get to the packaging, the slogans, the product names and the logos—do some research. Gather as much information as you can about what’s happening in the industry and in your niche. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of your own operations.
Identify great brand examples. Pay attention to direct selling companies with clear, strong brands. Note the immediate perceptions these brands create and how they maintain them.
Examine your category. Analyze the overall performance of the kinds of products and services you sell to determine if you can compete and if there is the opportunity for growth. Analyze how the companies in your space position themselves—compare your proposition to theirs. Is yours unique?
Finding a true differentiator can be particularly challenging in the health and wellness category, the most saturated segment of the direct selling channel and one in which companies tend to lead with their science. LifeVantage uses science to brand its health and wellness products but in an unexpected way. It purposely leads with a technical term: biohacking. “We teach our distributors that a great way to start a conversation is when someone asks, ‘What do you do?’ You say ‘I’m a professional biohacker’ and let it hang. I’ve never had someone not ask me what biohacking is.” (FYI—it means taking control of your own biology.)
Listen to your customers and distributors. What do your stakeholders honestly think about your company and your products? It’s important to have a grasp on this so that your branding best connects with your audience. Gilbert, Arizona-based Isagenix rolled out new branding that positioned the health and wellness company as “strong and bold,” says Travis Garza, Isagenix President of Sales and Marketing. Nothing wrong with strong and bold, “but we started to hear very quickly, ‘Is that really who we are?’ Customers and distributors wanted to see a company that is happy, warm and active and close to nature—a company they felt like the everyday person could be a part of.” So Isagenix is revisiting its branding with that feedback in mind.
Audit your internal processes. Reinforce what’s working well in your organization and fix what’s not. You can’t support a strong, consistent brand with unreliable corporate infrastructure.
- When you build a distinct brand you decide what you are going to do differently from the competition. Ask yourself hard questions.
- Is our strategy rooted in our purpose?
- Do we have a legitimate market opportunity?
- Can we successfully implement our strategy?
- Is our strategy relevant to our perceived strengths, and do we have evidence to support those perceptions? u Do we provide value to customers and distributors or just extract it?
- Do we understand the problem we are solving for our customers and distributors?
- What are our barriers to success?
Build a brand platform that will inform all of your branding and marketing decisions. If you align every new product, service and process with the eight foundational elements below, you will be more likely to create an authentic, sustainable brand.
- Purpose—the difference you are trying to make in
- Promise—the primary value you deliver
- Positioning—your brand’s clearest distinction
- Pillars—the powerful themes that support your brand
- Personality—the characteristics of your brand in
- Vision—what success looks like
- Mission—how you will achieve your vision
- Values—your standards of behavior
- Purpose—the difference you are trying to make in
- Now it’s time to get creative, to develop the materials that express your brand in images and words. Using the intelligence you gathered and the concepts you want to communicate, develop a brand style guide that keeps your messaging and materials on point. The guide should include the following:
- descriptions of your audiences and what they want to hear from you
- easily digestible, repeatable talking points
- a logo, colors, graphics and photos that evoke the feelings and responses you want your audiences to have when they think of you
Roll out your brand to employees, distributors and customers—in that order. Share the brand with your internal team first. They can buy into its promise and support field teams and customers effectively because your brand extends to the experience your external stakeholders have when they interact with your home team.
Distributors are next because they’re your primary brand ambassadors. However, most of them come to you with little or no sales experience. Help them reflect your brand appropriately by giving them templated tools—like product samples, marketing messages and business development rules—and teaching them how to use them. The training is critical, Goodwin says. Otherwise, it’s like expecting a bike mechanic to know how to repair a BMW. “You can’t say, ‘Here’s a big toolbox. Go fix that car.’ You have to say, ‘Here’s the toolbox, and here’s the tool concierge, and he’ll tell you what to use first. And here’s a video on how to use that tool. Now that you’ve done that part, you’ll use this tool next.’”
Once your staff and salespeople are on board, introduce the brand to your customers. They are the ones whose interpretation and ownership of your brand give it life beyond the logo. “Companies no longer own their brands,” says Brand Strategist Wayne Moorehead. “The customers and distributors do.”
Any company that wants to stay competitive must think, act and plan like a digital native—which means your distributors need technology that’s a natural extension of what they’re already doing. And they’re doing a lot on social media and handheld devices.
So, develop business building apps and online platforms that keep them in contexts they’re familiar and comfortable with. Create Facebook groups where they can hang out with other distributors and give them ready-made social posts that help them share stories easily. Make it easy for them to share product information with customers via smartphones and even distribute virtual samples. For example, using the YouCam Makeup app, Amway salespeople can make personalized skin care commendations and allow customers to put virtual Artistry brand makeup on their selfies.
Tech tools have to be natural extensions of your corporate strategy. Pay attention to and leverage the conversations on social media. Look for evidence that your customers are hearing what you want them to hear. “Social media closes the feedback loop between brands and their intent and what you think those messages are and what those messages actually are,” Goodwin says.
Isagenix combines social media monitoring and analysis to determine how branding messages are working. People’s social behavior online often signals what their shopping behavior will be, Garza says. “We can say that we’re seeing a correlation between interest level and purchase intent.”
Your brand strategy must include an integrated plan that covers all technology touch points—from social media to websites to email. All of these channels either reinforce your brand strategy or dilute it. You don’t have a choice but to join in the digital revolution. Your customers and distributors will talk and learn about you online with or without your guidance, so it’s best that you lead, monitor and help shape the conversations.
Branding isn’t an option. It’s a requirement. The marketplace is crowded, and if you don’t have a distinct, emotionally connected brand, you become a commodity.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that branding is not relevant or necessary in the direct selling channel,” says Moorehead. “Having a strong, differentiated brand is one of the only sustainable competitive advantages a company can have. The need will always be there. Building a strong brand should be the focus of every direct selling company.”