Cornerstones Of Strategic Brand Development

Jerome ConlonOctober 20, 201611 min

Brands are symbols full of many different kinds of impressions and meaning. The ideas surrounding your brand provide the most valuable insights for helping any business differentiate, stay relevant and resonate emotionally.

There are distinct advantages to using different perspectives to deepen the quality of your brand associations, relationships and meaning. Today we’ll look at metaphors that provide windows into analyzing and comprehending your brand meaning in new ways.

Because all products and services are largely defined as brands, it follows that adeptly studying the meaning within your brand is the quickest way to simplifying complexity and focusing on the things that matter most in defining value with consumers. Success today absolutely requires a profound, focused and skillful effort in brand creation, development and management. With this in mind let’s begin with different ways you can view your brand as an aid to growth.

Brand As A Vessel

In the beginning when your brand is first created as far as the public at large is concerned there isn’t very much meaning poured into the vessel. The general process and path that all successful brands follow to becoming well known and supported goes through these phases: Awareness => Interest => Trial => Purchase => Repeat Purchase => Loyalty.

In undergoing this process of acculturation and familiarization with consumers over many seasons, products and marketing communications campaigns will come and go. This is a process of unfolding the meaning of the brand in the lives of the people touched by it. There are many touch points not mentioned within this process. If the products you sell are feature, function and benefit rich then there are many opportunities for positive imprinting in the mind. If any of these features, functions and benefits fails to deliver on its promise then you’ve created an “irritant” which is the bane of branding. And as this grand process of serving your public unfolds your brand vessel will fill-up with many positive and perhaps a few negative associations.

There comes a time in brand planning and management when it becomes very valuable to look at the flow of work done inside your company in all the functional silo’s that make up the company. All of the different levels of work flow towards one end goal. That end goal is shaping the experiences and impressions that end up in your brand vessel. For this reason if you know how to probe and uncover the contents in your brand vessel it becomes the most valuable and helpful research tool for fixing performance challenges.

Brand As A Cathedral  

Many marketers today began their careers believing that brands are fortresses built from unique selling propositions, creative cleverness in advertising and competitive positioning to own one concept or a few words in the consumers mind. But, if you stay in the branding game long enough and study what the most impressive lifestyle brands have accomplished over the past few decades you’ll come to the realization that brands can also be viewed as cathedrals built from core values, life enhancing truths and storytelling.

The first big insight you need to uncover in viewing your brand as a cathedral is to understand the real role that it can play in human life. Not all categories are created equal in regard to being blessed with significance in terms of playing a meaningful role in human lives. But from my experience if a Big Dig is conducted (psychological, spiritual and soulful research through layers of human history and meaning) then almost any brand can uncover and discover how to tell their brand story with more heart and soul. All it takes to really get this journey started is intention from leadership.

We shape material life with our attitudes and emotions. The mind is the builder but behind any attitude or motives is emotion. So if you want to change anything in life you have to start at the emotional level. Then you need to decide what is the purpose – the ideal – for making the change. Once you’ve settled on your purpose / ideal, something magical begins to shift inside. It’s a shift in intention that allows you to start seeing and responding to life in a whole new way. As emotions are triggered, in turn, your attention focuses. You begin to see potential & possibility that escaped your notice before. And with a new orientation towards your purpose, you begin to see opportunities for creative expression where before you saw only obstacles. Brand purposes that are defined as some kind of authentic ideal create a sense of direction for storytelling. This is how brand cathedrals are built.

Brand As A Sticky Wicket    

There is an analytical exercise that is helpful for increasing selling efficiency. It’s called sales gateway analysis. In this analysis you map the consumer journey to get to a purchase decision. Not all products and services are equal in this regard. Some products require consumer problem solving and comparative analysis and some are more instinctive and intuitive based upon brand imprints. In some categories there is a sequence of steps that consumers go through…gathering information online, going to a retail store and scanning brands and products on the wall, talking to friends, etc.

If your brand is suffering from a change in fortune…it means that consumers are either pulling in their wallets or the value proposition in your category has shifted more favorably towards other brands. The concept of the sticky wicket in croquet is that it is the one hoop you’re having trouble getting your ball through. The analogy in sales gateway analysis is that in the game of sales there comes a point when consumers are not progressing to “yes” as far as your brand is concerned. Brand positioning research is the ideal research tool to understand who, what, where and how the marketplace dynamics have shifted your fortunes and what you need to do to regain lost ground.

Brand As Velcro         

It has been said that the art of brand development is in attaching unique, strong and favorable associations to your brand over time. This understanding is another variation on the concept of the brand as vessel. But the vessel metaphor is more useful in understanding the process of pouring meaning into your brand over time. While the Velcro analogy becomes more important when you need to get feedback from consumers on what they know, remember or associate with your brand.

This work can be performed in small groups, focus groups or depth workshops using simple cluster charting, association and projection exercises. While these exercises initially appear simple and easy to perform the real value in performing them is to conduct them not only for your brand but also for strongest brands in your category.

The exercise starts with drawing a circle on a white board or flip chart and writing a brand name in the middle. Then ask the respondents present to free-associate any characteristic, experience, thing, event that comes to mind. As the cluster chart begins to fill up with brand associations the unfolding picture usually spurs people on to remember other things that are significant about the brand (positive or negative). You can also ask the question: ‘If this brand were a person, what kind of a person would it be?’ This question let’s you know many important things about how your brand is being perceived.

The projection of human identity, personality and character traits onto all the brands in a category allows you to see how your brand is regarded, considered and esteemed. Usually in any given category there is a clear brand leader in terms of its social status. Clearly it is to your advantage to understand that brand perceptions by the public go far deeper than surface level impressions of logo’s and taglines. The surface level is about design identity pure and simple. The brand personality and character levels will tell you how strong or weak your relationship really is with the people that you desire to serve.

Brand As A Signal          

The hidden truth about the way the universe operates and manifests forms of any kind is that the creation process at work operates inside out. If we used the power of the most powerful electron microscopes to peer inside the human body what would we find? We’d find at the cellular and atomic levels that everything is energy vibrating at different speeds. If you were to look into the latest findings put forward by Dr. Bruce Lipton in his groundbreaking book, ‘The Biology of Belief’ you’d discover that human DNA is controlled by signals (vibrations) from outside of the cell, including energetic messages emanating from our thoughts, spoken words, tones, music and other frequency based energy transmissions.

There is scientific evidence of the link between how vibrations, frequency and energy in thought forms affects the physical world. The net effect of these findings if you think it all the way through to the world of brands is this…brands (like people) send out or broadcast energy frequencies that people can tune-in. The quality of the relationship that people have with your brand is directly related to the quality of these energy transmissions.

Where are quality energy vibrations sourced? They come from the vibrational energies that founders, senior managers, brand planners and other brand visionaries entertain inside their own field of consciousness.

So there is a field of consciousness surrounding all brands. People can tune into this field — or frequency and notice a wide range of energy transmissions that exist there, which in turn affect the quality of the relationship that people have with your company, products and services.

For this reason if you know how to perform depth research to uncover the many layers of hidden meaning around your brand and indeed all brands in your category, then you are in possession of strategic insight that can greatly assist in moving the fortunes of your company forward.

Brand As A Filter

We’re living in the most disruptive time in business history. If your brand is blessed with long lifespan there will come times when the subject of rejuvenation of the brand will come up. How do you rejuvenate a tired brand?

One way is to set up a brand development and ideas filtering process. In such a process there are stages of understanding that brand guardians can move through to make sure they are solving the right problems and developing the right opportunities for brand building.

Stage 1: Study your brand with diligence and concern … Internal Values, Truths, and Brand Purpose Definition

This is re-imagining your business purpose not from an investor’s perspective but from a consumer’s value and experience perspective. This shift in perspective can be very liberating and powerful in focusing tasks on things that consumers will notice and positively respond to.

Stage 2: Category Context Analysis

This is looking at the age and stage of development of the entire category (all brands) and whether or not new developments in technology or the arts could lift the category experience to another level. The example here is how Starbucks lifted the specialty coffee experience in a category devoid of any real innovation for over 50 years.

Stage 3: External Brand Audit

This is performing brand positioning research (first qualitatively) then secondarily in a large-scale quantitative study like a segmentation study. The qualitative research allows you to enter the private world of the consumer to understand their choice of words and imagery to describe bands in your category and the benefits they are seeking most from brands. A segmentation study allows you to quantify the size of the most significant market segments and qualify what drives them, where they shop, how they find out about new products, etc. Brand research that is both qualitative and quantitative as described here is very powerful in clearing up issues about what must be done to move your business forward.

Stage 4: Brand Positioning Gap Analysis

Gap Analysis is performed within both the qualitative and quantitative brand studies. An executive summary of your brands strengths, weaknesses, issues and likely future initiatives to shore up your brand gets at the heart of gap analysis.

Stage 5: Brand Initiatives Development

Usually, the research performed by itself doesn’t go far enough into the imaginative landscape for new ideas on what can be done to shore up a listing brand. Brand Concept Generation work also known as Brand Initiatives Ideation provides another tool that solves this issue. A cross-functional team of trained brains, with creative and critical thinking skills and tuned judgment are assembled to brainstorm for new ideas. There is a wide range of creative exercises that can be used in ideation to generate hundreds of seed concepts in a very short period of time. The seed concepts can be sorted and filtered based not just upon financial only metrics, on a much broader set of brand development criteria.

Developing brand initiatives, product or project filter is one of the most powerful things you can do to sharpen your brands development in achieving its unique purpose. Of course a sustainable and defensible positioning is always a part of this purpose.

The brand filter is usually a one-page checklist to evaluate seed ideas on their ability to deliver in areas, such as:

In addition to these factors all new brand initiatives can be vetted for:

  • Operational feasibility
  • Financial return
  • Payback period, etc.

Stage 6: Brand Development Plan

The end result of performing Brand Initiatives Development is the creation of a filtered, sorted and vetted list of business and brand development projects for consideration. Usually this short list of projects are all described, developed and detailed so a financial decision and a brand decision can be made. Sometimes this portfolio of business development projects is called a Brand Development Plan. This is usually the case for companies that understand the importance of maintaining a strong brand in helping it achieve its future goals.

These and other insights into brand strategy and development is covered in greater detail in my new book, Soulful Branding – Unlock the Hidden Energy In Your Company and Brand.

The Blake Project Can Help You In This Process

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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