What does your brand stand for?
Who is your target customer?
What are your key differentiators?
WHY does your brand exist?
Prior to 2020, most brands had difficulty answering these basic questions, and consequently lost traction with their consumers, not to mention sales and profits. They could not clearly articulate their target customer, had a diluted brand message, and many developed mediocre products that did not match customer demand. Additionally, the brands competed in an over-crowded market with excessive duplication across all categories and segments. For many, this scenario was a recipe for disaster.
Fast forward a few months and COVID-19 has changed everything.
At least for now.
With so many people suffering and dying every day, it feels equal parts meaningless and scary to think about returning to normal again. Nevertheless, at some point, we will return to some sense of normal. When we do, customers’ mindsets, shopping behaviors, and priorities will be significantly different.
Customers will expect “trusted transparency” from brands. They will want to understand the human side, the philanthropic side, and sustainability will take on an entirely new meaning. There will be a reshuffling in the marketplace as customers will vote with their dollars. Only the strongest and most nimble brands will survive.
This is the time to transform CHALLENGES into OPPORTUNITIES and examine every aspect of your brand position and participation strategy. After you’ve reduced operational costs and navigated the Government websites, you need to shift focus into re-starting and re-opening. What will you do differently? What disciplines and cost-cutting measures will you maintain? What will be your PROMISE to the customer, and how will you WIN?
It is time to STOP playing defense and START start playing offense.
So how do you do that? The short answer: You need to start with the customer. But it does not stop there. In fact, the success of any brand depends upon following a very deliberate process requiring a laser-like clarity on your brand’s mission and vision, your competitive positioning and key differentiators, and your communication strategy. It is an iterative process you need to repeat over and over again, as long as you are in business. As Lou Holtz once warned, “You are either moving forward or losing ground.”
I developed this 5 Step Consumer-Centric Brand Clarity Process while I was resuscitating a $2B Women’s Fashion Division for Nordstrom in 2009 post-recession. While we barely survived the recession, we emerged in a condition that required an entirely different mindset and strategy for our business.
In order to be more productive and meaningful to our customers, we positioned each of the 12 functional departments as an independent brand with a clear mission and vision. Each department had a clearly defined target customer with a certain lifestyle and life stage, and distinct product priorities, needs, and wants.
We developed a product assortment strategy based on the target customer and consequently eliminated overlap and duplication in our inventory. With the customer as the filter for our decision making, we reduced our inventory by an average of 22% and increased revenues by approximately 18%.
While this took time to implement, we succeeded because we followed each of the following five steps to deliver an edited product assortment and drive breakthrough results.
Now it’s your turn!
Step 1: Clarify Your Mission & Vision for the Brand
In any endeavor, clarity is key.
Being crystal clear on your brand’s mission and vision is the first step to differentiating yourself and outshining the competition.
What’s the difference between a brand mission and a brand vision?
Brand Mission: A mission for your brand answers the following questions:
To make it plain and simple: your mission is what you do today. One thing I often ask my clients is, “if you were to gather people in a room, what would they say about your brand? What is it you do best, from their perspective?” This feedback can help you determine your Brand Mission.
Having a clear mission statement - and aligning with it - is critical for success.
Brand Vision: A brand vision answers the question of ‘Where do you want to go and how will you get there?’
This helps you figure out “What Will You Be Famous For?” Which is your North Star. To figure this out, consider what success will look like for you specifically. What would your success be based on? What did you set out to do that made you stand out, shine, and succeed?
When your organization understands and supports WHAT you are focused on today (your mission) and WHERE you are “going” (your vision for the future), you create alignment, a clear set of priorities, and a much greater chance of success.
Now, WHO are you doing it for?
Step 2: Identify & Clearly Understand Your Target Customer
Whether you have a new product launch, or a much-needed brand refresh, the only way to make the right decisions regarding product design, category expansion, price, fit, etc. is to align your choices with your target customer.
In order to do that, you must first identify and intimately understand who it is you are trying to capture, engage, and sell to. While you can sell to and serve all people, the trajectory of your decision making needs to be angled toward your target customer. Remember, if you try and be all things to everyone, you will be nothing to no one.
When you are learning about your customer, it is critical to balance qualitative and quantitative findings to thoroughly understand him/her. Both tell us about customer behavior, but each gives a different perspective and level of detail.
Hard data is more precise as it is measured – “How many customers are selecting X?” Soft data gives us a lot more detail and context behind the customer behavior and values.
This is psychographic and behavioral information that cannot be measured and is subjective.
I am a big believer in starting with qualitative data, and getting in front of customers to better understand their lifestyle, life-stage, product priorities, preferences, and behaviors. You will learn where, when, and how your customer shops, and which brands they prefer across all categories in their life, from food and beverage to hospitality and clothing. You will learn what car they drive, what hotels they choose, and what bottled water they drink - - and why?
You can use these insights and many more to form hypotheses around the products or services to deliver the most value to this group. When you’ve completed this step, you can begin to gather and interpret hard data to validate these hypotheses and develop your strategy.
This is the information you have access to every day in some form. In the simplest terms, it tells you what happened in your business, when, and where. You can summarize this information and quickly make decisions. But, in order to be fully customer-centric, you need to balance this with what your customers say and do (qualitative data).
I recommend you start with a list of questions to be answered or hypotheses to be validated. From there, you can either mine existing data or conduct a brief, focused survey with an adequate sample size of participants.
Next, use this depth of information to navigate the competition and sharpen your differentiating factors.
Step 3: The Competitive Landscape & Your Differentiators
In any business, it’s important to understand where your brand exists relative to your competitors - in the grid of your segment’s priorities.
To do this, you first need to have an understanding of how your category is segmented. Is it by functionality and price? Or by sustainability and style? Or by some other metric?
From there, your brand needs to understand where you exist relative to direct and indirect competitors.
Each market segment has its own priorities and the image below shows an example of a common pairing - price and functionality.
With these data points, you can answer questions like:
Depending on the results of this process, you may need to make some adjustments to your product offering, market positioning (price/value/distribution channels) or both.
The more information you have here, the more clarity you can gain, the better you’ll be able to determine how you will WIN with your customer and differentiate yourself from the competition.
Step 4: Communication Strategy
When you have a clear articulation of your brand’s mission and vision, a thorough understanding of your target customer, and determined differentiators, you can develop a targeted communication plan. Your plan needs to be creative and innovative, but more importantly, it needs to underpin the key pillars of your business to drive clarity and loyalty with your target customer.
You need to follow the “5 W’s and an H” strategy…
While it may seem simple, developing an authentic and relevant brand voice and tone is critical. Prioritize building a community, enhancing engagement, and growing relationships with your customers. Do this by being authentic, honest, and open to dialogue - both good and bad. Your goal is to develop a community of brand enthusiasts who are loyal and willing to share on your behalf.
If your value proposition is clear with your customers, you will gain their “mind share” - they will think of you first. When you have their “mind share,” you will undoubtedly win their market share.
Step 5: Make a Detailed Path Forward
This is where the rubber meets the road.
Now that you’ve invested the resources to get crystal clear on your brand’s mission, vision, target customer, differentiating factor(s), and communication strategy, it’s time to create a list of priorities and a timeline.
You need to create 30/60/90/180-day plans to identify the business priorities and tasks, enablers, goals, and metrics to ensure you stay on track with the strategic initiatives you have decided upon. It’s super important to identify who in the organization is the sponsor, leader, and executor of each task. This details who is accountable for which results and activities, and who will manage the process.
None of the work in Steps 1-4 matters if you don’t create a detailed plan and stick to it. In my experience, this is where it all falls apart - businesses don’t create or follow-through on an execution strategy. Discipline and accountability are the ultimate keys to success.
While most days feel like groundhog day, the clock is ticking. There is an opportunity to come out of this global disruption in a stronger, leaner position. Use the time you have now to get prepared and figure out how you’re going to do things differently — and then actually do it.
To pivot your business and emerge on top, book a consultation with me today.