In our previous blog post, we set the scene for the importance of an effective brand strategy, whilst highlighting that all-too-often a strategic approach is pushed aside in order to focus on the quick tactical gains.

Whilst these are always important, it’s during the implementation of tactics that we see the importance of a clear brand strategy, or perhaps the lack thereof. Certain trigger points may occur, which challenge us to review how things are ‘usually’ done. When taking the time to reflect, these trigger points commonly highlight activity that is quite obviously not the best approach, but sometimes it can be difficult to take a step back to ask – “is this really the best way of doing it?”.

From our experience in the contract service space, here are some recurring themes that trigger brand reflection…

Positioning

A common challenge we see across the space is inadequate thought around competitive positioning. It’s important to take time to think; how do we want to be perceived in the market by potential clients? It’s also important to reflect on your capabilities and showcase these through your brand. The key here is insight, by knowing first-hand what your customers’ needs are, you can own something of value in the mind of the client. Be really clear on what this is. If you’re a company in life sciences with a unique/in-demand/special technology or capability – start by owning this! 

Copying the big companies

It’s easy and tempting to emulate what others have done – “well company X and company Y are doing it, so it must be right.” Their solution is right for THEM and THEIR target clients – but it might not be right for yours. So why copy them? Be true to your clients and to who you are. Don’t try to be something that you’re not. Ultimately you need to be the best choice for who you aim to serve and this should be woven through your entire brand strategy.

Huge budget commitment to trade events

In this sector specifically, we see huge over-reliance and over-spend on trade events. This is one of the most commonly recurring themes. Trade events have an important role but they are not the catch-all that many companies treat them as. And they are just one tactic. Spending huge sums of money on stands often triggers the question, how can we amend our brand strategy to build awarness without this huge cash impact? 

Limited internal buy-in

Restricted understanding of marketing strategy can reduce buy-in from key internal stakeholders. This is so common that, quite often, people internally just don’t ‘get it’. The most successful client projects we work on, with the biggest long-term impact involve senior leadership from the start. You can’t do it alone; fight for senior engagement from the very beginning to avoid unnecessary battles midway through a project. Getting your senior stakeholders involved from the beginning will help shine the spotlight on on brand strategy before you even begin.

Me, me, me!

Many companies are focussed on their business rather than their customers. It’s all well and good saying we have X technology and X capability, but so what? How does that benefit your client or make their life better? Serve and solve problems. When your brand isn’t effectively communicating the problems you solve, this often triggers backtracking and reflection on your brand strategy.

Sales and Marketing priorities

There needs to be alignment, collaboration and mutual respect between sales and marketing. If activity is all BD-led, it’ll be short-term to meet the short term quick win goals. It’s important to strike the balance and step back to focus on the bigger picture to consider both short and long term priorities and how each team can aid the other’s ultimate success, and more importantly, how to make your brand work best for you and your busines.

Other trigger points resulting in brand reflection…

  • You have launched a new service
  • You are undergoing a merger or acquisition
  • Your sights are set on a new market
  • You are expanding your geographic reach
  • You aren’t getting the enquiries that you used to
  • You are losing RFPs that you used to win
  • Pressure is building from new competition

There are a multitude of reasons to reflect on your brand. Many are around pivotal points of change but there are other more subtle everyday issues that crop up and trigger reflection. These are all important flags for addressing your brand strategy.

The key takeaway here is – don’t bypass your brand strategy during the thrill of change or in the face of adversity.

So, how do you proactively shine the spotlight on your brand strategy?

Listen. Learn. Leverage for the long-term. 

Whilst right now it might feel like a daunting process, it really is all about getting back to basics. And the first part is all about listening, learning and then leveraging those insights for the long-term. 

Step 1. Customer Insight

Speak to your customers. It can be hard to believe the disconnect between marketing teams and the customers they are spending everyday trying to market to, many have never had any customer insight. If you can, have the customer insights conducted by somebody impartial in order to ensure honest and candid responses.

It’s also critical to not focus on service feedback. Whilst it definitely has its place, it will not provide the insight you need to develop your brand strategy. You need to know what your customer needs are, alongside their motivations, perceptions of the wider market and perceptions of your company.

It’s important to focus not only on your current customers, who will provide rich insights into your company, but also speak to customers of the future too. Ask your wider team to think of 3 companies they’d like to be working with in 3 years time.Try to speak to that audience group as well. 

Step 2. Market research

This is a step that many bypass, but it’s crucial to take a step back, look at wider ongoing and predicted trends, and benchmark your competition. This doesn’t mean copying the aspirational competitors on your list, it means finding your niche and gap in the market. 

Step 3. Internal insights 

Getting the right people on board early on makes the world of difference. It’s important to get the right minds in the room, your senior leadership team, your sales team, your marketing team, your product managers, your customer facing team and so forth. Everyone has a different and vital perspective to add. 

How do you facilitate this conversation? We find that a workshop setting works best, it keeps people engaged and it’s beneficial to take some time away from the everyday, reset and refocus. In the contract services sector, teams are often very siloed and this experience can change that, facilitating cross-pollination and stronger collaboration for the long haul. 

Review the insights gathered, consider your overall business strategy, discuss your buyers and ask those critical questions. Who needs you? What value do you bring? What makes you different? Why would someone want to work with you? 

Debate and discuss, that’s the best part of this experience. Wherever you feel a tension, engage on this further until you all feel you have landed on the same page. 

Put pen to paper

Once all of these steps have been taken, it’s time to synthesize the discussions and the data collected. Put pen to paper to create your brand strategy. This doesn’t need to be overly complex. This document should be short and succinct, so it can be summarized, memorized, and most importantly, utilized by your team.

  • Define your brand purpose – the why you are in business. 
  • Define your positioning – what is your niche in the market? 
  • Understand your buyers – develop buyer personas, give them names, make them real not just an ideal.
  • Determine your key messages  – how do you articulate to a buyer why they should work with you? 
  • Develop your brand personality – what is your tone of voice and how do you make people feel?
  • And finally, if needed, review your brand identity – how do you visually reflect your brand and the impression it gives?

Share with the internal team, refine after some time away to think. It’s important to remember this is a big undertaking, so it’s fine to not get it right the first time. Once you’ve undertaken this process, it’s equally important to maintain engagement on a longer term basis. Look out for our next post in the brand strategy series ‘How to build brand engagement across your whole organization’.

Want the whole series on demand? You can watch our brand strategy webinar.