Brand-building is a huge industry. From large b2b organisations through to one-person businesses, people aspire to build their brand. I meet many great businesses that don’t have in-house marketers to help them do this. There’s lots of good help available, but before you talk to them, challenge yourself. Here’s how.

1. Forget about building a brand

As an end in itself, it’s pure vanity. Think about brands you know and admire, and why. A great brand is synonymous with a great proposition, not something separate. Even the world’s most valuable brands, like Google and Apple, set out to build a business by solving a problem or meeting a need. Do that well, and you will have a brand.

2. The name’s not that important

Plenty of successful brand names were created accidentally, and plenty of carefully-created ones were disastrous. Good names sometimes refer to the proposition (the Trainline) but this can also be limiting (Carphone Warehouse). I’m fairly sure Coca Cola no longer has any ingredients derived from the poppy plant, nor does Pepsi Cola position itself as a digestive aid. Steve Jobs chose Apple because he liked apples.

3. Don’t focus on creating brand awareness

Advertising is expensive. Even “free” social media is effortful. You’re competing with everything else that can grab attention. Most of the time, most people are not potential customers – even your real customers. Sometimes brands get lucky and get a wave of free publicity, which feels great, but awareness gained this way falls away just as fast. (When did you last think about the brand that had that beach-body-ready woman in the yellow bikini? How many people who did the ice bucket challenge still support that charity? Which charity?) Sustained awareness in the minds of potential customers comes from delivering to them over time, not buying their attention.

Here’s how to get ready to invest in a brand in a way that will be good for your business.

1. Sort out your proposition first

Start with what the business can offer, to whom, and why it’s useful to them. Sounds obvious but when businesses get caught up in a brand-centric approach, it’s easy to lose sight of the customer. Brand values, purpose, ambition, all have a place but they are secondary to the core benefit-led proposition that states who the customer is, in terms of their need, and what you do for them. It’s not about your business, it’s about what your business can do for the customer.

2. Make sure the WIIFM (What’s in it for me) is crystal clear to everyone

The customer has to know what makes your offer good for them. People in the business need to know too so they can deliver on it, and innovate against it to maintain competitive advantage. A clear WIIFM statement – from the customer’s point of view – helps a business to spot competitive threats wherever they come from.

3. Keep your eyes on the customer

Worrying about intermediate goals like awareness, or having a higher purpose, can obscure the fundamentals. Clarity about the need you meet or problem you solve, and for whom, keeps the focus on the customer. This is really going to help to make the business successful. Any good marketing services agency will also want a rich understanding of the target customer, so if they don’t ask, go elsewhere.

Thought leadership | January 2018