Question: Who controls your brand’s image in the marketplace? Did you shout…”I do”?!?! Well, if you think you are in complete control over your brand image – you are mistaken. The fact is, while you have some influence, there are forces at play that can have a huge impact on the market perception of your brand that you may not even perceive.
And if you don’t actively and consistently tend to your brand image through proactive brand building initiatives, watch out…that control can fall totally into the wrong hands. So let’s look at 4 steps you can take to wrest back control of your brand image. But first, a little background.
It is undoubtedly true that you, your team, and/or your contractors are creating various marketing materials from time to time with the purpose of stating what you believe to be the image of your brand as well as the specifics of your goods and services. Perhaps you take care to ensure that those elements unique to you – such as innovative design, or proprietary technology, or whatever you envision as your “edge,” are well presented and explained. Maybe you talk directly to your customers – so naturally, you’re always presenting your USP (unique selling proposition).
So you have your branding image covered…right? Wrong. Your static marketing materials are only one part of a multi-part equation that customers use to evaluate, along with other input, the totality of your brand image in their mind.
What other kinds of input do customers look at in judging your brand image? They listen to what your competitors are saying about you…they look at online reviews, both positive and negative, to see what consumers are saying about you…they search their memory banks for any past interactions with any part of your company…they look at your website to see how well you present yourself…and they look at your social media initiatives to see how well you present yourself and the manner of your interaction with your various social communities.
Today’s customers are more informed than ever before about your market, your product AND your company. This fact can be a positive – resulting in a smoother and potentially quicker sales process. But it also means you have plenty of opportunity to blow it if you botch any one of those elements mentioned above.
The four steps to taking control of your brand image are…
STEP ONE: Admit You’ve Lost Control
The first step to solving any problem is recognizing and admitting you have a problem. In this case, recognize that – unless you have been diligently proactive in building, promoting, and protecting your brand – you don’t have full control. And if, as we suspect, you’ve been less than diligent in doing so – it’s time to create an action plan now.
STEP TWO: Assess the State of Your Brand
You know you’ve lost control of your branding when prospective customers can not articulate your key brand attributes – those core elements of what your brand is all about, what it stands for, or what it represents. And it’s practically game over if the majority of prospective customers have never heard of your brand, or they’ve heard it but know nothing about it.
The goal of Step Two is to determine whether you’ve either lost control of the brand – or whether you never had control of it in the first place. So an honest assessment is in order. You need to be brutally honest with yourself. The question is NOT what you think your brand represents…the question is what the market thinks your brand is all about. Be quick to seek input – input from employees, from customers, from suppliers, from rivals, from everyone. Ask open-ended questions and do not “lead the witness.” You are NOT seeking friends who will tell you what they think you want to hear – you are seeking brutally honest feedback.
The approach you’ll take to rectify the situation is different for a brand that is fundamentally solid but suffers from inattentive branding initiatives – as opposed to a brand that never really gained traction because the basic brand proposition didn’t resonate with the market.
STEP THREE: Create an Action Plan to Position and Promote Your Brand
In this step, it is time to assemble your plan of attack to proactively and forcefully position and promote your brand. No matter what type of business you are – branding needs to be a part of your overall marketing strategy. To gain…and maintain…control of your branding, you must consistently engage in actions that reinforce your brand proposition. You may want to consider professional help with this phase, but if you are marketing savvy, you can do it yourself.
After you’ve determined what the top attributes are you want to communicate about your brand to the market – it’s time to create a plan for where and how you’ll do that. Marketing theory today dictates an “integrated” strategy that balances initiatives between three key forms of media:
- Owned Media – Websites, blogs, company pages on social media, any whitepapers you’ve created, eBooks, videos, landing pages, etc.
- Paid Media – Traditional (magazine ads, newspaper, radio, TV), and digital (display ads, social media ads, SEM, PPC, retargeting, etc.)
- Earned Media – Media coverage, social media “likes” & “shares,” “UGC” (user generated content), blogger mentions/coverage, online reviews, etc.
The key to branding success is to devise a plan that leverages each of the above mentioned media. The top strategy today is to create quality content, publish it to your owned media, share it via email and social media…all to attract and engage customers and prospects, convert them to sales…and, finally, retain them over the long haul.
There is no one way or one formula for success – but if you create quality materials on a consistent basis, you will likely attract and engage customers who will have a deeper understanding of what your brand and your company is all about.
STEP FOUR: At a Set Time in the Future, Review Results and Refine the Plan
After you’ve selected your plan and begin to implement it, be aware that you must give the program time to work. If all goes well, you’ll see your earned media take off, helping drive interest in your brand and engagement with interested customers and prospects.
But set a deadline for a program review…say a year or at least six months in the future. The beauty of digital marketing is that there is lots of data that you can use to see the effectiveness of your efforts. When you hit the target date, stop and review the program. Be prepared to either recommit to it, or to refine it.