How To Build A Brand – Part I

by Holland-Mark | March 5, 2012

This is the first in a two part series on How To Build A Brand. Want to be sure not to miss the second? Subscribe to our channel feed.

Holland-Mark is not in the advertising business. We’re in the growing businesses business. We help clients achieve “Imperative” status, meaning we help make their products and services must-haves rather than nice-to-haves in an economy where that’s what it takes to get people to spend their money.

Imperative is, of course, subjective. That’s why creating a brand –a collective emotional response out there in the hearts and minds of a target audience – is a big part of what we do.

So how does it work? How do you build a brand that helps get you to Imperative in 2012 and beyond?

Here’s how. Six steps:

Step One: Connect To The Truth

I have always believed that, in the long run, most of the pain in life is caused by distance from the truth.  Odds are that failing to see the truth of others, yourself, what you need, a given situation, or a particular relationship has caused you pain at some point. And the same is true in business.

Most of the business and product failures I’ve experienced and observed in my life boil down to missing some fundamental truth of the marketplace. So the process of building a brand has to start with a foundation of understanding those things, specifically separating the facts from the hypotheses with respect to your customer, competition, context, capabilities, and culture.

How you do this of course depends on the business you’re in, and the questions you have about it. The bare minimum is some kind of intense team discussion to try and separate the facts from the fiction. Ideally it involves some kind of systematic social media listening station, or a more formal research construct like a quantitative survey or series of qualitative interviews. With Napkin Labs now defunct, we’ve been playing with a tool called QualBoard in this application, and it looks promising.

We’re more and more convinced that this “outside-in” approach to building a brand and a business is the right way to go. Seth Godin likes to say “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” Sounds about right to us, and very much aligned with our approach to brand building.

Step Two: Clarify Your Message

So are we ready to get going on the logo now? No, we are not.

Before anyone can produce a high quality creative deliverable on your behalf, you have to get to a place of strategic clarity around what that creative is intended to express. There is no short cut for this. It takes some time, and if building a brand matters to you, I’m sorry to say you just need to suck it up and drive your team through some kind of process that gets everyone on the same page about how – exactly – you are going to tell your story.

Our process for this is called One Simple Thing™ (OST), and with all the appropriate disclaimers I have to say it’s pretty good at surfacing a core, emotional value proposition that can drive the downstream customer experience in a way that builds a brand.

We capture OST in a one page document called a Message Model, starting with a formal positioning statement:

For [target] who are [segment], [brand] is the [category]
that delivers [distinction] because of [proof.]

For the basics on how this works, check out this presentation.

Step Three: Align Your Offering

OK… so now you have clarity. Logo time? No.

In 2012, your marketing starts with your product, not with what you say about your product. The reason for this is that people discount what you say, favoring instead what your current customers have to say about whatever it is you’re selling.

Today your marketing communications account for a much smaller slice of market perception than they once did. The reality of your product drives the perception of your prospects now, and the first and arguably most important role of your brand is to shape the former and amplify the latter in ways that trigger the emotional response you’re trying to create.

So… does your product experience do everything it can to deliver on the emotional value proposition you defined in Step Two? If you’re like every client we’ve ever worked with, the answer is no. The good news is you can probably improve your lot quickly with some “soft innovation,” without needing to reengineer your product altogether. (For more on this line of thinking you can check out Alex Bogusky’s excellent and accessibly short book on the subject,Baked In.)

So what comes next, en route to building a brand that will become an enduring strategic asset for your company? Subscribe to our channel to get Part II of this series, coming soon to a screen near you.

And the really good news… it starts with the logo.
This post originally appeared on on March 5, 2012.