The value and cost of branding is a topic that comes up often these days. As companies across all industries develop plans to stay competitive in the digital world, executives have to ask themselves some fundamental questions:
- Why do we matter to customers?
- How do we stay relevant?
- How do we evolve and communicate our value?
- What do we need to stand for?
These questions are at the heart of brand strategy through which we seek to identify and articulate the thoughts and emotions that drive customer preference and growth.
Clients assessing their branding needs and thinking of choosing a brand strategy firm are then confronted with the tricky task of requesting and evaluating proposals, which often show wildly different costs for what appear to be similar steps.
- How should you assess the differences?
- How will you assess the differences?
- What’s going to be most valuable?
Leaving aside obvious factors that contribute to price differences (for example, the complexity of a global repositioning or a M&A, or an accelerated timeline) there are many elements that can influence the cost of a branding project and on this blog, I’d like to focus on four:
- Depth and breadth of the discovery process
- “Operationalizing” the positioning for sales
- The approach and quality of resources allocated to design
- Change management
1. Depth and Breadth of The Discovery Process
Successful brand development is rooted in in-depth research and insights. It’s what Jim Collins, best-selling author and business consultant, defines as “confronting the brutal facts” in his acclaimed book “From Good To Great”: facing and analyzing the facts, the data and the insights about your current reality and your future business strategy is essential to develop a strong brand. Short-cutting and eliminating steps to go faster can reduce the cost but also compromise the overall effectiveness and strength of the brand.
So, what data and insights do you need to consider?
A brand is an aggregate of the total perceptions that customers (and potential customers) have about a business (or a product) based on their experience with products, people, and communications. To understand those perceptions requires an analysis of products; an understanding of customers’ needs and wants, and how and why they purchase and behave; a mapping of the sales cycle and identifying the challenges experienced; and an understanding of the influence of a brand in the sales process.
Internally, the culture of an organization needs to be assessed. Culture can have a dramatic impact on the customer experience and it can also be a significant barrier to change. An understanding of the processes and systems used to deliver value is essential, particularly in the digital and mobile world we live in. And, last but not least, market forces and the characteristics of the competitive space need to be carefully assessed to identify opportunity areas.
Such an analysis can be performed through qualitative or quantitative methods. We recommend a combination of both. Customer interviews, internal interviews and culture assessments are essential and their cost can vary depending on number, geographic reach and complexity.
Fact-based, quantitative evidence is crucial to eliminate personal biases and clearly pinpoint a market opportunity for the brand based on competitive positions and market segments’ purchase drivers. The cost of these assessments can be high depending on scope, breadth of markets and complexity, but their value is significant, particularly to align management and create an agreed understanding of the issues as well as opportunities.
Strong brands that drive preference and action are unique and stand for something that is inspiring. Depth and breadth are both necessary to gain the level of insights necessary to develop brands that speak to the minds and hearts of both customers and employees.
2. “Operationalizing” the Positioning for Sales
Messaging, stories and training are three essential steps to embed the new positioning into the sales and marketing organization. Absent this step, a positioning statement alone becomes an advertising tagline and sales continues to use the old messages.
Therefore, when evaluating a positioning proposal, particular attention should be placed on three critical aspects:
- Messaging platform development: This is a very important and time-consuming step. It translates the corporate brand positioning strategy into terms and means that are relatable to each targeted audience from both a personal as well as professional point of view. Once developed, it becomes a powerful tool to ensure salespeople speak and position a company’s value in accordance to what is postulated by the brand.
- Testing of the messages: This step is particularly useful when there are two possible positioning options available that appear equally valuable. Furthermore, testing actual messages that support the positioning strategy is important particularly when dealing with different regions, markets and audiences.
- Training and alignment: In our experience this is an absolutely necessary step in the B2B environment. A brand strategy needs to be explained, understood and embraced. Training sessions become vital to present the new strategy and make the connection to how the new thinking can augment sales and marketing activities.
3. The Approach and Quality of Resources Allocated to Design
You may have a carefully crafted brand strategy and a compelling narrative, but unless you communicate visually in a memorable manner, it is unlikely that customers will take note, particularly in today’s noisy environment.
Design makes strategy visible by making complex thoughts and ideas easy to understand and memorable across every interaction and brand touchpoint. The quality and consistency of the visual language used by a brand is an indicator of the quality and consistency of the company’s offering.
As such, design elements such as a corporate logo, typeface, color, photography, graphic devices, illustrations, UX and UI are all essential to shape the way people interact with and respond to your brand. When evaluating proposals, the amount of time and the quality of resources allocated to design are important. It is not about churning design: It’s about coming up with a new language that inspires, that stands out in the space and that tells a story. This requires a few things:
- Talent matters
- The right amount of time to focus on exploration for the creative team; great visual ideas don’t follow a formula.
- It’s always better when a creative team can develop and present 2-3 different creative options, each showing a different array and set of visual elements and how they’re used across applications.
- Allocated proper time for rounds of revisions.
4. Change Management
One of the most significant and unspoken aspects of any branding project is the level of change that often comes with it. For example, consider the following activities:
- Leading management through a rebranding process
- Convincing the organization about the value of a new brand position
- Reorganizing a portfolio of products and communicate it to sales and product marketing departments
- A naming decision involving a merger
- Changes to processes in support of a new brand position
Every example mentioned above inevitably brings out conflicting misalignments, personal biases, internal politics, and views about paths to take. Every example mentioned also requires some level of compromise and change. Change is never linear and rarely welcomed with open arms.
A brand strategy needs to be understood and embraced by multiple internal stakeholders if the changes that it demands are to be successful. These factors all have to be addressed. Often they require special management approaches to create acceptance and alignment that can lengthen the project and influence the budget. Without a careful consideration and management of the amount of change a brand strategy normally requires, a strategy will not be successful.
When evaluating a proposal, change management becomes visible in a few areas:
- The number of meetings and presentations necessary: In a recent brand architecture project, our team spent 3 months familiarizing brand architecture model options across multiple stakeholders. This step was necessary to align the different business units around a common, accepted model, with full conviction of its benefits. This increased the price but also ensured the ultimate success of the company’s goal to re-organize how to go to market with its products.
- The number of revisions: A new visual identity system, messaging platforms, naming development; these tasks as well as others need to account for multiple rounds of revisions. Important refinements and stakeholders’ input have to be taken into consideration.
- Management time: Accounting for a proper amount of time from a senior consultant to manage a branding project on an ongoing basis is essential. Hands-on expertise and experience becomes a viable means to spot possible issues early on and manage situations effectively when they arise.
One last thought about change management: To ensure success we often include what we call a Brand Roadmap in our brand strategy proposals. Using the brand as the North Star, we work with our clients to develop a plan to align marketing, products, technologies, systems, processes, skills, culture and data management with the newly defined brand promise. The roadmap helps executives focus activities, plans and investments necessary to align the company to the trajectory set by the brand.
Deciding the Brand Value is Worth the Strategy Cost
A successful brand strategy requires creativity, analytical minds, emotional intelligence, problem solving, design thinking, change management skills and much more.
Phillip Johnson, the famous American architect, said: “All architecture is shelter; great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.” The same applies to brand. Great brands can make a big difference to a business, but they require investing in the right areas. In the end is always a balance between the ideal state and reality. An experienced consultant can help clients make the right decision.