5 step brand strategy template

“Brands exist because they make choice easier, more certain and more rewarding.”

Naomi Klein No Logo

 A brand is the most important asset to any company. A good brand strategy template not only articulates what the company offers and allows clear and consistent messages, it also acts as a rallying point for staff and improves engagement.

The best definition I have seen of a brand  is:

A brand is far more than a logo – it is a promise kept.

Any successful branding process will take a “deep dive” into the organisation and ask some searching questions about what it is and what it does.

There are many different models for developing a brand strategy – my preference is to structure it around the following topics and questions:

Brand Vision

What type of organisation do we want to be? What are we in business for? This is perhaps the most difficult part of the process and is about the “Why”

Why should customers want to engage with you?

In today’s market place, some of the most successful companies are those with a clear value proposition, a raison d’etre. Whether it is Apple with its core values of we want to think differently, challenge convention and work for consumers or Nike everyone can be a hero and achieve their goals, offering customers the  “why” is the most powerful part of your brand strategy

Brand Values

It’s about how we behave and what we hold dear

This is important both to your customers and staff: following on from your vision, the values reflect how you will do things and the way the organisation (and staff) responds to customers.

To go back to the Nike example, their values are about exercise being fun and about everyone reaching their potential or Apple thinking differently and challenging convention.

Virgin values are about fun, Value for Money, challenging convention

So what are the core values in the business which will help deliver your vision?

Brand Positioning

At this stage, we are looking at how we would like customers to feel about us and how can we benefit them. So the next step is to articulate the brand in two parts – brand essence and proposition.

The brand essence takes all the work done so far and articulates in a few words the core of who you are and how you benefit customers.

Think of Nike “everyone can be a hero and achieve their goals” or Virgin “challenge perception”.

This leads to a proposition which is the offer you are making to customers. Think of it as the corner of their mind you want to occupy. When they think of your brand, what immediately comes to mind?

Nike’s proposition is “if you have a body, you’re an athlete”

Virgin’s Proposition is “Don’t just play the game, change it for good”

These simple statements can be given to communications agencies to develop powerful brand messages. Tesco’s proposition “no one tries harder for their customers” led to the incredibly successful “Every little helps”

Brand Strengths

What are the strengths the brand has or will need to deliver the vision?

Here we need to carry out SWOT analysis, look at customer perceptions, carry out competitor audits and examine our operations.

Are we in a position to deliver the brand and the promise we have articulated? What do we need to change or improve in order to do so?

Brand Personality

Only after we have done the previous steps can we turn our attention to the visible brand identity – the feel, tone of voice and corporate identity.

The brand personality concerns the overall image of a business in the minds of its stakeholders and has three  components: Design (logos, colours); Communication (advertising, Public Relations) and behaviours (Personality, Values, Mission )

These need to be based on the proposition and values and presented coherently and consistently.

To sum it all up, I have a simple formula which is credibility+visibility= profitability.

This is the essence of a good brand strategy.

Good luck!

When bad drives out good – reflections on Oxfam

 

The torrid situation at Oxfam has been well documented and played out in the full glare of International media attention.

I don’t want to comment on how Oxfam got into this situation, but rather focus on some of the issues it raises for all organisations.

The first issue is – as the title says above – bad drives out good. No matter how well an organisation performs or the good it has done in the past, when something bad happens that good work carries very little capital.  The good is forgotten and driven out by the bad.

Conversely, the bad stays with them and can take an awfully long time to overcome. It’s called crawl out cost – what is it going to take to get back to a position of trust and investor confidence.

Look at BP. The crisis in the gulf not only brought the company to its knees, but destroyed its reputation and the cost of the clean-up is only one aspect of what will be a long and painful crawl out.

The other day I was in conversation when the subject of Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill came up. I mentioned how powerful I thought it was and asked my colleague if he’d seen it.

“No,” was the reply. “And I’m not going to.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, he wasn’t a very nice man, was he?”

So the perception of Churchill before the war in this person’s mind completely outweighed his success in the war years, even to the extent of not wanting to see a possibly Oscar winning performance.

Another issue raised by the Oxfam story is why do organisations to go off the rails?

My first question is – who/what are these “organisations?” When commentators say on TV that business needs certainty and business won’t be happy with decisions, I wonder where these “businesses” are, what exactly are they?

Margaret Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society” and was criticised for being heartless. But what she meant was that there is no such thing as an amorphous thing called “Society”. When things go wrong, it’s all too easy to say it’s society’s fault but we can’t because there is no such entity.

What she was trying to say is that society is made up of individuals, families and groups and we all have a stake in, and a responsibility for, what happens around us.

It’s the same in organisations.

How many times do outcomes get blamed on “the Organisation” or “The Corporation” as if somehow there is this entity outside human control which is making all the decisions?

Oganisations, like society, are made up of people and the people working there have a responsibility to do the best job they can and improve performance. No one (well, most of us) goes to work to hurt people or to rip people off or to exploit people.

So what happens? In many cases, senior management become remote from the day to day and remote from their work force. They lose sight of what it’s all for, what they are there to do.

They lose sight of their values in the complexity around them, or they start to believe the end justifies the means (such as making a profit).

So the lessons from Oxfam I would recommend to all senior management teams are:

  • Bad drives out good – you can lose your reputation overnight and it takes decades to get it back
  • Organisations don’t exist as separate entities making decisions – people do that and management must take responsibility for decisions good or bad.
  • Values are what make organisations and are the reasons why people want to work there and engage with them. Don’t compromise on your values.
  • And most of all, listen to your staff and your customers – it’s why you are in business.

The limitations of reason – lessons for marketers.

I was reading an article recently in the New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert (Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds – New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.) which had some fascinating insights into how people think.

The article quotes a number of experiments at Stanford and elsewhere looking at  how people form their views, the role of peer pressure in their thinking and how reason and evidence don’t always come into the decisions we make.

A number of observations stand out:

Firstly, “Once formed,” the researchers observed, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.” Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted.

Secondly, the article asks us to consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.”

In this experiment, students were asked to respond to two studies about capital punishment. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favour of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile.

Thirdly, researchers see an effect which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do

“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” two of the researchers write. “And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views.”

So reason is not what we thought it was. It seems to be much more about our social interactions and social standing than it is about objectivity and factual evidence. It is often about being right in the sense of being able to win an argument, rather than being “right” in terms of objective facts.

People use “reason” to reinforce beliefs and confirm their opinions, and then this bias becomes deep seated and difficult to shift.

There are lessons here for marketers and anyone involved in developing successful brands. For instance, to what extent do we use market research to truly uncover new insights, or to what extent do we use it to confirm existing opinions and prejudices in our marketing strategy?

The experiments also reveal the importance of creating the right “first impression” and to recognise that, once formed, opinions about brands will be difficult to change and information will be filtered depending on how individual consumers perceive them.

It also speaks to the power of social media and confirmation bias when numbers of people come together to agree on a point of view and filter out any conflicting evidence.

People are not as rational as they would like to believe – and that is why Marketing has always been an art, not a science.

Full article:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds/amp?__twitter_impression=true

University marketing – every little helps

Despite all the awards, NSS scores, TEF evaluations and the millions spent on campus upgrades, the fact is University marketers are selling into a market where the competition either has products that are just as good as theirs or they have products that are perceived by students to be “good enough” in comparison, and choice often comes down to location.

Robert Cooper in his book on product leadership offers these “seven ingredients of a unique, differentiated superior product with real value for the customer”:

  1. Meets customers’ needs better than competitive products.
  2. Is a better-quality product than competitors’ (however the customer defines quality).
  3. Has unique benefits and features for the customer.
  4. Solves customers’ problems with competitive products.
  5. Reduces the customer’s total in-use costs (better value-in-use).
  6. Has highly visible benefits for users.
  7. Is innovative or novel — the first of its kind on the market.

So, if you judge them against these criteria, it’s clear Universities are operating in a market where true differentiation is very difficult (as witnessed by the interchangeability of mission statements, vision statements, key messages and brand values!)

In that sense, Universities are very much like supermarkets who all offer similar product ranges, similar shopping experiences and similar pricing strategies.

So how do we (and they) develop winning marketing strategies in what are basically undifferentiated market sectors?

The first thing is to focus primarily on the customer, not the competition.

It is easy to take your eye off the ball and fall into the trap of becoming defensive and reacting to the competition but it is critical to stay focused on the customer’s needs first and foremost, and then to manage the competitive challenge by asking key questions such as:

  • Who are we competing with and what is the customer’s perception of us versus them?
  • In the eyes of the customer, what are they doing exceptionally well and poorly and why?

The second thing is a focus on the product. Theodore Levitt says there is no such thing as a commodity because “the generic thing is not itself the product; it is merely, as in poker, table stakes; the minimum that is necessary at the outset to give the producer a chance to play the game.”

When the generic product is undifferentiated, the offered product makes the difference in getting customers and the delivered product in keeping them.

To differentiate itself from competitors, a supplier may offer the customer more than he expects – ‘an augmented product’. This could be innovation, product variants, flexibility to tailor products or service to exact customer needs, financing, consultancy services to improve the performance of the customer’s organisation, and many other enhanced benefits.

In other words, the offered product is differentiated, though the generic product is identical.

We all know this – it is marketing 101 on most syllabuses.

But I wanted to restate it, along with Levitt’s view that it is the role of management to identify the best way to add value in customers’ eyes through enhancements to the product itself or by developing value added services and by a relentless focus on the customer experience.

Crucially, it is superior customer insight that enables management to succeed in this task and it is suppliers of undifferentiated products that need it most.

Which brings us back to where we started.

Tesco saw the problem in simple terms – the only true differentiation in their sector was around customer service and the customer experience which was about all the big things and all the little things which needed to be in place from sophisticated logistics to having enough trained till-operators.

It also put marketing central to its thinking in the drive to understand the customer and ensure products and services matched their expectations.

This is the true role of marketing and is why it should be at the top table in determining university strategy.

Degree apprenticeships – a classic marketing problem

Background
From April 2017, all businesses with a wage bill of over £3m will pay an annual levy of 0.5% of the total. The levy will establish a national fund from which employers can draw to pay for apprenticeship training. The new levy will apply to the new higher and degree apprenticeships as well as intermediate and advanced level apprenticeship schemes.
There will be ninety per cent funding for businesses that are too small to pay the apprenticeship levy; large businesses will have 24 months to use their apprenticeship levy before it expires; and there will be funding for individuals to undertake an apprenticeship at the same or lower level than a qualification they already hold (if this allows them to acquire substantive new skills.
In addition, apprenticeships now apply to any job role – including management, financial and digital – and can be used as a route to a degree or even a master’s qualification.
So the combined impact of the new apprenticeship levy and new degree-level apprenticeships is set to transform graduate recruitment.
Strategic issues
• Degree apprenticeships with the best employers could become as sought after as places on degree courses with top universities.
• Levy-paying organisations are investing in degree apprenticeships and as a result are set to abandon their graduate scheme programme.
• Degree Apprenticeships are a substitution threat to traditional on-campus degrees rather than just offering the opportunity of additional student numbers.
• Degree Apprentices will split their time between university study and the workplace and will be employed throughout – gaining a full bachelor’s or master’s degree from a top university while paying no fees, earning a wage and getting real on-the-job experience in their chosen profession. The cost of course fees is shared between government and employers, meaning no cost to the student
• Recruiting students on to Degree apprenticeship courses will require a partnership between employers and universities, with joint development of programmes, agreed numbers of students per employer and recruitment and assessment carried out by Universities.
• Degree apprenticeships are likely to be lower margin than traditional degree programmes
• Even more so than with traditional degrees, schools and parents will have a major influence on the take up of the degree apprenticeships

Marketing questions:
Many Universities, understandably, are putting considerable effort into degree apprenticeships.
They are gearing up to supply the right programmes, to partner with prestigious employers and to put people and systems in place to recruit students.
This is partly in response to a commercial opportunity, and partly in response to their mission to act as catalyst for their regions and support regional development.
However, there are strategic marketing questions that need to be answered such as:
• What level of substitution will there be as opposed to genuinely new business? Has the University “done its sums” and come to a view about the likely level of substitution and the impact on the bottom line?
• What will the market look like in five years time? Has the University got a plan to deal with the impact?
• To what extent do Universities need to invest in educating the market about the new apprenticeships as well as recruiting their own requirements?
• Whom will these programmes appeal to? What are the likely profiles and locations of the target market?
• Which employers do Universities wish to partner with? Other Universities will be chasing them too – so what is the USP that will make employers choose one University over another?
• What will be the impact on the overall University Brand?
• Is there a need to differentiate degree apprenticeships from traditional degrees so that the £9000 fee can be sustained?
• Will the content of the degree apprenticeships need to be adjusted to recognise the vocational/training/skills development requirements?
• What process, people and skill sets do Universities have to develop business with employers and recruit, assess and mentor students?
• How important will the University’s brand be in student choice, versus the brands of its partner organisations?

Marketing strategy
Universities need to look at the questions above (by no means an exhaustive list) and review the potential for Degree Apprenticeships in a rigorous marketing framework covering:
Markets and market segments;
Customer attitudes;
Competitive threats;
Routes to market;
Pricing;
Brand differentiation
Impact on the bottom line.
This is a classic marketing case study and – for those Universities thinking of offering a Degree Apprenticeship in management- they could do worse than test out their proposed programme on the rigour of their own planning process.

Brexit and marketing

When I started out in this great marketing profession of ours, I was told to treat every problem as an opportunity.

Well, if recent events are anything to go by, Brexit has to be seen as the mother of all opportunities!

Falling stock markets, a fractious and divided electorate, antipathy from our European neighbours and threats of devolution in Scotland have all combined into a perfect storm which no-one seems to have seen coming and which our leaders seem unwilling or unable to address.

In terms of the Brexit camp “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind, and for the Remainers “Never assume.”

One of the major themes has been the need for business to have “certainty.”

Time and again, business leaders have said business needs certainty in order to thrive any yet, it there is one thing certain in business, it is that there is no such thing as certainty.

Porter told us in his “five forces” model that business life is dynamic, with threats from new technology, new entrants, substitute products and the changing dynamics of buyer and supplier power.

If there was certainty, we wouldn’t need a marketing strategy

In the post-brexit world, the UK will need to get back to what made it successful from the 19th century on – making and selling goods and services the world needs.

To do that, we need strong, intelligent marketing leadership where understanding and retaining good customer relationships, analysing markets and spotting opportunities  and developing competitive products will become paramount.

For too long we have focussed on the EU not only as a market, but as a business environment which sought to make decisions for its members within a set framework.

It’s time for us to reach out to world markets and make our own success by doing what we do best – defining marketing strategy, building strong brands and attracting and keeping customers.

Yes, it really is the mother of all opportunities.

Rudyard Kipling and the art of marketing

Kiplingcropped

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest

The Elephant’s Child – just so stories

Kipling’s poem has been used as a basis for structuring writing projects and by journalists, but it also has much to tell us about the ancient art of common sense marketing.

Marketing is becoming more and more detailed and technically sophisticated, particularly as social media and other internet tools enable us to get closer to customers and amass a welter of detail about them and the impact of our marketing activities.

The ancient art of common sense marketing reminds us that – whatever the complexities of our market or the technical sophistication of our marketing tools – six simple strategic questions should underpin our thinking:

Who are we talking to?

Who is our customer? What do we know about them? What are their motivations and behaviours? How is the market segmented?

What are we trying to say?

What is our USP/proposition? How is it supported? What’s the benefit?

Why should they believe us?

What are competitors offering? How do we compare? What evidence do we have to support our product or service features?

How do we reach them?

Where do they get their information? What are the routes to market? What media do they consume and who do they turn to for advice?

Where do we engage with them?

What are the touch points? How does our customer service support the brand? How well trained are our staff?

When are they in the market?

What is the customer journey and the decision making cycle? What prompts the decision to buy and what are the criteria?

And so the six honest men continue to be the basis of our thinking as we go below the surface into increasing levels of sophistication, always seeking to answer who, what, when, why, how and where.

If we can do that we will get better targeted, more integrated, more effective marketing across all our platforms.

Kipling had it right.

 

How Will The Rise In Private Providers Affect Traditional HE Models – threat or opportunity?

The UK Higher education sector is facing unprecedented challenges across all aspects of the competitive landscape from increasing numbers of universities, government policy aimed at freeing up the sector, students becoming more demanding under the impact of tuition fees, and new entrants in the form of private providers.

Private provision will become an increasingly important element of the Higher Education landscape in coming years and there is no doubt about the thrust of government policy in making the market more accessible to private providers  and reducing barriers to entry by addressing the regulatory framework.

The private HE sector contains a range of different types of institutions, which can be broadly divided into for-profit and non-profit sectors. For-profits include international corporations with a UK presence such as Kaplan (owned by the Washington Post) and the Apollo Group (which in 2009 acquired BPP, a for-profit provider of professional qualifications, some at HE level), as well as small colleges, often offering non-accredited programmes.

Private providers employ business models ranging from partnerships with UK institutions overseas, partnerships with UK institutions to accredit courses, gaining degree awarding powers themselves and acquiring existing institutions.

There has been a sea-change in attitudes to Higher education under the impact of tuition fees. Employability is the number one driver amongst applicants along with the course and its importance in helping deliver career aspirations. Return on investment is a key driver.

These developments in student attitudes to UK Higher Education offer significant opportunities to those Institutions and private providers who can tailor their offer to meet these three drivers – cost, employability, and relevant student experience.

The US experience offers some salutary lessons when it comes to the regulation of providers and the maintenance of quality parameters, but the private sector is quick to respond to market demands and on current trends, they are clearly putting pressure on UK Universities in the areas of professional and vocational programmes. However, this is also a marketing opportunity given the increasing emphasis on employability and the trade-offs being increasingly made by students between courses, costs, employment outcomes and the overall student experience.

Private providers are more flexible, can react quickly to market demand and do not carry the large overheads associated with a traditional University model. In addition, they invest heavily in marketing themselves at levels around 10% of turnover, whereas most UK Institutions invest less than 3%.

The biggest challenge facing Higher Education in the next 5-10 years is a change of mind set, from “funding” to “income generation”, from thinking like a public institution to thinking like a commercial enterprise, from marketing communications to marketing strategy, and from corporate identity to creating a powerful brand.

Universities need to embrace the potential for private sector business partners to develop more flexible business models and tailored service offerings whilst putting in place managerial processes to manage risks, based on experience in other countries.

This is an extract from “How Will The Rise In Private Providers Affect Traditional HE Models – threat or opportunity?” published in the EMS vision series. For more details or to order the full report please email ivor.lawrence@underlyingform.co.uk

Marketing, PR and internal communications – specialist disciplines or not?

There has been much discussion of late about the different roles of marketing, PR and internal communications. Some people regard them as separate disciplines with different audiences and objectives – reputation management, brand-building, employee relations, and so on.

With that debate comes the usual problems of organisational boundaries and politics as to who owns what function (and budgets!)

I think we need to go back to first principles and start with the brand.

The brand is vitally important in every organisation – consumer, B2B, not-for-profit, charity, public sector, academic – but it is often ill-defined and its power misunderstood.

For my part, I see internal communications, PR, reputation, and marketing all as a sub-set of the brand strategy.

If by “brand” we mean a promise kept, then your employees are clearly brand ambassadors who need to deliver the values of the organisation. This needs effective internal communications about who you are, what you stand for, and how you want customers to perceive the organisation. Internal communications is an integrated part of the whole – effective delivery of the brand.

Of course, the cultivation of brand ambassadors is not the sole responsibility of any one function. Organisations should be developing effective leaders who are fully conversant with the purpose, vision and values of the organisation, and whose behaviours exemplify those values.

All employees need to live the brand.

Employees aren’t a homogenous mass, nor are they different in attitude and motivation from any other audience.

An effective communications strategy – internal and external – starts with the brand vision, values and proposition and tailors messages to all audiences accordingly.

Changing attitudes to University

We are in a transition phase where – for most teenagers – University is the default option. That will change as the next generation of school leavers offsets the costs of University against the likely return on investment. This is a thought-provoking article about some likely trends in the next few years. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/9977803/Top-university-a-great-degree-but-as-for-a-job-dream-on.html