It’s fun to imagine that branding is just like an episode of “The Pitch.”
For those who haven’t seen that AMC reality show, it centers on two competing ad agencies who have a few days to develop a pitch for a desired new prospect. After a couple of brainstorming sessions, one of the creatives will invariably arrive at the BIG IDEA—usually in the form of a tagline or visual concept—and then it’s off to the races as they whip up shiny graphics and plan clever social media campaigns.
If the task is to develop a TV-friendly pitch for a big consumer brand in three days, this process makes a certain amount of sense. But what about the small and mid-size businesses that are fighting to create visibility and need to build a brand strategy from scratch? As a marketing strategist that works with SMBs, I can attest that often the “big idea” that ends up helping businesses grow comes in the form of a “small” breakthrough such as a better thought process or an opportunity analysis—not a tagline.
With any branding initiative, clarity is a primary goal; the business’ brand needs to be expressed so that its audience can easily grasp it and—ideally—remember it. What the brand is expressing should of course be founded on thorough research and analysis. Research the market and competition, organize the business’ strengths and weaknesses—follow through on all of that good groundwork that will guide the position and, ultimately, the brand.
If you’re lucky, the market is easy to understand and the right opportunities are clear right away. Sometimes, the market is about as clear as mud and it takes a little extra work and some creative thinking to make sense of it.
Case study: Telecom management client
I recently began working with a business that provides a range of telecommunications management services. In the process of conducting competitive research, it became clear that the client was facing a diverse set of competitors marketing complex—and occasionally obscure—approaches that overlapped to varying degrees.
In this case, developing an accurate and consistent way of thinking about the brand was no simple task. First, I structured the competition by listing services and areas of specialization advertised by each competitor and studying messaging themes to detect patterns. This was complicated by the fact that competitors were using phrases interchangeably that had different meanings in each case, which meant finding additional sources to accurately define what each is offering. Still, I couldn’t find any meaningful patterns.
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After banging my head against this wall for a while, I decided to analyze the field again but from a wider viewpoint. Instead of comparing my client’s scope of services to those of its competitors, I compared the benefits
of my client’s service model against the benefits of competitor models, because this would be more along the lines of how clients would be making buying decisions. Below is a visualization we created based on what I found, with the “New Position” representing my client’s model:
This shift turned out to be a “big idea” that helped me make important distinctions and organize the field in a new way. Now, it was clear that my client had a unique differentiator for a certain segment of the market, and that a powerful new position could be forged upon this model.
It’s the Abraham Lincoln approach to branding
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
All right, so there’s an outside chance Lincoln wasn’t talking specifically about brand initiatives when he said this, but his words apply beautifully nevertheless. As we found with the telecom company, the seeds of a brand’s success are often planted way before it will brainstorm taglines, logos, and other visual elements. Especially in complicated and nebulous markets, smart and thorough legwork give brands the direction to clearly communicate their value—and that’s no small breakthrough.
Charlie Nadler is the marketing strategist for Simple Machines Marketing, a Chicago marketing agency that uses time-tested strategies to help businesses grow. Follow Charlie on Twitter @CharlieANadler.