A Branding Strategy Is More Than Just Looking Good

When hired as General Manager by the Chicago Cubs in 1981, George Dallas Green asserted at his opening press conference as well as every press conference thereafter that he was a baseball authority and expert. He spoke the truth. He played professional major league baseball for many years and managed major league teams for many years.

It wasn’t long before Chicago sportswriters, broadcasters, and local dignitaries came to label Green as an authority and expert on baseball. Newspaper articles routinely described him as a baseball expert or something similar.

What Dallas Green did back then was develop and implement a Branding Strategy. He positioned himself as not just one of the several major league baseball managers and general managers, but differentiated himself more so as an expert and an authority on baseball. He didn’t change his appearance. He didn’t need to be something other than what he was because his experience spoke for itself. It was a great branding marketing strategy at a time when the Cubs needed it.

Like the Cubs back then, today most small businesses need a great marketing strategy or business development plan to survive the economic ups and downs.

In my experience, a common consulting activity or action when addressing the business development needs of a small business involved connecting my client with an outside marketing or advertising agency. Usually, small businesses don’t have the resources or talent internally to provide the marketing needs or to develop the strategies required.

Typically, here’s how the process would go. Potential marketing or advertising agencies were invited to a fact finding and exploration meeting with the business owner, myself, and selected others. The outside agency would return in a week or so to present their plan. Virtually without exception, the strategy the outside agency would present was one of Branding or Re-Branding the client’s business.

Branding remains at top of the marketing and advertising buzz today. And rightfully so! Branding is a powerful and effective marketing process when designed and implemented properly.

However, after observing scores of Branding presentations by marketing and advertising firms, it is apparent to me that only a very few marketing and advertising firms really understand and know what a Branding Strategy is all about. In fact, most of the time the presentations I observed were not Branding Strategies at all, but more precisely Makeover Plans.

Sure the Branding Strategy may employ a new look, new logo, new colors, new tag lines, and so on. But the Branding Strategy needs to do more than change appearance.

The Branding Strategy translates the Company’s Vision and Goals into Strategic and Tactical actions and behaviors. New internal processes or procedures may be necessary. The Branding Strategy will establish and/or reinforce the Company’s Perception and Position in the marketplace.

Part of the Branding Strategy involves taking the Core Concepts and Core Competencies of a business and then identifying a singular concept, service, feature, or benefit that the business can claim that sets it apart from its competitors. That’s Competitors, not Alternatives.

There may be a number of alternatives for a person looking to replace the air conditioning unit, or to build an addition to the home, or to move to new home, or to replace the transmission, or to build a new deck. The alternatives range from the top quality and established brand name product and service providers to what is affectionately labeled as a Chuck in a Truck. The latter cannot be viewed as a competitor to a business that is among the former.

In most every market in the United States, there are usually about five or six established brand name product and service providers in each business category. Any one of the five or six would consider the others as true competitors. One of the primary objectives of the Branding Strategy must be more than to differentiate the company from its true competitors. The Branding Strategy must establish what separates the company from the others.

How? The Branding Strategy identifies or establishes a Singular Market Position that will separate the company from the others. The Singular Market Position or separation factor must be something tangible or concrete rather than abstract. Quality, Value, and Service are abstract, not really tangible or concrete. They are perceptions. More importantly, they are expectations particularly if the business is among the top providers.

Once the separation factor is determined or identified, then all the strategies and tactics associated with the marketing and promotion of the Branding Strategy will reinforce the Singular Market Position to everyone in the company’s Target Market. It is not just differentiation, but distinction and separation from the company’s competitors.

To illustrate, if the business is one of six short haul trucking companies in the market that is considered among the top alternatives, then most likely each company provides Quality, Value and Service. The six differentiate themselves by the color of their trucks. If one of the competitors has red trucks, the Branding Strategy surely would not be to have red trucks as well. So what could separate the company from the others? The answer usually comes from asking what the company does better or more often than the others. A look at the customer base may discover that the company has a number of electronics manufacturers or suppliers on the list. That discovery becomes the separation factor. The Branding Strategy centers on the claim that the company is the electronics products transportation experts of choice. The advertising and promotion programs reinforce the claim routinely.

Or, if the business is one of six residential roofing companies in the market that is considered among the top alternatives, then, like the truckers, each of the six provides Quality, Value, and Service as well as has different colored trucks and nifty logos. So what could separate the one from the others? Just like the truckers, the work history and customer base is likely to reveal what the company does the most and maybe more often than the others. So this company could be the clay tile roof experts, or singles and shakes roof experts, or metal roofs expert. That choice becomes the separation factor of the Branding Strategy. The advertising and promotion programs reinforce the claim routinely.

In short, the purpose or objective of the Branding Strategy is to alter the competitive arena in the company’s favor by setting the company apart from the others in its class, and then advertising and promoting the separating product or service until the message of the Brand is known and repeated by all who matter and more.