Brand is a Management Tool, Not Just a Marketing Tool

In the past I’ve described the Three Simple Circles approach to content strategy that includes asking and answering the following questions:

  1. What is/are the competitive advantage(s) of my organization?
  2. What are the higher-order needs of my clients and market?
  3. What are the themes/topics that address those higher-order needs that also reinforce the competitive advantage?

The first question about competitive advantage could easily be re-phrased to ask, “what’s my brand?”, and knowing the answer to this question will not just help you develop an effective content strategy but it could also lead to a more effectively run company.

The reason is that once you’ve identified those key characteristics that define your brand/competitive advantage, you have also implicitly defined the guard rails within which your organization should be managed. In other words, you’ve created a plan that you can use to align your entire company, based on those key characteristics. Your brand has become a management tool, not just a marketing tool, which is how most view it.

For example, if your brand stands for premiere customer service, then you know that every aspect of your organization should be focused on creating that experience – you need that alignment throughout the company to be successful. That knowledge has tremendous impact on how every aspect of your organization is led and managed:

  • For HR, it means you need to hire people with core competencies and skills that will result in excellent client service; it also means your rewards and incentives need to be aligned to motivate behaviour leading to that experience
  • For Marketing, Sales, and Client Service it means that every message sent and platform used needs to focus on and reinforce a value proposition and positioning of excellent client service. One specific application could relate to Twitter – if you’re on it, you better have someone closely monitoring it because clients are using it to voice issues that need to be resolved quickly and efficiently in order to be considered a premiere client service brand
  • For IT, it may mean using a top notch CRM system so you can track and anticipate the needs of your best clients
  • For Product Development, it means that any new products developed need to further the experience of premiere client service

The list could go on but I think you get the idea.

By using your brand as a management tool, you’ll be better able to ensure alignment throughout your organization around a shared idea or goal, resulting in a more effective and profitable company.

And you thought brand was just for marketingl…

The Difference Difference Can Make

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As you can tell, I believe that understanding and communicating your BIG Diff is one of the most important things an organization can do.

In my last post, I talked about how Toyota is able to align with a greater purpose – something that’s only distantly related to cars – to differentiate itself.  This is a real feat considering that many people would consider cars in Toyota’s competitive set (e.g. Honda, Kia, Hyundai, etc.) as overall being “generic” or “commoditized”, i.e. there’s little to tell them apart (that wouldn’t apply to Toyota’s Lexus brand though).

So here’s an example from another “commoditized” category – beer – that should act as a warning of what NOT to do.  This TV ad is filled with generic scenes (golf, the beach, a patio) and talks about generic things that really mean nothing (“you’re a complicated diverse creature”).  You could substitute Michelob beer with a host of other low-calorie beers and you wouldn’t need to change a thing about the ad, in either look or content.  The only reason I noticed it at all was  because my business background gives me a different POV on ads.  At least Coors Light creates a somewhat differentiated personality for itself.

So how do you avoid becoming generic? Once again, it comes down to defining your BIG Diff first.  It could be found in the product itself (as Lululemon or Canada Goose do), the personality (as Coors does), in a higher purpose (as Toyota does), or the experience (as Porter Airlines does), but you need that defining idea first before anything else. Once that’s done, you then have a clear understanding of what makes your product/service different from the competition, and you can execute your marketing to focus on those things to build your business.

That’s the difference your difference can make.

Tying your BIG Diff to a greater purpose

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Toyota makes cars.  Good cars.

That’s not news and it’s not a lot different from what Honda and other quality car makers do.

But once you’ve watched this video, I bet you’ll feel differently about Toyota than you do about Honda (and the rest).  It has little to do with the cars themselves and it may even influence your next car purchase.

So why is that?  What does this video do that helps Toyota differentiate themselves from the competition in a way that their existing and prospective customers will value?

As the title of this post suggests, it comes down to associating Toyota’s “BIG Diff” to a greater purpose.  One of Toyota’s “BIG Diff’s” is its approach to making cars (aka lean manufacturing).  That, in itself, offers consumers a great reason to buy Toyota because it ensures high quality cars at low cost.  But when they apply that same manufacturing expertise to helping those in need – a greater purpose beyond cars – it elevates the company in the mind of the market to a different place, a more emotional place.  And considering how important emotions are in the buying process (research shows it’s responsible for at least 50% of any decision), this ability to create an emotional connection is critical.  Now, Toyota can be associated with not just great cars (rational) but also with enabling a better community, society and even world, and its this emotional link that is differentiating and valuable to the market.

The question of how to do this is complicated and warrants its own post.  But, at the simplest level, you can ask yourself how the net benefits of your product/service can be expanded to positively influence your community or society.  For example, if you run a hair salon, you could tie your company to the greater purpose of helping people improve their confidence, instead of just focusing on cutting and styling hair.

It may at first seem a small thing but I’d argue that it’s a critical difference in an economy where there are so many options for your clients and prospects to choose from, and one that can help you develop your BIG Diff to grow more profitable.