Posted by: kwbrand | February 10, 2009

Choose me. Love me. Stay Forever.

I spend a lot of time trying to explain what brand strategy is. Most people know what brands are. Most can identify a few brands to which they are loyal. However, very few people can point out how or why this loyalty developed. They don’t think about it and may just go with what “feels” right to them.

But brand strategists think about it…all the time. It’s our job to practice the art and discipline of controlling and steering the “how’s and why’s” of loyalty to a product, organization or person (thank you, team-Obama).

Recently, I was given a good metaphor for brand strategy and, since we’re only four shopping days away from Valentine’s Day, now seemed the appropriate time to share it. My husband’s good friend Dave gave it to me. Dave and I were catching up on each other’s careers when he asked the inevitable question of what I really do for clients. I explained that I help leaders clarify and focus on the strengths that resonate with their target markets and differentiate them from their competitors.

Dave started laughing.

He asked me if I’d ever come in contact with a woman here in Colorado Springs who founded and successfully runs her own dating service. Apparently, what I was saying sounds exactly like the advice she gives her clients about how to find success in the dating sphere. Apparently, she and I talk a lot about identifying one’s strengths and values as a means of both standing out in a competitive crowd and enhancing the likelihood of building a long-term relationship.

Dave was right. And he got me thinking. Brand strategy is like dating, but on a bigger, much more complicated scale. It’s like this…

If you are one of two people on a deserted island, you probably don’t need much of a dating strategy. If your product or service is the only one in the market (i.e. no competitors offering or doing something similar) and people are aware of its values, you may not need much of a brand strategy. If, however, you are one of many, you’ll probably need to do more than stand around and smile to get the attention of your intended…especially in a tough economy when customers are even more judicious about their selections.

If, like most organizations, you are one of a crowd trying to get someone’s attention, sitting on the curb and cat-calling every cute passerby on a busy street is unlikely to be successful (can we say “junk mail?”) You’ll need to know who you are and who you’re looking for to enhance the possibility of a) finding that market niche and b) once found, connecting with the people in it.

Relational success is enhanced when you know how to start the conversation once you’ve made the introduction. Do your homework and go much deeper than simple demographics like gender, age, or voting preference (e.g. “she’s a woman and therefore MUST love the color pink and kittens.”). Good listening works for daters. In brand strategy, qualitative research is good for identifying the emotional triggers that tend to motivate customer behavior.

Loyalty and love are built on authenticity. The romantic comedy film genre has proven over and again that faking one’s way into a relationship is always a disaster; except that in real life it’s not hilarious and the love interest doesn’t always come back. The same is true of branding strategy. The strategy absolutely must be based on who you really are—your organization’s legacy, values, strengths, goals, etc. Marketing a false image of your organization only increases the number of people who will be disappointed when they realize the truth. So, identify your strengths and relax into them.  Or in other words, it’s time to validate and use that mojo of yours.

When I was a child, my mom ended her reading of fairy tales with a different twist. Instead of ending the story with a “happily ever after,” we were told that the prince and princess “worked hard and made their marriage work.” (My mom’s a smarty.) Marriages whose visions don’t extend past the wedding day don’t tend to last. Similarly, brand strategies that don’t extend past the first sale fail to cultivate loyalty. Good brand strategy must guide customers to and through the relationship. Keep it fresh, deepen and enrich the relationship, and keep it going.

The truth is that I’ve never liked Valentine’s Day; the pressure, the hype, the color pink, who needs it? However, the study of relational complexity and the pursuit of connecting and deepening the bonds between people, now that I can get into. Happy strategizing.

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation


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