Quick – name your three favorite products or services? What do you like best about them? Do you have a consistent experience with interaction?
Whether you chose Starbucks, your financial advisor or a local drycleaner, each business most likely stays true to its brand promise with every customer interaction. While you might not consciously be aware of their branding message, there’s a certain expectation that’s being met that keeps you from going to the competition.
So, how can you make your corporate brand message work to your business’ advantage? The brand positioning and differentiation process all starts with understanding three key audiences: internal, external and the competition.
It’s natural to want to jump immediately to your customers and prospects when considering your brand. After all, that’s who you want to attract. However, the insights and opinions of your internal audience — from the receptionist to senior executives — will provide you with a clearer understanding of how your company currently perceives itself.
Gaining an internal perspective of your company’s brand will also:
- Ease the buy-in process: When you engage the entire team in your branding initiative, they will more readily adopt it and deliver it consistently.
- Build employee trust, morale and loyalty – When their opinion is considered, your team feels appreciated and part of the branding process. With ownership comes a higher level of dedication and commitment.
By gaining insight about your entire organization, you’ll gain a clearer picture of how the company views itself, what it aspires to be and what is realistic to deliver.
Your external audience consists of far more than your customers. Think about all the people who are in a position to send business your way. Whether it’s your customers, prospects, business partners or people you know through civic groups, your referral network can have a significant impact on your business. Each has something meaningful to contribute to your brand development, so it only makes sense to include their insights when forging your brand.
The information collected during external interviews will provide you with objective insights into your company’s brand, while at the same time validate or disprove the findings from your internal research. This is a critical step—you will be finding out if they think you can deliver on your self-perceived brand promise.
By surveying the objective perceptions of your employees and external audience, you will put your company in a position to create a core brand platform that your employees can own, sell and defend—one that your market will readily accept.
But wait, what if you’ve created a customized, on-message brand to the market and it fails to differentiate your company from the competition?
It’s dangerous to position and differentiate your brand when you don’t check to see how your competitors are branding themselves, what their competencies are and how your products and services stack up. If your top competitor already owns a specific patch of brand real estate, it’s going to be tough to compete against them as anything more than a “me too” option.
What sets you apart from the pack? When you’re looking at brand advantages, you need to first define the 3-5 core competitive advantages that can be used to position your company from its competitors. They should address a relevant concern your audience has and be backed by solid experience and successes. Questions for consideration include:
- Who is your main competitor? What do they do really well?
- Who are the top three players in your space?
- What is a customer pain point that no one seems to be addressing?
- Where is there indirect competition? For instance, is another industry player moving into your space?
One of the hardest things for a company to do is position and differentiate itself from the competitors in the market space. The reason brand positioning and differentiation is so important is because people are hardwired to notice only what’s different. When faced with a purchasing decision, if all things are equal, most people will buy on price alone.
To make your story more compelling, dig deeper. Conduct some research. Do some competitive analysis. Talk to your customers, your business contacts and your sales team. Include centers of influence and discover what really sets your company apart. In doing so you may discover specific characteristics that make your business special.