How do you know if your branding works? The answer is simple: It attracts genuine engagement, generates demand, and enables a profound connection between your company and its past, present, and future customers.
But how do you know if your brand marketing communication efforts are not on the right track? The most tell-tale sign is decreasing return on ad and media spend, as a result of the increasing marketing and advertising costs to maintain stagnant or even decreasing results. This is often paired with inadequate engagement, a general lack of interest for your company, and little to no organic growth.
Severe mismanagement of brand and marketing communications can trigger negative public opinion which will put your company at risk of getting “canceled”.
Typical brand management issues of SMEs
In a broad definition, your brand lives in the mind of your customers. Putting it simply, brand management is about cultivating a positive public opinion that supports the bottom line of your business.
During my 10-year experience as a marketing consultant, working mostly with SMEs, I have noticed that companies with poor branding are very likely to fall into one or more of the below problem categories.
- The company does not do anything about brand management;
- Doing marketing activities without a brand strategy;
- Having a good brand strategy, but not following it;
- Following a brand strategy that does not fit the reality of customers;
- Following a brand strategy that builds on obsolete techniques;
- Not listening to feedback from the target audience.
For small to medium companies, optimizing for sales and revenue is mission-critical. In such environments, brand management will not be prioritized. As a commonly accepted opinion among SME marketing professionals, brand building is a long-term process and will not return short-term results as efficiently as advertising. These are among the main reasons why purposeful brand management is neglected in the world of SMEs.
To build a popular SME brand, it is not necessary to have a separate brand-building budget. The brand purpose can be reflected in everything the company does, be it hard-sale ads, website content, social media, customer relationship management, and bare operational essentials, such as order fulfillment.
Getting the basics right: align marketing communications strategy to fit customer expectations
Every piece of content, ad, social media post, and email is a part of marketing communication. Every time your viewers see your marketing communications, it will shape their opinion about your brand and company.
It is important to understand that marketing communications come with great responsibility: Even the best marketing strategy becomes useless if the company fails to convey its messages accordingly.
Ideally, marketing communication is centered around the brand concept, putting the brand and marketing strategy into action. Before conceptualizing your brand image and marketing strategy, you need to be able to answer the following questions:
- What value your products, services, or solutions will bring to our customers?
- What difficulties your customers might face that our company can solve?
- What traits and characteristics would your customers expect from a solution provider?
- What competencies and proof they would expect from a solution provider like you?
- What are the top qualities you need to demonstrate to build trust?
- What tone of voice would your customers find most appropriate?
And many more, depending on your industry or line of business.
To develop a relevant strategy, it is important to understand what customers will find valuable. Understanding customer needs helps to design an efficient positioning and also helps to identify what values and differentiators to communicate in order to get their attention.
To keep marketing communications in line with the core brand strategy, the marketing team needs to evaluate every piece of content and information before publishing:
- Does the new content reflect what the company wants to communicate?
- Does the content reflect the editorial or visual standards defined in the brand strategy?
- Is that content helpful, useful, or at least relevant to the customer?
- Is this the kind of information that a customer would expect from you?
- Does the content or information carry any risk?
Optimize for commercial KPIs, based on feedback insights.
The purpose of any business optimization is to increase revenue, profitability, or cost efficiency of the company. When it comes to sales and marketing, the main goal is to acquire and retain customers more effectively.
Typically, this is achieved by optimizing for the following:
- Improved positioning;
- Improved marketing communications;
- Improved presentation of unique values of products and services;
- Improved demonstration of benefits associated with the company.
Changing colors and typography will not solve the underlying marketing problems, neither any business problems resulting from inadequate brand management.
Optimizing for the above points, the company will benefit from the following improvements:
- Decreased customer acquisition costs;
- Increased organic business growth;
- Reduced efforts required to close sales;
- Improved ROI across all marketing efforts;
- Higher customer satisfaction.
A successful brand marketing optimization strategy starts with identifying any shortcomings based on the external brand audit results. Prioritize issues that have a significant impact on commercial results. Do not optimize elements of your brand marketing mix that perform well.
Collect feedback from your target audience
It is a no-brainer to go through the research and conceptualization process in cases of creating a new brand, or rebranding an existing company – but collecting feedback periodically to answer the same questions is also important to keep a brand aligned with changing times.
To find meaningful answers to questions related to brand management, the best solution is to do an external brand audit. External audits should not be done internally as personal biases and opinions can dilute the outcome of the research. Ideally, external audits should be based on quantitative data collected from your target market and qualitative information from various external expert sources.
Conducting an external brand audit will reveal valuable information about the strengths and weaknesses of your brand management, based on how your target audience perceives it. It will provide information about what specifically people like and dislike about your brand. An external audit is the most helpful tool to enable brand and marketing managers to make informed decisions about adjustments and optimization.
Wrapping it up, in this article, we have established that embracing basic – but purposeful – brand management practices does not necessarily need to involve additional costs.
Being purposeful with brand and marketing communication efforts means that the ads, information, and content your company produces are relevant and valuable for the customers – and serve a well-defined purpose according to the brand strategy.
A small business can start by defining a positioning statement based on what potential customers would find valuable and develop a marketing communication plan around it. From there, it takes mostly discipline to keep marketing content, advertising, and PR close to the core concept – and doing external audits to get feedback from the target audience.
The above-outlined process requires little to no additional financial resources, but it definitely requires discipline, patience, and a mindset to accept the necessity of changes.
Cover image source: Artem Podrez