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Brand Strategy is not Marketing.

Many CEOs in startup and early growth companies have the misconception creating brand strategy is a job for marketing people.

In my consulting work with a diverse range of early stage and growing companies, I have noticed many of my CEO clients, when thinking about growing the value of their brand, approach the subject as a marketing exercise.

Of course in large organizations, the role of Chief Marketing Officer is typically where the day-to-day responsibility of brand building resides. But the tenure of these executives is often so short it’s difficult even for large organizations with deep pockets to create and build the value of their brand with any degree of consistency. Most brand building activities are driven by the ad campaign de jour.

Remember, brands are whatever people think they are. Put another way, companies can try to position their brands but ultimately brand positioning occurs in customers’ minds.

The idea of value your business represents is the result of ALL the experiences customers have with your brand – those that occur from marketing, as well as those that occur from the product or service experience, the environments in which products are sold, and how the organization stands behind its products and takes care of customers when there are problems.

Everybody is an expert on brand building.

The terms "brand, brand strategy and branding" are so ubiquitous in our business lexicon they’ve nearly become meaningless. Adding to the confusion is the fact that advertising agencies, market research firms, PR firms and graphic design firms of every stripe claim they own the specialized expertise of strategic brand development in all its forms as the core of their service offerings to their clients.

The fact that brand issues are automatically deposited within the realm of marketing activities and not considered an integral part of business strategy is what has commoditized the perception of most brands.

We now have various terminology within the frame of reference of branding adding to the confusion–personal brand, corporate brand, product brand, attribute brand, sub brand–everything becomes a “brand”. Everyone in the marketing profession claims expertise in branding.

In my opinion brand strategy has nothing whatsoever to do with marketing. Brand Strategy is an extension of business strategy and the quest for competitive advantage in a product or industry category.

Brand Strategy is centered on the full development of an organization’s inner game ( purpose, vision, mission, culture, goals and objectives) and Marketing and its fraternal twin Sales (data collection, outbound communications, lead generation and customer acquisition) is the outer game.

Both your inner game and the outer game must operate with harmonious alignment and precision if you are to attract higher value customers and clients who will elevate your business to its next level of success. But the inner game is where your business success starts.

If you recognize and take action on an issue regarding your marketing (outbound), and neglect introspection into your business / brand strategy (internal) you’ll never experience sustained success in the marketplace.

I written about this several times here, but it bears repeating:

Brand Strategy sets the direction for how your business will create customers and advance them beyond the reach of your competitors. A brand strategy will position customers as an integral part of your competitive edge. Brand and customer both win through progressively adding value to each other. To lead the category, your brand becomes the “one and only” to customers who won’t settle for a substitute.

Enlightened business leaders take the responsibility of brand strategy further away (and upstream) from the activities within their marketing organizations.

A clear and highly focused brand strategy becomes essential for 21st century marketplace success. You can’t rely on marketing (tactics) alone to create competitive advantage.

In fact, I don’t think marketing creates a great and enduring brand at all. Most marketing is forgetable and usually ignored.

Brand Strategy is the first reflection of your overriding business strategy. Put another way, it is a first reflection of the organization’s Purpose. All great and enduring brands bake their marketing into their purpose. Their very existence is what the marketplace values.

Purpose (the reason for being beyond money-making) is the foundation and driving force of the inner game of your organization. Purpose holds everything together. Even when things are not going well and the vision for the future looks like a pipe dream, an enduring purpose will keep your team emotionally involved and sustain them through the ups and downs of business cycles.

Before you spend (and waste) money on changing marketing approaches, first look inside your business. Connect your strategy to Purpose. Here’s a list of questions to help get the conversations started on building a focused Brand Strategy for your growing enterprise:

What is your purpose in business beyond money-making?

What are your core principles and values?

What inspired you to build your business?

Why do you want to offer your products or services to your target audience?

What makes you unique and do customers care about you?

What defines your company culture?

What is your professional sense of style?

What are your communication characteristics?

What idea of value will your business represent in the minds of high value customers?

How do you want people to feel when they think of your business?

How do you want customers to describe your company?

What talent and technology will you need to grow your business?

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If you have a brand challenge slowing the progress of your growing company, let’s have a conversation.

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