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Value Proposition

5 Critical Things Your Brand Must Accomplish

I'm beginning to get familiar with a start-up that a colleague of mine is leading and as I do, I've noticed that his firm has a branding problem.

Actually, they have a number of branding problems.

So far I've attended a couple of public-facing events the organization has hosted, checked out how they appear in search results, visited their website, looked at their printed pieces, and spoken to a few of their employees and customers.

At this point I feel that I have a pretty good sense what the organization does, what they stand for, and how they're different. Based on how they communicate those messages, I should be getting a clear and consistent sense of their culture and how customers benefit from their relationship with this organization.

At the highest level an organization's branding must accomplish 5 very critical things:

  1. Establish who are you. (Introduce your brand, both textually and visually).
  2. Define what goods/services you provide.  (What specifically is offered within your industry/segment).
  3. Preemptively answer how your offering is it better or different than alternates. (The reason why someone should buy from you).
  4. Be relevant to your primary customer. (The benefit statements, language and proof points must resonate with your core, target customer).
  5. Help establish credibility.  (Building trust and authority as a foundation for the customer relationship).

So how is my colleague's firm doing so far?

The Good
A number of brand elements are well in place.

  • They are consistently using their name, both visually (font, color and logo) and textually.  This should help with retention and recall.
  • The voice and tone of the language is also consistent.  That consistency establishes familiarity and trust.
  • There are some common message elements which show up in multiple places, helping to build identity.

The Gaps
There are some missing pieces.

  • The organization's name, in itself, calls up off-message connotations.  This happens frequently if an organization's name has broad, established usage in other contexts.  This is not usually an insurmountable issue (unless there are strong negative connections) but must be consciously dealt with. As mentioned above, an effective brand builds identity through visuals and language.  The more consistently your brand resonates at every level - visually, conceptually, consciously and unconsciously - the more powerful an impression is created.   
  • In my colleague's situation, they are using a tagline to help define the brand, which is excellent.  However, they are using a tagline that  could credibly be used by other suppliers in their market.  Instead of adding definition and speaking to what's uniquely better and different, the more general tagline contributes to keeping the brand somewhat nebulous and therefore not as compelling.
  • Sometimes organizations speak using their in-house knowledge and expertise and forget to translate benefit statements into customer terms which are understand and valued.  A miss here means that your relevancy will not be as high as it could be with your customers.  One easy way to test if you have gotten to the root of a benefit that a customer will value is to use a Lean/Six Sigma analytical technique call Five Whys.  Simply put, keep asking why until you reveal the explicit benefit a customer will quickly understand and value.

Whether it's contained in your Mission Statement, boilerplate language of a Press Release, or detailed in the About section of your website, refining the brief explanation of your organization's unique offering will help clarify foundational elements of your brand.  I recommend starting with an internal document which lays this out and is agreed upon with your critical stakeholders.  This is often called a Value Proposition and should be compelling, differentiated and true...and can serve as a guide for all customer-facing materials.