To fight the fight, you need a solid foundation.

Marketers often overcommit due to a desire for change and pressure to show fast results. This leads to inefficiency and a focus on short-term initiatives. The article emphasises transitioning to long-term brand building to break this cycle. It suggests researching and clarifying core motivations before creating a strategic foundation. It outlines a core strategic foundation which includes defining the target market, proof points, benefits, value proposition, and positioning. And defines the components of your brand strategy, purpose, values, personality, and brand story. By working strategically, even when up against big competitors, there will be a way to win.

This is the sixth article in our Challenger Marketing series you can find article five, ‘Driving Success for Challenger Brands’ here.

One of the biggest mistakes we make as marketers is trying to do too much. There are two things driving this. Firstly, marketers like to drive change and, with many opportunities, we often commit to doing too much. Secondly, there’s a lot of pressure on marketing teams to make changes fast and deliver big results. Both of these things combine to create a real problem – committing to too much change means you are unlikely to execute everything, and the pressure on marketing teams often shifts the focus to short-term initiatives in the hope they deliver quick wins.  

Don’t get me wrong; I love quick wins. The issue here is this busy-ness, the focus on short-term promotional activity, and the overloading of marketing ideas creates a high workload, lowers the chance to execute well and lowers productivity. Lots of people focused on short-term promotions.  

Most people grasp the dangers of doing too much, and we all should understand the value of long-term brand building. But one thing most people don’t consider is the additional operating cost of a short-term promotional focus. Not only are you missing out on the benefits of long-term brand building, but you are also incurring a higher cost in terms of marketing salaries as you manage multiple, continuous promotions. This cycle of discounts, higher costs and lower effectiveness isn’t a fun place. To compete effectively, you need to break out of this cycle.

The focus of this article is on how you can start thinking long-term – how to start building the long-term brand platform. This isn’t an overnight job. You will need to build commitment to do this with your CEO and management team. See ideas for this in “Building Trust” with the leadership team.

There are two things you need to do before you start to Build the Platform. The first is to do your research – read “Starting Dumb”, which lays out an approach for looking at your business, category and customers with fresh eyes. And secondly, you need to clarify your core motivation, the heart of what drives you as an organisation, as we talk about “Finding Your Fight”. With those pre-reads as homework, let’s jump into the work required to Build Your Platform.  

We are going to cover this across two articles – this one which will focus on Brand Strategy and the next on Customer Experience. So, what is Brand Strategy? It’s not about design or logos and it’s not about what you look like as a brand, but it will influence that work in time. Branding dates all the way back to around 2000 BC and was purely used to convey ownership. Farmers would brand their cattle to make them stand out and craftsmen would imprint symbols on to their goods to signify their provenance (and provide some assurance of quality).

Modern branding is the practice of creating a positive perception with your consumers about your organisation and its products or services. Everything an organisation does that has an impact on consumers and even the wider community has an impact on its brand – the products themselves, the service, the presentation of the organisation and attitude of the people that work for it. Everything that consumers experience builds the brand perception in their minds. So our job is to think about what we can do to manage this brand perception – and the reality is that there are some things we can control and some things we can't. So let’s focus on what we can control.

Typically we are working with existing brands. So our starting place is to understand what consumers already think about our brand. In the Starting Dumb phase (discovery), we are looking to establish where we are at, what consumers believe about our brand, and what our fight, vision, strengths and challenges are. We also want to understand the marketplace – what are other brands saying and how are they competing for customers? With this done, we can start to make sense of this and build our strategic foundation. So what exactly is our strategic foundation?

Before we start doing any identity design, new creative work or new campaigns, we want to develop a strong strategic foundation. The brand plan can be thought of as the long-term plan for how the brand will be identified, remembered and preferred by customers. This consists of nine different elements.

Marketing Strategy (Communications)

1. Target Market. We need to understand the market and make a decision on which customers we will target. The answer usually isn’t “anyone and everyone”. Target is about selecting a specific audience with specific needs and requirements. When choosing your target market, you need to consider the fit with the needs, type and style of customers you are best able to serve, while considering the market your competitors are targeting. To know who and what those are, invest in research, segment, and then target.

2. Proof Points. Agree the key proof points that underline why people should choose your brand. Today it’s almost impossible to have a unique point of difference; the amount of competition and speed to market makes clear advantages very difficult to maintain. Instead, focus on your relative strengths and work to identify three to four key proof points. The combination of strengths together should create a differentiated and compelling offer.  

3. Benefits. The proof points are the rational ways in which you are better. The benefits are how these deliver valuable outcomes to your target market. Here you should be thinking about what you enable your customers to do, and to achieve. Think about both functional and emotional benefits – what is better about their lives because they chose your brand? The “Benefit Ladder” model is useful here, listing first the features of your product or service, then the functional benefits those features enable, and then the emotional benefits those functional benefits enable.

4. Value Proposition. Your value proposition is a commitment to deliver a benefit to a particular target market. Your value proposition is a promise to your customers to deliver. It should be built around your target market, delivering a benefit they value, and be backed up by your proof points.

5. Positioning. Your positioning is a result or a summary of your marketing strategy. It’s a decision on where to play in the market and expresses how you are going to win. You need to position your brand in a space where you can compete, that requires your strengths (proof points) to succeed, and where competitors struggle to offer as much value. Our objective is to find the space that gives you the best opportunity to win.

There is considerable interplay between these Marketing Strategy elements. As you refine your thinking, you will have moments where you uncover something new, something that affects how you think about other elements, the positioning, the target market. This is the messy phase of strategy between discovery and the finalisation of the strategy. It’s in this zone that you’ll uncover insights and ideas on how to link everything together. Once you have clarity around the Marketing Strategy elements, then you can move on to start developing the brand strategy elements.  

Brand Strategy

6. Purpose. Your purpose is your reason for being. It’s the reason you get out of bed in the morning. It defines how you are going to make the world a better place for your customers.

7. Values. Values are how you do things. What are your intrinsic beliefs that drive how you go about things? These should be fundamental principles that guide your decisions, who you hire, what you reward. They build your culture internally and while they are not often mentioned publicly, they are felt externally.

8. Personality. This is built on your purpose and values, but also considers your target market and your competitors. It is part of your differentiation in the market, but it needs to feel natural and part of you. We often start by looking at the 12 personality types defined in ‘The Hero and the Outlaw’ to help define the personality. Ultimately to stand out you need to craft a distinctive personality that resonates with your audience. Your personality defines how you show up in the world.  

9. Story. The last part of the brand strategy is your brand story. Your brand story is essentially the story of your business that you want to tell your customers and the market. It's a positive emotionally based narrative of how your brand improves the lives of your customers. Frequently this is presented as a manifesto or a hype video designed to lift and inspire the audience and demonstrate how the new brand all comes together.  

Download the Brand Foundation Canvas.

The process of developing all these elements is iterative or circular. It’s messy. Often you will find yourself questioning yourself, doubting your thoughts, uncertain about what you have put down. It is natural and normal to feel a level of self-doubt as you go through this process. The good news is there are many answers, but the more work you put in, the better the answers will be.

Going through this process many times gives you the confidence to push through and find something exciting. You need to be positive and keep revisiting your discovery, talking things through, refining your thinking. The best way to judge whether or not you have got there is to look at each element and the whole. If it feels like it all fits together, if it feels genuine and true, and it feels exciting, then I think you’re good to go.

It takes a lot of discipline to do the research and uncover the underlying marketing truths. Real challengers put in the work to find the opportunity, they plan their attacks, they don’t just launch into battle. They understand their competitors, their strengths and weaknesses and know their allies. Their competitors are more well-resourced, so they have to be considered and develop a plan that works. So, take confidence that if you do the work, just like David versus Goliath, or the Rebel Alliance's attack on the Death Star, no matter how big and strong the competitor looks, there will be a plan that works.