How to Brace Yourself for Every Stage of Brand Development
I used to draw my own comic books when I was a kid.
The Hulk. Captain America. Iron Man.
First I’d map out the perfect little boxes and then step by step, fill each one with my colourful illustrations and tiny speech bubbles.
I’d spend hours practicing each sketch first before I’d attempt them in the squares. I hated the smudge-marks my eraser would leave on the paper.
I morphed a bunch of my favourite characters into one fantasy universe, going further than the comics could take me.
You could say I wrote the original AVENGERS.
I remember presenting one of these books to my class for show and tell.
Most of the kids didn’t rate my drawings, saying they didn’t look as good as the originals.
I’ll never forget how my brave teacher, spoke up like the hero she was;
“He isn’t tracing these characters or copying from a book, little Lou’s built his own story.”
Mrs. Bell — with lipstick on her teeth and a diet coke on her desk — hit the nail on the head.
And to this day her lesson still rings true, like the funny sound of her name.
WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
Now I didn’t write the book on Branding 101, but I forbid you to jump straight to AVENGERS: ENDGAME without watching the others first. You get me?
When we talk about the development of any successful brand, a flash in the pan approach won’t cut it. You need to carve out each stage of your distinct storyboard, as each brick you uncover builds towards that winning strategy.
Be prepared though. The evolution of your brand won’t be sequential. It takes constant revision and testing to get that formula right.
Each stage informs the next— not to mention you want to stay malleable enough to allow for all that future growth.
So are you ready to battle it out to claim Brand Strategy Master?
Well buckle up, keep your underwear on the inside and have your wits ready for every one of these four stages.
The road to victory is a bumpy ride.
Many have tried and fought valiantly in defeat.
1. STUDY YOUR COMPETITION
Say you’ve got this incredible idea:
A new piece of software that catalogues an input of every comic book ever — allowing users to keyword search any storyline in a universal index.
Jump forward to 7 months of intense brand development only to then realise there’s 17 other platforms just like yours.
It would have been good to know that first.
Start with researching your direct competitors. These are the brands and businesses who might offer the exact same products or services — or at the very least similar.
Generate a company profile for at least 5 of these competitors:
- Where did they start? What’s their brand structure?
- What’s their market share? Who’s their target audience?
- How do each of them stand out? Or don’t they?
Of course you should continually garner as much useful information as possible. A service like Owler can definitely help to crunch some of the comparative data.
You don’t just want to know what your competitors are doing, you want to know how they are doing it and where the gaps are. Those small cracks provide the wiggle room for you to work your creative wedge.
It’s also worth taking note of your indirect competitors in this stage. These are the brands that don’t offer the exact same products or service — but might crossover into offerings that satisfy the same consumer needs.
An online rolodex of searchable info like Wikipedia could be an indirect competitor of my comic platform idea.
And unless you’re Jean Grey — you also can never predict the future with regards to any potential competitors. They're going to crop up, especially if you’re in an industry or market that’s buzzing.
Tracking and monitoring all competitors should form part of your constant marketing strategy, and serve as a reminder of how research and revision are constant pillars of brand development.
2. KNOW YOUR TARGET
Do you have the exact words that cause ears to prick up and notice?
Well that’s all going to depend on who you are targeting — so knowing your audience is crucial.
At its most basic level, your target audience consists of:
- People who directly need or want your product
- People who influence the people who need or want your product
- People who are your current customers
It’s a fact — the more generic your target audience, the more generic your brand becomes.
Now's the time to get specific about the exact type of person who will benefit from your products or services. No matter how broad your intentions may be, it’s impossible that you can appeal to everyone. (And you don't want to...)
NIKE doesn’t try to sell products to people who don’t like sportswear.
Go ahead and create a buyer persona profile for each group of your target audience:
- Who are they? ie. Demographic/Geographical Location
- How do they shop? How will they find you?
- What do they need? What are their pain points?
- What are they looking for? What motivates them?
There’s several ways to find this information. Interviewing people who fit your ideal customer profile works best. But if pushed for time, you can also consider market research, focus groups or software aids like Google Analytics.
It’s important to ensure these buyer personas are based on exactly who your audience are — don’t get stuck thinking on who you simply want your audience to be.
With this information in hand, you can go full Professor Xavier and drill into the specific desires and needs of these customers.
The biggest part of your brand development is understanding your audience well enough to send quality and targeted content — like blogs and ads — stuff that actually engages and connects with them.
Remember, no matter what you’re thinking, people should be always at the heart of your brand. Without them, you don’t have a brand — you simply have a shell of an idea.
3.SUMMON YOUR STRENGTH
Think about the motivation behind your brand for a moment:
- Why did you start?
- What do you value most?
- What problem did you set out to solve?
You need a strong summary of that purpose to craft a Mission Statement. Because at any given moment, you want to be able to refer to this as a compass for guidance.
It should be an accurate, no-bullshit description of your brand.
Be specific, but get to the point. The more succinct — the better.
You could try doing it in 100 words, then 50, and then even 25 — like an elevator pitch.
Take NIKE again for example:
It’s simple yet super effective in staking their claim.
Without saying too much, we know exactly what they value most and who they aim to serve.
Now your brand’s mission statement doesn’t always have to be on show to the public, but it‘s there to provide the motivation behind every big decision.
Within this stage it’s best to go on and form your Unique Value Proposition (UVP).
This can be an idea based around the external perceptions of your brand, like a calling card or mantra.
Think of this short phrase as the exclamation mark on your brand name that conveys:
- Why you belong in the competitive marketplace
- Why you truly stand apart from your competitors
Don’t let its simple message fool you. Identifying your UVP is no easy task.
You have to be able to finish the sentence:
“The thing that makes us different from our competitors is…”
– we “Send Better Email”
With three little words, MAILCHIMP tells you what their brand is all about.
It’s direct, bold and clear – Use this service and you will send better emails.
No returns. No fluff. No bounced emails, hopefully.
You’ll want to then ensure this message is consistent across all your branding and content.
Remember, if you don’t know what you stand for — how can you expect anyone else to follow.
“Give one man a group of soldiers with the same conviction, and you can change the world.” — Captain America
4. RAISE YOUR VOICE
You’re now at the stage of brand development where you can finally make some noise.
It’s time to deafen the sound of your competitors with something a little different.
Your tone of voice is your brand personality, shining through every word.
And it’s summoned from all the stages of development that you’ve explored so far.
The tone dictates the type of conversations that will resonate with your target audience. You’ll introduce the language, manner and style in which they’ll come to recognise as you.
While always keeping consistent with your values and ethos — you need to stand out.
“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” — The Hulk
OK. Don’t yell — but get real.
One way to look at this is to imagine your brand as a person or a character.
Go ahead and choose 3–5 words or traits that might describe him or her.
Here’s a really good list you could use to help.
After you’ve chosen a few, try answering these questions:
- What would he or she sound like? Do they exist?
- What’s their vocabulary? Do they have a certain speech-style?
- What kind of personality would your customers be attracted to?
A distinct tone of voice should emerge from this task and formulate your brand’s sound. This'll need to shine through all your visual and written content, and across your social media channels.
You’ll want to ensure every brand touchstone, from business cards to billboards, echoes this tone wholeheartedly.
If a brand has marketed themselves well, it should be easy to recognise them from their tone of voice.
Of course – JACK DANIELS.
They're instantly recognisable by their tone of voice — their marketing is always ‘on brand’. Everything echoes back to quality and indulgence
They employ deliberate and drawn out storytelling across all their marketing materials, told by fictitious characters involved with the creation of ‘Jack’. This also cleverly mirrors the process involved in making the whiskey – using their own story to market themselves - genius, right?
With all that personality and spark, keep in mind your brand’s communication should always feel conversational and authentic. You’re trying to build connection and trust with real people, not robots.
You can be cheeky but remain respectful. A friendly attitude towards your audience can prompt them to interact with you more, giving you more chances to offer them solutions to their problems.
ENDGAME: TRUST YOUR STRATEGY
No matter how great the sum of individual strengths, the AVENGERS were only successful when they fought together as a team. That was key.
Likewise, if you're going to take anything from these stages of brand development, it’s that structure doesn’t come quickly. Each lesson informs the next in a constant evolution.
For the life of your brand, you should continue to shape, adjust and refine things as you learn more about who your customers are and how to speak to them.
Remember, your brand is the reason why someone will choose you over a competitor. It’s why they'll return, and why they'll pay for your particular product or service.
To build a strong brand, like my comic book heroes — you need to put people first.
There’s no secret superpower or mind-altering serum to succeed, you simply need the right tools to combat yourself for each stage of the journey.
With a firm grip on strategy and a fist full of knowledge, you’ll be one step closer to victory.
Have some questions or thoughts? Special requests?
Feel free to hit me up!
I can't promise you'll ever get to read my comic, but I can provide some kick-ass words or strategy-talk for your next brand development battle.