Do you want your branding to go beyond an aesthetically appealing logo?
Then your branding must become customer-oriented and re-focused with an objective in mind: building a coherent and aspirational identity that consumers want to talk about with others. Let me explain.
Building a strong brand identity has become a must for businesses of all sizes. Branding however has been traditionally approached, in smaller companies, by a visually inclined creative, who is often a designer. The visual character of branding has, no doubt, an enormous role to play; yet brand building in our Digital Era has become a complex task, requiring the combination of strategy, consumer intelligence and network thinking, if it is to result in successful market positioning, customer loyalty and increased brand equity. This article discusses the advantages you can derive from using network analysis, as the main strategic approach behind your branding efforts—if you want to first know more about Network Analysis take a look at What is Network Analysis?
Let’s get started.
1. Consumer-oriented Branding or Branding as relationship building
Successful branding, by which I mean, successful positioning of a brand that results in effective differentiation is all about relationship building. Branding relationships, however, are not only about relationships with your customers, but also about the relationships you build with prospects, partners, and to a degree, with all those who at some point can influence your customer’s journey.
Having a customer oriented branding means that the purpose of your brand is to add value to people's lives; this is how you want your brand to be perceived and this is why your offering’s value is a continuation of your brand’s promise. Defining the metrics or measurements by which you evaluate the quality of the relationships you build, should be the starting point of your branding activities.
The key, however, is not to derive such measurements from generic recipes about what good customer relationships should be, but rather to determine them based on the values and the positioning statements that you have set for your brand. This means, for instance, choosing a multidimensional perspective to measure the value of your brand: combining brand equity measurements, which usually rely on your financial performance, with perspectives that take into account customer acquisition and lifetime value, as well as more localized aspects, such as the authority of your branding-related content in SERP results and your brand’s value promises, will provide a more accurate picture of your brand’s value.
Building fruitful relationships and evaluating their role is equally important: your company story, your values and your customer experience, are all aspects that are relational at their core and, as such, should be evaluated accordingly. Shareability is, from this perspective, a way to measure your brand’s relationships with customers and the wider public, yet it is not simply a matter engagement, measured as a percentage of likes, shares or comments. Shareability delivers greater value when it enables you to understand the reasons, the motivations that people have, to engage with your brand—it may be the emotional, reflective or entertaining qualities of a particular piece of content, albeit always mediated by the relationship they have with your product and your projected values. In all cases network analysis allows you to compare types of content because it enables you to focus on the quality of the relationships you are building, rather than simply describing the reaction of individuals to certain types of content, which almost always ends up with the same recommendation for companies: make your content trigger an emotional response, even without having a clear understanding about the relation between emotion and purchase decision, for instance.
2. From adoption to creation of brand identity
When establishing goals for their brands it is common for companies to use 3 well-known and established brand dimensions: image, message and mission (or values). While these dimensions are relevant and can help you structure your branding efforts, they are reductive and difficult to integrate with your broader marketing activities. Branding imagery tends, by and large, to be associated with logo design and in short, with things that are visually appealing. In the online world where audio-visual content is key and where infographics need to deliver value beyond aesthetics, such focus on image is often too reductive—it also adds to the disconnection, between creative talent and the more strategic managerial talent (production, marketing and sales managers, etc.).
Your company should avoid reducing its brand building efforts to a checklist of sorts. Instead, it should, first and foremost, reconfigure such efforts around the relationship that it wants to have with customers, prospects and the general public. If branding, as relationship building is more about the evaluation of the relationships that your company already has, then brand building should be about the relationships that it wants to have.
Brand building begins, therefore, when you think about the ways in which your brand and, by implication, your offering relates to consumers, whose purchase decisions have become investments—of time and money—on a shared identity. I purposefully said, the way in which your offering relates to consumers, because in order to fully grasp customer experience one must begin by leaving behind the assumption that only consumers are active, while your offering is passive. If your offering is passive, then this means that your consumer experience is fundamentally out of your control: it does not attempt to create long lasting memories or transform a chore into a lively activity, among other ways in which your product delivers value.
Taking control of your customer experience and transforming your offering into an active agent begins, no doubt, by having a detail rich understanding of your consumers. In knowing how their expectations and preferences affect their behaviour, not only as consumers, but also as teachers, parents, managers, etc., your company is able to identify opportunities for your offering to become active. A great example of this is the relationship of consumers with Apple’s IPod. Instead of focusing exclusively on the convenience of having a library of songs at all times in your pocket, the IPod’s customer experience is built on the new experiences that are now possible for consumers owning an IPod: being able to jog at the rhythm of a playlist that functions as an energy boost, transforms a tedious workout into a memorable and enjoyable experience.
3. Your brand, your network
I have discussed the ways in which a brand’s identity can be constructed, by focusing on the value of relationships. The focus on relationships enables you to see your brand as a bundle of relationships between humans, technologies, and objects that come together to deliver unique consumer experiences. In other words, the focus on relationships allows you to see your brand as essentially a network. The concept of network is often used as a synonym for the World Wide Web, yet more than the image of a spider-web, a network is a mental model that allows you to coherently understand organizations that are not hierarchical, that entail a variety of different constitutive knots that can form internal networks and which are dynamic, that is, change through time. Under this perspective, a brand can be understood as a network with at least four main knots or internal networks: the network of consumer experience, the network of communication channels, the organizational network, and the network of partnerships.