Brand strategy is the number one topic on marketers’ minds in 2021. In line with this priority, brand strategy consulting engagements were the most popular project type that Insight to Action worked on in that past two years.
Brand Strategy Consulting: Start with the Customer First
As a starting point, all of our brand strategy consulting engagements begin with understanding the target customer. For business to consumer (B2C) brands, we find most organizations have a starting definition, including descriptions such as:
- age and gender ranges
- purchasing habits
- motivations for using the brand
- needs that the brand meets
For business to business (B2B) brands, targeting is more complex, and must consider different customers within an enterprise organization. Some, but not all, have a brand persona or personas to describe a prototypical target consumer in a more holistic sense.
Additionally, for B2B, the buyer persona (decision maker) may be different than the user persona (person who uses the product day to day). This same distinction classically exists in family households, when children use “pester power” to get the products they want, while the parent acts as the household purchasing agent, e.g., buying the product the child prefers.
Avoid Common Traps in Defining the Customer as Part of Brand Strategy Consulting
While it may seem basic to start with the customer, there are three traps that we see brand teams falling into:
- There can be a tendency to assume that the most vocal voices represent the best target consumer for the brand strategy
- If the brand team and/or senior management personally feel aligned with the vocal consumer, and believe that they themselves are the target
- Supporting too many brands and attempting to target all segments in the market
For example, one B2C brand that we worked with in 2020 has a target consumer who is passionate about the product. The brand strategy consulting effort began with understanding the consumer segments in the market, and refining the target consumer segment definition. Coming into this, the brand team perceived that their primary target loves to share her experiences online and to provide new product ideas and feedback to the company. Let’s call her Passionate Pamela. The voice of Passionate Pamela was very well represented in the company, and the brand team and management closely identified with the segment. The end result was a lot of similar, overlapping product that, from a visual design perspective, appeals only to one segment.
Our primary research found a larger subgroup, which prefers not to add “engaging with the online community” to their to-do list, and instead is happy to simply use the product.
We also found two very attractive segments that are engaged but not as passionate. These groups had different design preferences from Passionate Pamela, and their needs were not well met. In this instance, the online community did not reach the majority of customers, and the brand strategy direction that came from over-focusing on Passionate Pamela was too narrow.
Brand Strategy Consulting: Employ Discipline and Use Research
At Insight to Action, we take a disciplined, insight-based approach to understanding the target consumer and developing the brand strategy. Our brand strategy consulting approach places more emphasis on understanding the customer and the market, rather than focusing heavily on the capabilities. Our focus is outside-in, instead of inside-out. Of course, both considerations are important. For us, it’s a question of where the most time and resources will be spent in the brand strategy consulting effort.
We’ve spoken with a few thought leaders in brand strategy who underscore the importance of discipline and research. Laura Luckman Kelber is Senior Vice President of Marketing for Flexera, the largest homegrown technology company in Chicago. Kelber explains,
“There can be a lack of discipline and the discipline around research. In addition to not having robust primary research, there is also a lack of discipline to look at secondary sources. It’s critical to take the time to look for trends and data to define the macro environment that your brand is playing in. Then, use that information to make a point to leverage those insights from the macro environment and connect to behaviors and trends For instance, in 2021, the pandemic economy has revealed that enterprise IT departments can implement large initiatives in a 10th of the time than had been a norm. This is now the new normal and will be a critical insight for marketing and sales teams who are engaging with enterprise IT departments.“
Brand Strategy Consulting: Align on the Framework and Applications
What is the purpose of the brand strategy consulting effort? Before starting the work, we encourage brands to spend time on aligning the framework and its applications. Our brand strategy consulting engagements typically include several of the following deliverables as part of the brand strategy framework:
- Target customer definition
- Brand pillars
- Brand positioning
- Brand messaging strategy
- Brand architecture
- Brand pyramid
- Category extension zones
For McDonald’s, the overall brand strategy framework we developed together was used for organizational alignment, communications alignment, product alignment and brand architecture and packaging guidelines. In the case of Tropicana, the brand strategy consulting focus was brand extension.