Your brand is your business – what business are you in? by Sumarie Schreiner

SMEs plays an important part in any economy. They contribute not only to the economic growth and employment within society, they also play a crucial role in challenging the current players, opening new markets to consumers and often, they are the catalyst to change in an industry.

It is tough to stay in business past the crucial 3-5-year period, innovatively veering off all the challenges thrown at you to keep growing where others have failed. So, when SMEs approach me to assist them with their brand strategy and marketing efforts, they often look for a cost effective (cheap) silver bullet that will exponentially in the short-term sell more of their product. They are asking for a brand strategy and marketing plan, but, in truth, they are looking for a sales plan. Since keeping a very close eye on the bottom line is what got them to where they are now, this approach is no surprise.

Very few SMEs fully grasp the difference and purpose of a brand strategy and marketing strategy/plan and the commitment, change management, time and spend that is required to successfully craft and implement these parts to achieve, in the end, a sustainable business.

Business 101 teaches you that your product/solution needs to match a consumer need/demand in the market and I would presume most SMEs will start here when they set up shop, but somewhere along the years, they became totally internally focused, forging ahead, and unconditionally believing their own bullsh*t.

One of biggest challenges we face as brand and marketing consultants is to get these SMEs to stand still again for a moment. Hold up the mirror and reflect their narrative of what need/want their solution is fulfilling and what consumers’ needs/wants are. More than often these don’t match.

Today’s very empowered consumers have unlimited information available to them at the touch of a button – often there is very little to differentiate the options available.

So how do you connect to consumers today?

To truly connect and engage with consumers, you need to go back to where you started. Go beyond your product and your organization and focus again on what is the need/want out there and how does our solution/product fulfill that requirement. But in the integrated world we currently live in, you need to do this exercise for not only your customers, but all the entities that forms part of your ecosystem.

By critically identifying and formulating exactly what functional and what emotional attributes each entity are looking for, followed by a gap analysis as to what you are offering each entity in your eco-system, is the crucial exercise that will force you to look beyond your internal belief, and address the ever-present burning question of “Are we offering what people are looking for?”

Adapting Gartner’s digital ecosystem framework, an organization will typically have the following entities in their eco-system:

  • Customers – who you engage with (the paymasters)
  • Partners – who you interact with to fulfill your solution to consumers
  • Employees – who you support and make your business possible
  • Shareholders – whose targets you realise
  • Community – who you directly and indirectly impact

At the center of this eco-system is your organization and product/service where you apply all the intelligence you gathered to craft a unique solution that is relevant and desired.

So how will you ‘own’ a piece of the consumer’s heart and mind?

As consumers have moved their connection to brands from ‘what’ you offer to ‘why’, organisations need to ask themselves repeatedly, why would people care about us and what we offer?

Jim Stengel with Millward Brown did an amazing study that spanned over 10yrs with more than 50 000 brands across the world. They tracked the best performing brands and what made them successful. The key result from this research was that a business’s essential reason for being (also known as the brand ideal) are all linked to what benefit it brings to the world.

How are you improving people’s lives? And more pertinently – how are you improving my life?

If companies answer this question truthfully and from a consumer’s perspective (NOT an internal view), then consumer will connect with you and you will find a place within the consumer’s heart and mind.

There are five universal human values across humankind, and to change people’s lives, you need to connect to one of these human values. These five human values are discussed in-depth in Jim Stengel’s book Grow.

The five universal human values are:

Examples of how some of the most loved companies are connecting to one of the five human values are:

The patterns in each of these statements are:

  • Statement is focused
  • Statement is inspiring
  • Statement is rooted in a higher-level value
  • Statement is timeless
  • Statement defines an action that has a positive influence/impact on an audience
  • Statement relates back to how the brand can serve its audience
  • Statement is comprehensible & executable by anyone who reads it

It is important to remember that your ‘brand ideal’ is not your brand’s tag line. Your brand ideal is your north star, continuously guiding everyone in your organization to keep fulfilling your purpose to change people’s lives in a specific way.

This constant ‘sense check’ will ensure that you continuously demonstrate an understanding of what consumer’s wants and needs are, staying relevant and connected in a noisy world.

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