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Brand Strategy Lessons
The importance of a strong brand has only grown throughout the maturation of the online world. Outside of eCommerce companies that sell near-exclusively through third-party marketplaces, it isn’t enough to have great products and/or services — you can even nail your pricing to perfectly undercut your competitors and still fail to succeed if your brand is weak.
This is partially because we live in a time of great shopper freedom (you’re never going to be the only game in town), and prices tend to be fairly similar as a matter of necessity (profit margins have already been narrowed significantly). Add in the common desire to support (buy from) brands with laudable practices, and you have a tough environment for bland brands.
To build your brand into something competitive, then, you need a brand strategy — but what should it involve? Let’s look at some branding lessons you should take from the scrappiest startups, identifying low-budget tactics you can deploy very early:
Diversify to see what sticks
How many times have entrepreneurs felt entirely confident in the strength of their business plans, only to see them amount to nothing? The business world is unpredictable, and you never know what might be the key for making a brand stand out. Underdog startups know that their early ideas might not work in the long term — and they throw things at the wall accordingly.
This will seem like madness to many (the scattergun approach is generally derided), but it isn’t arbitrary or even impractical. If you’re an online seller, for instance, you don’t need to put all your eggs in one basket by launching just one store, because that niche (or that style) might not pick up any momentum — and it’s frustrating to spend a lot of time on a doomed project.
Why not launch a variety? Set up several stores, each with a distinct theme, product lineup, and brand identity, then see how they fare. (Expect most to fail: even if you avoid the most common ecommerce mistakes, luck plays a huge part.) If one of them picks up far more social media activity than any of the others, you can look more deeply at what makes it stand out, then use that insight to more clearly define what you want your brand to be.
Focus on employee satisfaction
Seem like an odd point to make in the context of brand or content marketing strategy? It shouldn’t. Your marketing budget is limited, and even when you create good promotional content, it’s always going to be taken with a heap of salt. But brand advocates are powerful and convincing. People can tell when someone actually believes in the quality of a brand, and it’s infectious.
This is why you need to work on making your employees as happy in their positions as possible. It isn’t the only reason for that, of course — your employees are your biggest investments, and you need to keep the good ones around — but it’s the most significant here. Any toxicity in your company will invariably leak out through social media.
Aside from paying decent wages and offering meaningful perks, the scattergun approach we already raised has relevance here. You should let your employees try different things, take some risks, and be creative. Just set out any restrictions you can’t do away with, and otherwise allow them to take your brand in interesting directions.
Do what existing brands don’t
There’s inherent value in being different as a brand. Here’s an example of what I mean: now that being environmentally responsible has become a key part of getting brand support, there’s every chance that a company could build an attention-grabbing brand around being indifferent to environmental responsibility. Being boldly contrarian gets attention, after all.
I’m not saying you should do that, of course. Rather, I’m saying you should look at the tactics your competitors use for their brand-building, and look for gaps. What aren’t they doing that you could do? What are they doing that you could swap out for something else?
Consider that most brands never get any widespread attention. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to build a brand that has something unique to offer, with a sterling reputation. Think about people discussing companies on social media, and consider what might get someone to single you out — the value proposition of your brand as a whole.
Business infrastructure is vitally important, naturally, but you also need an exceptional brand to be competitive in the long term. And while you can learn things from massive corporations, you can probably learn more from the scrappy mentality embraced by all good startups. Try new things, build a fantastic team, and go where others fear to tread.