Imagine if Uber after series of brainstorming had concluded that innovation meant building great comfortable taxis for commuters. Good for us they didn’t do that, instead picked a different insight. They saw the pain people went through while booking cabs and simply solved that.
Lot of times we wonder if there was a framework that could help small businesses, growing brands and start-ups focus on brand building and marketing in this complex Digital world, without losing their sleep and yet continue to focus on all the other things that matter? If you are one of them you will agree there are enough things to distract you and there will be occasions where you will feel lost, bit less confident and inadequate with a feeling that the market is evolving faster than you can manage. You are convinced your brand or your idea has the potential, but what to do with it seems like a big question.
It’s going to be an important question since building a brand and creating a successful value proposition needs a committed approach. Today success is about adapting to change and this change is happening really rapidly.
There are these four areas to consider as you begin the journey
· What’s the current tension (amongst your likely audience) that you are trying to resolve?
· What’s the solution you have thought of, something your product or service is promising to do?
· Who exactly are your consumers, what do they do/read, how they spend their time and what do you want them to do or feel as a result of your product or service?
· What are your brand’s values, how does it behave, communicate, create experiences and deliver on the promise it makes?
How do we start. Lets assume you broadly know the space your brand wants to operate in.
The problem or the tension you are hoping to resolve
While getting to this, the best way is to look deep inside the consumers mind. That could be done by talking to them, looking at their conversations, carrying surveys or spending time with them, even living with them. Lego did exactly that.
After losing market share and realising this new ‘instant gratification' generation may not have the patience with Lego, they visited a 11 yr old German boy’s house - a Lego consumer who pointed out to his worn-out sneaker shoes as his most proud item which made him the best skateboarder amongst his peers. The Lego team realised it was this social currency (among peers), that was most important to this boy within the skills he chose, whatever that skill is (in this case skateboarding).
You know the areas that interest you. Look for information and make a list of consumers reactions, insights and other valuable information you can gather. Now imagine the consumer's journey towards purchase, the steps he/she would take to move towards completion of their action. Think of all the steps, multiple touch points and offline-online interactions they do in the category you are building.
The trick here is to find areas where the consumer can have a frictionless experience. Friction is the opposite of consumer experience. Make a list of all the possible ‘tension’ or ‘friction’ spots. Consumers cant express what they need, so the best way would be to watch them. Experts call it Frictionless Customer Experience (FCX). A digital design agency is creating a cafe on anticipatory design philosophy. The Baristas get to know the customer is approaching even before he/she has reached (through an iwatch for instance), and start preparing their favourite drink and keep it ready. They call this philosophy - ‘flow not friction’.
Your unique solution or offering
How do you create a unique offering. Something that is unlike what others are offering, something unique. A quick thumb rule which i have seen a few great brands following.
Benefit - What is that special you are doing for the consumer?
Outcome - What is it going to result in, eventually?
Story - What is your unique narrative, your story telling?
Strengths - What is that makes you uniquely strong?
Remember it as the BOSS philosophy.
We will come to narrowing down the audience, but at this stage continue to think how your brand is adding value to their lives. What is that special you are doing. Look at the other competitors in your category and find some uniquenesses you want your brand to be strong at. If your brand can deliver something more than what your consumers are expecting you have a winning proposition at hand. It can be a new concept or something incremental to an existing one, or even a different way of using an existing product or a service. When I conduct corporate workshops, one of the activities we do is to ideate and create a radically new product out of a mash-up of 2 or 3 existing products or services keeping the consumers growing needs in mind.
Nike has been a great example, since the time the brand got created in 1971 along with its symbol the Swoosh, it has focussed on innovation and used new technologies effectively. Their vision has continued to remain the same - ‘to connect with athletes to aspire and enable them to do better’ and always stayed ahead fulfilling their consumers new, unmet needs.
Identifying your audience
There is a trick here. Definitely its important to understand your audience, but in todays time you need to do more work. I meet clients, who say ‘I am thinking of a new content channel which will provide intelligent content to children’ or i am a healthcare brand wanting to make booking appointments super easy’. There are several great ideas and entrepreneurs out there. Its important to microscopically observe your vast audience and build personas. Each will have a distinct need and will need a different approach and strategy.
The point here is not to get trapped in the traditional - Age, SEC classification. Instead, first think of people around you, teachers, gym co-members, colleagues, society neighbours. Are there people who you think are most likely your target audience. If yes, wonderful! They are then, actually your target group. Define them. You will get different personas.
Unless you know your audience, you will fail to effectively talk to them. Get into a room and ask what drives them, what could be their favourite things, their hang outs. What are they likely to do online and what can be offered to them that can add value to their lives. What is their unique ‘unmet' need that you could possibly fulfil. Always remember consumers only have an existing reference to make. They cannot predict how they will respond to a new concept, or articulate a new need. We know Snapchat created a radical shift in video creation with vertical videos. It realised consumers were not doing the normal thing when it came to creating videos (they held the phone vertically while talking or chatting but changed the orientation when shooting videos). Snapchat just made people record their videos in the easiest natural way and with over 10 mn vertical videos each day on Snapchat, we know it was a great shift.
The Brand essence
What is the essence of the brand that you want to build. Its values will manifest in the way your brand behaves, talks and communicates with your audience. You could be this healthcare brand or a book-reading app or a fitness product. You need to arrive at the essence of your brand.
Ask yourself, what are the adjectives your brand is most likely to be associated with. Think of things important to you, close to your heart. These possibly are the values you want your brand to be associated with too. Go deep, it will help you create a personality. You could want to be bold, edgy. Or radical, rebellious. Don’t try to be like others. Be something new, unique, something that truly resonates with what you intend to be. Defining your brand as a person, is the best outcome.
You have looked at your competitors and differentiating yourself is key to success. Be true and authentic and its okay to defy set rules. See Tinder, it says online dating should be as casual as a bar and worked on this theme. Infact MIT Media Lab recently awarded a prize for shaking up the state quo or breaking the rules called the "New Disobedience Award".
A white board with inputs from all stakeholders and then segregating the inputs is great. At the end you should have a sense of the values you want your brand to be associated with, its personality and the tone. Eventually this will also become a great brief for your designer to come up with - visual language, designs and the logo (if its not already created).
While defining the vision, discuss what your brand wants to be, its reason to exist. Arrive at one statement - the big vision that will get etched in stone, something that you will eventually want to be, several years from now. When P&G created beinggirl.com it was not to talk product, but to “illuminate" the TG’s world (the 11-14 yr old girls age segment who have their embarrassing moments, hygiene related issues etc).
Storytelling is the best way to build a bond with your audiences. Find those unique aspects about your consumers' lives and build your content around these micro moments and their life experiences. Let there be emotion, because that’s what people associate with. Good stories will lead to visibility and reach. With good visibility your brand will get share-ability.
Research is showing that our basic qualities - belonging, expression, self discovery, emotions, freedom - when used in story telling gets the best consumer connect. Remember when Nike got Nancy, a runner who came 6284th at Boston marathon and lost her job and confidence, to run again, gave her running shows and all the motivation she needed. She was no less a champion than the top runner. This is a story that stays true to Nike’s brand essence, a brand that doesn’t just sell footwear but stories of personal quest of excellence.
Storytelling comes in all forms and shapes. It is in shape of experiences related to customer care, it could be the actual product and packaging or it can be in-store experiences. How many times have we loved the Starbucks experience. They say a Starbucks store is the third place in the lives of its people, a quiet moment to gather your thoughts, a small escape. Starbucks people smile at you, making it a place that feels like a breath of fresh air.
Never forget the people you hire, your employees. Successful brands have this great desire to promote a culture that resonate with their brand. Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer gives a reverse reward for employees if they want to quit. It pays them money to quit if they think they aren’t fitting in.
Okay, so we are done for now. All of this needs to stay consistent. At this stage you have your brand's reason to exist and values defined. The value of your brand will get built over time, as your loyal customers grow and bond with it. The challenge is to stay on track and continue to strive to build loyalty.
Go ahead rule the world. Talk to partners who can now show you how to best use Digital, which channels to choose, what KPI’s to keep and develop smart impactful messaging. Keep up with your enthusiasm, courage, hunger and willingness to adapt to unknown situations and you will do wonders!
Written by Rajeev Sharma, Founder, Awrizon - a performance driven Digital Consultancy.