Let’s be clear from the outset. The road to brand success is not easy.
It’s true that some people seem to fall upon it by chance and readily make their way from one end to the other. For most of us though, it’s a route taken with difficulty and marked by mis-steps and wrong turnings.
That shouldn’t surprise us. If you understand a brand to be the relationship between you and your customer, then you’ll know how hard it can be to plot the course of a relationship with any certainty.
It isn’t possible to chart every feature on the road or each twist and turn along the way but we can make plans for the journey that prepare us for what might lie ahead and give us a greater chance of success.
Step 1 – Start with the end in mind
Don’t just set off in hope.
Be clear from the beginning what brand success means for you and what a brand can and can’t do for your business. Typically, your brand should support your business goals by helping you to build and maintain a great relationship with your customers.
There should be a purpose to this relationship for both you and your customer. You bring them something important (for example, security or pleasure) or move them from one place to another (say, from a state of anxiety to calmness), and they give you something in return (usually, but not always, money).
Remember that people make sense of their lives in the stories they tell, so you’re looking for a story that describes for your customers the experience of that business relationship with you. That story should give your customers sound reasons to invest their time, energy, attention and money in your business.
Your road to brand success should lead you there.
Step 2 – Get the lie of the land
Check local knowledge.
It’s unlikely that you’re the first to cross the territory that lies ahead. Others will have made maps and noted landmarks. They’ll know which stretches of the road are safe and where there are dangers.
Listen to their stories. Whilst they can seem fantastical, folklore, anecdote and myth will often point towards what’s really of importance in this new world. Sometimes, even plain old gossip can prove useful.
Don’t forget to talk to your customers. They live and work here, and they will know the territory well. But don’t expect them to make the journey for you. This is your role; you are the leader of the expedition.
You must decide which paths to take and which to avoid, based on whatever information is available to you.
Step 3 – Map your route
Set your course and choose your guiding star.
As you begin your journey, you will be faced with many roads that you might follow, many ways in which you might tackle what lies ahead.
All relationships are founded on a shared set of values. For some, these are values such as freedom or truth. If you are not to lose your way, you must choose which values will guide you on your journey.
Trace the route that makes most sense for you and for your customers and set your course by the stars, by your guiding principles. Avoid the apparent shortcuts that deflect you from your purpose.
Step 4 – Equip yourself for the journey
Take what you need for the road.
Great businesses play to their strengths. Determine what it is you do well and how that is likely to help you build and maintain your relationship with your customers. Then do it to the best of your ability.
But travel light. Too many people weigh themselves down for what can be a long journey. Trust your own resources and keep it simple. Bring only what you need to feed, water and protect yourself and your customers. Leave the rest behind.
In the same way, choose your travelling companions carefully. You will rely heavily on them. Include only those who can best bring something of value to your relationship with your customer.
Step 5 – Be prepared to ask for help
Don’t be too proud.
Assistance can come from the most unexpected quarters. Although you must lead the expedition, you are not expected to go it alone. There are others around you who cannot make the journey but can lead you a small part of the way. These can include veterans of other expeditions or those who are on neighbouring roads that occasionally coincide with your own.
Do not forget your customers. They are keen to see you succeed – for in your success, they see their own – and they will usually be only too happy to help you out. Sometimes, it is they who see best of all what it is you do well and they are able to point you in the right direction.
But again, this is your brand, and it’s you who must always take and keep the lead.
Step 6 – Keep the faith
Don’t give up too easily.
The road to brand success is often long and difficult. It is easy to grow weary and disheartened by the inevitable setbacks that you will meet along the way. Be prepared to retrace your steps when you have gone astray. If your customers see that you are committed to the relationship, they will be patient whilst you recover your path.
Don’t simply go through the motions. Steer clear of the temptation to settle for second-best, a shadow of the unique relationship that you wish for with your customers. When the road you have mapped out proves to be misguided, strike out across country if that’s what’s required and make your own road.
Keep your heart set on your goal and look to your guiding stars to direct you towards it.
Step 7 – Head for home
Don’t become too enamoured of the road. It’s a means to an end and you must travel its length or not at all.
Complete the journey. Remember that you started out to find your brand story. Make sure that you have achieved your purpose. The place in which you’ve arrived and the story you have to tell in getting there must make sense for both you and your customers.
Now you can retrace your steps and bring the others with you, your customers and any colleagues that you’ve left behind. They can now make the journey safely with you.
Step 8 – Don’t settle down just yet
Did I promise you only seven steps? Of course, there’s one more. Now that you’ve achieved brand success, you must work tirelessly to maintain it.
You have found your strengths, so play to them. Use them to deliver on your promise to your customers and commit resources to maintaining the relationship.
Tell your story and tell it often. Secure the road you have taken against rogues and pretenders and make it safe for traffic. Light the way and signpost it clearly so that you and your customers can travel the road often and easily.
Only then can you honestly say that you have taken the road to brand success.