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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 5 years ago

Leverage your brand

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Several factors play into how customers perceive your company. Make sure you're tuned into the ones that matter most.
by: James R. Contributing Columnist

CoreBrand's sixth annual Top 100 BrandPower Rankings Report showcases the best and strongest corporate brands. The report analyzed the performance of brands over the past year, as well as brand trends over the past five years.

A subsequent Favorability Report, released in May, compares the favorability scores of the Top 100 brands with the next 400 tracked companies to better understand the dynamics influencing brand performance and separating the winners from the laggards. Favorability measures how positively consumers view a brand. The lessons from these two studies are relevant for all businesses.

The reports demonstrated a downward economic pressure across all sectors, while also heralding the ability of a strong brand to buoy a company through tough economic times.

Both reports show that a well-managed brand can be a powerful business asset in tough economic times as well as a tool to regain lost footing. Based on our research and findings, we distilled it into four key takeaways for leveraging your brand in today's market.

1. Build Your Relevance: Quantify your reputation over time.

It's difficult to stand out if you don't first understand what makes your company unique. Initiate research to justify your positioning and marketing activities. Tracking systems help show successes of past initiatives and opportunities ahead. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and how they match with audience needs and preferences, clarifies what your focus should be and where you should be moving as a business.

When tracking your brand, it's important that your brand measurement program is not a one-off tactic. Review these types of internal evaluations on a regular basis to determine if opportunities were taken or have changed, and if any threats have been overcome or new ones are on the horizon. At CoreBrand, we encourage our clients to conduct these evaluations as frequently as quarterly or as far apart as annually. Any less than that would make it difficult to pinpoint exactly what factor is responsible for success or failure.

2. Sustain Your Differentiation: Understand your competitors.

The purpose of your brand is to set you apart from the crowd and help buyers to understand your unique superiority. Being successfully differentiated is how to best utilize your blend of employees, products, and culture. Expand your research outward to peers and competitors. This puts context to your actions compared with others, and helps to highlight initiatives you can take to better position yourself and stand out amongst the competition.

Sustain your differentiating relevance in the marketplace by clearly and proudly conveying your company's benefits and abilities. The stronger you claim your position in the market, the greater impact your brand can have in attracting the right audiences.

3. Raise Your Credibility: Align your position for a more solid reputation.

Align your messaging with current initiatives to ensure consumer trust in your efforts. It's not about how often you communicate, it's about strategically communicating to your target markets and backing up your claims with actions. Talk is cheap when spoken, but expensive when broken.

Consumers are quick to backlash against broken promises or services that don't meet expectations. Building a brand isn't just about what you say, it's about what you do as well.

Use audience research and testing to refine brand messaging and ensure positive resonance with key targets. This requires time, perseverance and dedication toward growing positive sentiments toward the corporate brand, which feeds directly into growing brand favorability.

4. Leverage Your Leaders: Put your management where your mouth is.

During the economic downturn, we found that perceptions of management became more toxic than in past recessions. This indicates a level of mistrust and skepticism with leadership, and underscores the critical role executives play in guiding brands through times of crisis. Audiences look to leadership to build trust.

Senior management needs to promote clear, consistent, and transparent communications to the market. Set expectations by painting a vibrant picture of the vision for the company and the plan to achieve it. Lead by example and show consumers that the company is well rounded and focused on more than just profits.

While improving familiarity (how familiar consumers are with your company and its offerings) is about turning up the volume of your brand in appropriate ways, improving favorability is about focusing on the quality of your brand messages.

CEOs who run the best performing companies understand where the company is today and where the potential to grow exists. These are the companies that are best positioned to take advantage of changing market conditions.

For a free digital copy of the Top 100 BrandPower Rankings Report along with the Favorability Report mentioned in this article, email: [email protected].

James R. Gregory is founder and CEO of CoreBrand, a global brand strategy, communications and design firm headquartered in New York, with offices in Los Angeles and Tampa. He helps clients develop strategies to improve their corporate brands and profitability. Gregory has written four books on creating value with brands: “Marketing Corporate Image,” “Leveraging the Corporate Brand,” “Branding Across Borders” and “The Best of Branding.” Contact him at [email protected].

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