Why having a brand strategy is essential for mid-market companies

“No one will follow you if you don’t know where you are going,” Jack Trout

Jack Trout was a revolutionary.  You’ve probably never heard of him.  But you have definitely heard his ideas.

Trout was an advertising executive for General Electric who eventually started his own agency and developed the groundbreaking theory of product positioning.  Together with Al Ries they published a series of articles in the late 70’s that would later become the book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.  Positioning led the shift from push marketing to pull marketing. And at the heart of this tectonic shift was – you guessed it – the rise of brand strategy.

Today, having a coherent brand strategy is the most important thing you can do to move your business forward.  Sadly, many companies don’t realize this until it’s too late. Far too many SMBs & SMEs feel a brand strategy is some ethereal thing that is almost too hard to fathom – or afford.  The reality is just the opposite.

Brand strategy is a lot of things.  But at its heart is one simple concept: Your brand is whatever your customers say it is.

Formulating an effective brand strategy can and should be undertaken and can be a game changer in the crowded markets we see today.  As a matter of fact, it is more important for mid-market companies and SMBs for this reason: differentiation.

A lot of the work Trout & Ries did was around how to make a brand memorable.  And what they discovered is that the best way to be remembered is to be first in your prospect’s mind.  And this is key – brands are built by being first in a new category. Not first in the marketplace, but first in the mind.

“Look for an open hole in the mind and be the first to fill it,” – Al Ries

At Groove, one of the first questions we ask new clients is to describe their brand as an elevator pitch. We get a lot of great responses.  But it is a golden moment when we that pitch truly differentiates the product or service in the consumer’s mind. And this is important – because branding is more about getting your customers to see you as the only company providing this solution than merely choosing you over your competition.

Laura Busche, author of Lean Branding put it best: “A brand is the story that consumers recall when they think of you.”

One of my favorite tools for developing a brand strategy is a positioning model.  First, answer these three questions about your company:

  1. What is it?
  2. What are the benefits to the customer?
  3. What is your company’s personality?

Once these are defined, refine.  Eliminate any fuzzy words. Make it crystal clear.  Each word should be well thought out. Gibson Biddle, the former VP of Product Management at Netflix suggests each of these descriptions be no more than three words and should be developed as if your audience is a sixth-grader.  Keep it simple.

Once you have nailed down the language to define who you are, the next step is to define the Brand Pyramid.  The Brand Pyramid is a way to look at your company as a customer would – what are the product attributes? What are the benefits? How do I feel after I use it? At the top is the Brand Idea – the essence of what your company is. The “something bigger” as Biddle calls it.  The “something bigger” should be inspirational and help define the true north for the brand you’re building.

Gibson Biddle’s Branding Pyramid

Start at the bottom and work your way up, finalizing with the “something bigger.” Here is the branding pyramid Biddle helped create for Netflix:

Branding Pyramid Headline Netflix: Movie enjoyment made easy
Something Bigger Escape from reality
Emotional Benefits Satisfied, Delighted
Product Benefits Convenience, Value, Selection
Product Attributes Streaming TV shows, movies, and original content

Once we have completed this exercise we have an idea as to what the brand is, and how it provides value to the consumer. We understand the benefits.  From here we create the brand story. The brand story has three parts:




This should be no more than 750 words.  It should be the telling of the brand idea, the essence, the something bigger that you do.  And it should position your brand and only your brand as the answer the the problem, the solution to fill the open hole in the mind. It shouldn’t be the literal history of the company.  It should be the reason the company was created in the first place.

“A branding program should be designed to differentiate your cow from all the other cattle on the range. Even if all the cattle on the range look pretty much alike.” – Al Ries

Today the marketplace is crowded.  In today’s pull marketing, inbound world people want to have relatIonships with companies they like, they trust, and they understand.  Don’t be afraid to say who you are. Find your brands raison d’etre. What does it do for people that other brands simply don’t do?  Why is it important? Tell that story. Be authentic.

Know where you’re going, and others will follow.