Traditional marketing, tactical online marketing and Social Media marketing have become less effective as we become resistant to clutter and more distrusting of large platforms.
Apart from that, Business strategies often miss the mark, because of the broad gap between strategy and execution. The underlying success of all these measures depends on meticulously developed and executed brand strategy.
In this article:
© Marty Neumeier Level C
Marty Neumeier is a luminary when it comes to anything branding.
He was one of the first to implement design thinking in Silicon Valley. He helped develop the branding of HP, Adobe, Google, and Apple among many others. Steve Jobs had a personal copy of Marty’s first book, the brand gap, lying on his desk.
To me, Neumeier’s ideas represent the basis of what contemporary cutting-edge branding and business strategy is today.
What I’ve tried to distill here are the key takeaways that have impacted my understanding of how branding works. I will also get into why I believe developing and executing a brand strategy continuously is essential to any business or organization today.
1: A brand is not your logo
A brand is not your logo, it's not your trademark, it's not the overall perception of your touchpoints. In Neumeiers words:
“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”
What is your first association when you think of a popular brand?
That association or feeling is what is relevant. Branding is not what the company or organization says it is, it's what the customers say it is.
2: The purpose of brand strategy
“The purpose of a brand strategy is:
to get more people
to buy more stuff
for more years
at a higher price.”
Because of that, brand strategy is not just a part of marketing. Rather, marketing is a part of an overall brand strategy that includes advertising, social media, packaging… essentially everything a brand says or does.
The way Neumeier describes it, brand strategy and business strategy are two sides of the same coin. Branding is responsible for everything external, and business strategy for everything internal.
My takeaway from this is that Neumeier has defined something that creative entrepreneurs and designers have sensed all along.
When I used to work with a team of creatives on the production of social media content, clients would come to us with an order: a video, a social media campaign, or an animation. Picking something like a video as a solution, before you figure out the problem and the desired outcome, is precarious.
Sometimes the measure was as far removed as saying fix the leak in my bathtub by changing the bathroom lightbulb. It's absurd!
Neumeier made me realize how fundamental brand strategy is to a business. Building a brand goes far beyond execution of creative work.
The brand strategy is the business strategy and vice versa. They should not be separated, and business strategy should not be prioritized over brand strategy. This is what Steve Jobs put into practice at Apple.
3: Define your “Zag”
A brand strategy, in essence, “is a long-term plan to outmaneuver competitors through radical differentiation”, and this is all about defining your “zag.”
Known tactics are failing, and one of the reasons is clutter. Neumeier describes clutter as manifesting in 5 different ways.
The overflow of information in our time creates a shortage of attention. The only way you can really stand out is by being radically different. If everybody else “zigs” you need to “zag”. This is a simple concept with profound implications.
Neumeiers 2nd book Zag describes in detail how to develop your “onlyness.” What makes you the only one in a particular category?
To name a well-known example: at a time when every other search engine was cluttering their homepage with news, special offers, email and banner ads. Google was the first to simply provide a text entry box for your search. All others zigged google zagged.
My takeaway here is that to be radically different means being so fundamentally differentiated that you inhabit a new category. There was no other company like Netflix before Netflix, no other like Uber before Uber.
Zagging is not just being unique. Zagging is the essence of disruption. It's about creating your own space by providing a desired but entirely unique service or product.
The trick is to be perceived as being radically different and be desired at the same time.
4: Customers build the brand
How do you achieve radical differentiation?
Social Media caused the world of communication to be flipped on its head. The consequence of that was that customers started defining brands. And brands no longer defined customers. This is the core idea of Marty’s third book the brand flip.
Brands no longer monopolize media, now theoretically everyone is part of the conversation. This means brands need to be very attentive of the people they are creating their business for.
The old model used to be: the company creates the brand - the brand attracts customers - customers sustain the company.
The new model is: the company creates customers - customers build the brand - the brand sustains the company.
My key takeaway was how vital prototyping and testing through design thinking is for branding and marketing purposes.
Before I became a brand strategist, I was working at one of the largest meat manufacturing companies in Austria. One of the things we used to do was have a dedicated group of customers as part of the product development team. These were the biggest fans of the brand, and here they were giving input on what they would love to see.
Make it all about your customers and find ways to bring them in as early as possible. This is a design thinking mantra and also holds true for branding purposes.
5: Customers organize in tribes
A company’s main asset is their brand tribe.
It used to be more about demographics, but today we are marking interest groups, that can be as specific as marketing for people that like to sleep with the blanket between their feet.
A brand tribe is an interest group that forms around a product, service, or company. People join tribes because they feel aligned and to identify with a group. It's about becoming more yourself.
When you are selling features you’re saying “look how cool this is” When you are selling experience you’re saying “look how cool you’ll feel,” but when you sell with tribal identity, you’re saying “look who thinks you’re cool”.
Brands today sell through successive levels of participation, rather than simple consumption.
My takeaway here was how we've gone from transactional to interactive in the way that we sell products and services. A brand that is doing its job right understands that what they are looking for are relationships with customers rather than discounting for more sales.
Every business needs brand strategy
A company without a brand strategy is like a ship without a compass. It will be difficult to execute anything with consistency and clear purpose if you lack proper brand guidelines.
Build your brand by listening and learning from your customers, support and align your team, receive assistance from your investors, and meld all stakeholders into one dedicated brand tribe.
Brand strategy is not something you develop once and then let slide for the next couple of years. Branding is an ongoing process of tweaking, optimizing, and reacting to your customer's needs. The first step is to create a radically differentiated brand, the second is implementing that strategy consistently.
My final takeaway from having used Marty Neumeiers ideas in practice is that brand strategy is more than just applying the right measures for a desired outcome.
Branding is what builds the foundation for any sustainable and lasting business.