Branding is a Long-term Game

A strong brand isn’t created overnight. A brand builds value one customer at a time. Experience by experience, message by message, image by image, over time, value is created. A strong brand is proactive, anticipates the customers’ needs, and adapts to changes in the market. It can also endure a change in the market, open new channels for business, and in a digital environment can be anywhere, anytime.

If you compared developing a brand to running a marathon, you can’t run a mile once a week for three weeks and expect to run a full 26.2 miles on week 4. Running a marathon takes long-term planning, consistent training, proper nutrition, and the right equipment to move towards your goal. The same approach applies to creating a valuable brand.

COVID-19 has disrupted almost every category of business. Brands that weren’t property positioned to transition to digital have been pushed to the fray. Companies that invested in their brand and technology over the years have been able to transition their business and even grow as their customers turn to the internet to do business, shop, create, learn, and entertain.

Businesses that didn’t invest in their branding and relied heavily on personal selling are now struggling in this new digital business environment. More customers are relying on DIY tools and applications for their day-to-day business and personal needs. These tools are fast, give a sense of control, and minimize what they might perceive as an intrusive sales process.

The first struggle many of these businesses face is updating their image. For years, I’ve heard from several clients, “Our customers know who we are, we don’t need to invest in updating our brand”, or “We don’t have a budget for that type of project right now. Maybe we’ll look at it next year.”

When an unforeseen crisis hits, like COVID-19, customers pivot their business and lives online. Suddenly, you’re competing with dozens of brands that have been digital for years. Now you’re in a position where your brand doesn’t even look like it belongs online. If you haven’t updated your brand in 5-10 years or longer, you run the risk of looking like a business that’s out of step.

The second struggle many businesses face is their online presence. More often than not, a business’s website isn’t anything more than an online brochure. Rarely is it optimized for lead generation, client onboarding, or as a self-service customer tool. Beyond their website, there is little or no content to help educate customers, showcase their capabilities, or tell their best stories. The online experience falls flat.

The consequence for small B2B and B2C businesses that relied on personal relationships is suddenly having to compete with companies that have been investing in their brand and digital presence for years. It’s an unpleasant wake-up call because it’s such a huge shift in the sales cycle, general operation, and business culture.

These changes aren’t unique to small businesses. Airbnb has turned the hospitality industry upside down and inside out over the last five years. Through COVID, they’ve managed to outperform all of the legacy hospitality brands and will go onto being one of the most valuable brands in the world this year. Airbnb isn’t alone in their digital disruption; Apple is disrupting the payments industry, and LegalZoom has changed the legal profession.

Case Study: Airbnb

In 2007, roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia started AirBed & Breakfast with a few air mattresses in their apartment. It was a bootstrapped startup in every sense of the word. As they learned about their customer and refined their business, they also refined their brand. They’ve had a name change as well as multiple logo updates to fine-tune their image. Airbnb is an excellent example of a business investing in their image to increase their brand value.

In this fast-moving category, Airbnb continued to refine their brand positioning. In 2014, Airbnb introduced the “Bélo” as part of their “Belong Anywhere” campaign. “Airbnb stands for something much bigger than travel,” they declare in the video, concreting their brand as a superior modern experience. Today, Airbnb continues to thrive with the same brand — analysts expect an IPO by the end of the year. In 2021, Airbnb is forecasted to be one of the largest brands in the world.

B2B branding is just as important

Even obscure, yet highly recognizable, companies like the Mack Truck needs to be reexamined. This is an American brand with a long, proud history. Their very niche product is targeted to truck drivers and logistics companies who are already well aware of the Mack brand. So why go through a brand update? 

As sales plateaued and ultimately began to dip, Mack Trucks were fading from the landscape after becoming lost in the larger Volvo family. The refresh implemented a more meaningful and engaging relationship between Mack and their core customer. Even if you’re not a big consumer brand, you still need to be relevant to your audience. As time moves forward, perceptions change, needs change, competition changes, and brands need to change to be a part of that conversation. 

Strengthening your brand for today’s business reality

Just as a marathon runner consistently trains to endure a long race, a business needs to always invest resources into its brand. Without the right focus, your position can be severely weakened when a shift in the market occurs.

Wondering where you can start with your brand? Conducting a brand audit with your team is a good first step. Find gaps in your strategy and execution that you need to address. You can take a few small steps to quickly move in the right direction while planning more significant steps to make your brand ready to compete in 2021.

Need help preparing your brand for 2021 and beyond? Get in touch with an email today.

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