You may have a great product and decent sales, but if you really want to get to the next level of growth – regardless of whether your company is a start-up or a $10-million business looking to become a $100-million one – it’s key to invest as much effort in your brand strategy as you do in product development.
Simply put, brands outlive products. Long after this year’s flavor is replaced with next year’s innovation, your brand is what determines whether customers keep coming back. No matter what your industry, end-users want to know what you stand for as a company, quickly recognize you as a brand they trust and see that you’re bringing value to the world over and above the specific benefits of your product.
The new year is a perfect time to refocus, energize or chart a new course for your brand. Having helped companies of all sizes across multiple industries to elevate their customer experiences and increase sales through better branding, here are what I’ve found to be four best brand-boosting practices:
Research shows that nearly nine out of every 10 consumers stay loyal to brands that share their values. That means the more you can demonstrate that your core values align with theirs, the more you can count on them to use your products. The first step is to get clarity on what people already like or dislike about your company and its offerings through targeted market research, including focus groups, surveys or man-on-the-street interviews. It could be that your product packaging needs to be massaged or an ingredient changed in your formula, or that you need to start communicating the steps you’re taking to be sustainable or give back to your community.
In recent years, we’ve seen many brands take a strong stand for a cause, like AT&T’s social initiative to curb texting and driving, Airbnb’s pledge to provide short-term housing for 100,000 people in need, the Adidas pledge to make shoes of recycled ocean plastic or Unilever’s mission to improve health.
When you decide to back a cause or join one side of an argument, be sure to identify an issue that aligns with both your customers and your brand. The more effort you put towards building an emotional connection with your user base — even if it requires repositioning your brand from the ground up — the more successful your brand will have in this new age of conscious consumerism.
When companies come to me with lagging sales or low brand awareness, it's often because they're not taking a deep dive into their overall brand architecture to ensure all brand assets are promoting a clear, consistent and succinct message. With Forbes reporting that company revenue increases by as much as 23 percent when a brand is consistent, it's important to take a step back and identify where you may be confusing your audience with disconnected brand elements. When a Mexican food producer approached us for help getting their business to the next level, we worked with them to reinvent their brand, journeying back to their Mexican family roots and telling a strong story about their rich heritage through unified assets across the entire line.
The result was a premium brand that had people asking the CEO if the company was raising new investment capital, as it felt like he was taking the company in a new, exciting direction they wanted to be part of. When you take the time to identify a consistent message and deliver it in one thematic expression, consumers not only start to see you as a family of products they trust, but your employees and investors also have messaging they can believe in.
Consumer demand for honesty and authenticity has never been higher. According to a recent consumer behavior study by Label Insight, a whopping 94% of consumers are likely to show loyalty to a brand that offers complete transparency, and nearly 40% would start using a brand if it offered full transparency. The reality is, people are more informed and empowered than ever before. Before engaging with your company, consumers will put you under the ‘online’ microscope and that means you need to be proactive.
Take steps to show that you are being honest about different aspects of your business, from how you treat employees or how you protect customers, to the ingredients you use or the processes you apply. If your product is packaged, demonstrate transparency by using clear, to-the-point wording or see-through cut-outs that reveal what’s inside. Whole food protein bar maker RX Bar, for example, gained trust by listing ingredients in large font on the front of its packaging, followed by ‘No B.S,’ enabling consumers to quickly identify the product as a healthy choice.
When you’re willing to invest in the creative process, shaping your brand with a stand-out unified, on-point story, you may be surprised to see where it leads. From beverages that use RFID sensors to ‘speak’ to personal devices and enable health-conscious consumers to track their consumption, to beautiful glass orb packaging for medical marijuana, to leafy garden greens that no longer lie flat on store shelves, disruptive ideas are grabbing consumer attention across industries.
Innovation doesn’t have to be costly or challenging. You may be selling a run-of-the-mill item, but when you place it in the hands of out-of-the-box thinkers, it just might become something unexpected. A new ice cream line, for example, is turning heads with its innovative concept of delivering a “sleep expert-approved” formula that is a healthy choice for nighttime snacking.
Similarly, when we worked with Maple Hill to strengthen the authentic grass-fed, organic benefits of their dairy product line, going the extra mile to use actual photography from the company’s farms, and include each cow’s name, backstory and farm locations as part of the new product icon, sales grew exponentially.
When you start down the path towards elevating your brand, expect the journey to be aspirational. Sometimes you uncover one little nugget that’s not only going to be good for you and your brand but may transform an entire industry.
Are you going to be a rebel brand based on unconventional thinking or a sage brand providing knowledge and wisdom? Are you the naturally empathetic and resilient friendly neighbor brand or the passionate and committed producer brand?
When you know who it is you aspire to be, these best practices will get you there.
Josh White is Principal and Creative Director of NYC-based brand and design agency, OffWhite Co. With more than two decades of transforming some of the world’s most successful consumer product companies through the intersection of brand strategy, creative product development, innovative packaging and technology, White’s award-winning holistic creative systems have played a key role in reinventing brands and helping clients find the secret sauce to advance their companies to the next level.