It doesn’t matter if you think your brand has the potential to be the next Apple or Nike—what matters is what your target audience thinks of your brand.
Understanding brand perception is essential to succeeding in a competitive marketplace, according to Brian Woyt, founder of the branding agency Wolf & Missile. “Ultimately, your brand is what the marketplace says it is,” Woyt says, “Not what you think it is.”
To be long-lasting, your brand must form a connection with your audience. That connection is based on trust, and your brand earns trust when it remains true to what your audience expects of it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to remain true to your customers’ expectations when you don’t understand those expectations in the first place.
You need to research how customers view your brand so that you can develop resources that meet your audience’s expectations.
Brand Discovery: When You’re Starting from Scratch
If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll be able to use real customer feedback to understand your audience’s perception of your brand (more on that later). But if you’re new on the scene, you won’t have any marketplace feedback yet. Instead, Woyt recommends performing a brand discovery exercise:
- List the attributes or features of your product or service. (e.g. The FidoVac 5000 has a power rating of 8.5 amps.)
- Determine the consequences of the attributes (With the power of FidoVac5000, pet owners will be able to suck up pet hair from all surfaces).
- List the benefits of your product or service. (FidoVac5000 owners will enjoy the appearance of a cleaner home and won’t have to worry about pet hair getting stuck to their clothes when they sit down.)
- Determine the value of your product or service to your customer. (FidoVac5000 owners will enjoy greater peace of mind in their clean home.)
This exercise should help you move from the features of your product (which you already know) to the value of your product (which is what customers care about). Once you’ve identified the value your product or service offers, you can use this to define your brand. Your value should stay front and center of your traditional and digital marketing branding.
Positioning: How Your Customers See You vs. Your Competitors
Your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Like it or not, most of your potential customers are weighing you against your competitors. To stand out, you’ll need to determine what makes your brand different from similar brands. Ask yourself: What does my audience want that I can deliver but my competitors can’t?
Woyt suggests taking the following steps to position your brand:
- Research the competition.
- Create a four-quadrant map of the competition’s positioning, as in the example below.
- Add your brand to the positioning map.
- Ask yourself what you need to do to minimize overlap or set your brand apart.
Next, you should write a brand positioning statement. This can be a sentence or two that states your brand’s unique value in the marketplace. To write this statement, ask yourself:
- Who do my products/services appeal to and why?
- What are the people at my company passionate about?
- What promise is my brand making to the customer?
Understanding Brand Perception
If you’re an established business, you should be talking to real customers (and potential customers) to better understand how they see your brand. Conduct surveys by phone and email, and organize focus groups if possible. Questions to ask your customers include:
- What attracted you to our brand instead of a competitor? Or, if you chose a competitor, why did you go with them?
- What are the biggest frustrations you experience when trying to do business with companies in our industry?
- Have you ever recommended our brand to another person? If so, who? And why?
- What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear our brand name?
In addition to interviewing customers directly, you can also use social monitoring tools to see what kind of online reputation your company has on social media and review sites.
There are dozens of social monitoring tools on the market, and you’ll have to do your due diligence to determine what’s best for your business. Here are just a few of the most popular tools:
- Google Alerts: Lets you set up email alerts for mentions of your brand and other keywords in online publications
- Hootsuite: Lets you view brand mentions (on social channels, blogs, and news sites) in real-time and gauge brand sentiment
- Talkwalker: Lets you track mentions across all major social channels, print publications, and TV and radio broadcasts globally
- Buzzsumo: Lets you view social shares of your brand’s content and identify specific users who have shared your content
Pay attention to both positive and negative sentiment. Looking at negative sentiment can help you identify what you need to change to improve your customers’ perception of your brand.
Your Customers See Your Brand Differently Than You Thought—Now What?
If your research reveals that brand sentiment is largely negative, it may be time to rebrand. As part of your rebrand, develop buyer personas. Identify buyer needs and pain points. Think about how your messaging can better connect with your customers. Work through the brand discovery exercise (if you haven’t already) to make sure you’re focusing on the value you bring to customers, not just the features of your products or services.
If brand sentiment is largely positive, but your customers think of your brand differently than you do, it’s still worth making some changes. Ask yourself if your brand’s actions and interactions are aligned with your positioning statement. If they’re not, think about how you can better tailor your marketing resources to your audience’s expectations.
Need help positioning your brand in a crowded marketplace? Leverage now offers digital marketing branding services—contact us now to learn more.
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