Direct Selling: Strategy vs. Tactics
Branding commonly is considered a critical part of any successful business these days, yet many people still view it as merely a creative endeavor. It’s something people dressed in black and armed with logos, typefaces and fancy color palettes do behind closed doors. But the truth is, branding is just as much about strategy as it is about tactics. It’s thinking and execution. It’s left brain plus right brain. It’s logic plus magic. You need to approach it from both sides to get the full impact from your branding efforts.
What Is Strategy?
Strategy is the thinking behind your brand. It addresses how your brand is positioned against the competition. It includes what you stand for and what makes you different. It’s the foundation on which you present your image.
Please notice that brand strategy needs to be based on what makes you different. That’s what people look for when they’re comparing products and services. All too often companies want to play “follow the leader” and feel it necessary to copy what the competition is doing. It seems like the safe thing to do. But safe brands are dying brands. Brands that take risks in their strategy most often are the ones that stand apart and stand the test of time.
Many companies also feel the need to build their strategy around features and benefits. They try to outperform the competition in operational expertise. But doing things better, faster or cheaper is not a brand strategy. Few companies have competed successfully on the basis of these things alone over an extended period of time. These practices can be imitated or copied quite easily, leaving no difference between you and the other guy. A good brand strategy must be built on something much bigger and more important than mere features and benefits.
Here are three keys to finding a unique strategic position:
1. Your customers currently are seeking it. Before deciding on what will set your brand apart, make sure your customers want it. It must be important to them. If it seems like a good idea to you, but consumers could care less, keep looking.
2. You are uniquely suited to delivering it. If you are defining a strategy for a brand that already exists, it should be based on something you’re already good at. Play to your strengths. If you’re creating a strategy for a new brand, make sure you can deliver on the promise. Don’t set yourself up for something you can’t follow through with.
3. Your competitors currently are not addressing it. Remember, the whole point of having a brand strategy is to set yourself apart. To be different. So look around the competitive landscape. Do you see anyone with a similar strategic positioning? If so, abandon it and keep searching.
What Are Tactics?
Tactics make up the “plan of attack” for your brand positioning. It’s how you plan to execute your strategy. It’s how your creative concepts come to life. Tactics include all the different touchpoints you have with your customers, including catalog, Web site, store signage, advertising and e-mails. What do these look like? Do they communicate your strategy and unique positioning? The style of your photography and the tone of your copy also are tactics. They are the personality that you wrap around your brand.
Even though a solid strategy is critical to developing a strong brand, tactics are what make people fall in love with you. It’s what they come in contact with that grabs their attention. What they see is what they become passionate about. When a brand is brought to life through meaningful tactical execution, suddenly people can interact with it, see it and touch it. They can relate to it on an emotional level. And people tend to buy based on emotions, not rational thinking.
You need both a solid strategy and powerful execution to have a successful brand. One without the other is not enough. There have been many good strategies, novel ideas that were poorly executed, where the brands failed over time. Likewise, the best designed brand in the world won’t last long without a solid differentiating strategy behind it.
Here are three keys to executing against your strategy:
1. Be different. Be REALLY different! You must stand out. Period. Your customers don’t view your marketing materials in a vacuum. They are surrounded by marketing messages every day. Other brands constantly are fighting for their time and attention, too. When thrown into this visual mix, does your brand stand apart?
2. Be consistent. Identify all points of contact you have with your customers and prospects. You would be surprised how many different ways your brand comes face to face with consumers. Review all of these various touchpoints and make sure you provide the same experience every time.
3. Be repetitive. We assume our customers know everything about us. Surely they understand what we stand for—what makes us different. But they don’t. We have to remind them again and again. Once you have pinpointed that one thing that makes you unique, tell that story every chance you get. Then tell them again.
Who’s Doing it Right?
When strategy and tactics align, it can be a beautiful thing. Here are a few brands that have managed to do both successfully, and examples of how they achieved it.
• L.L. Bean was founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean. His passion for the outdoors was the basis for the company’s strategic positioning. The brand is known as a trusted source for reliable outdoor equipment and expert advice. The tactics it uses to deliver on this promise include the always-present visual reference to nature. It’s no accident that many of its products are photographed in natural environments. And the textures, color palette and typography—even the tone of voice—all communicate a fresh and natural message. What’s more, L.L. Bean’s commitment to quality is brought to life in its famous guarantee.
• Discount retailer Target is another example of a brand that gets it. Its entire strategy and positioning is built around “style and design.” It operates on the belief that good design and high style should be available to the masses. How does it execute this strategy? It’s partnered with designers like Michael Graves, Isaac Mizrahi and Mossimo to lend credibility to its brand. In addition to product design, it concentrates on package design, store signage, environmental graphics and advertising. Every place the consumer comes in contact with the Target brand is invested with style.
Smart strategy and brilliant execution: You need both to deliver a brand experience that people will notice, remember and, ultimately, want.
Brent Niemuth is creative director and brand evangelist for J. Schmid & Assoc., in Mission, Kan. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.