This article was originally featured in SmartCompany, September 2020.
In the recently released Annual CMO Spend Survey for 2020 conducted by Gartner, a leading research and insights advisory, over 400 marketers across the globe were surveyed in order to get a handle on their expectations for the future, and their predicted changes in marketing spend amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic.
The results reveal the priorities of some of the most powerful marketers on the globe, which provide some hints for how business owners everywhere can navigate their way through the uncertainty.
33% of CMOs have indicated that brand strategy is their number one vital marketing capability. This represents a significant shift compared to the previous year’s report, in which it was ranked closer to the bottom of the list. It means that for some of the biggest companies in the world, brand strategy ranks higher in importance than advertising, analytics, digital commerce and research.
And what exactly is brand strategy? It’s the insights-led, long-term roadmap for how your brand will win. By defining the foundations of your brand (like purpose, values, beliefs, personality, value proposition, benefits, etc.), you’re creating a framework for every business action to be distinctly and consistently ‘you’. Put another way, brand strategy is to your business what your heart is to your body: infusing life into every element of your business.
Let’s take a look at why some of the world’s biggest brands will be shifting their focus back to brand strategy, and why it should be one of your top priorities for operating through the other side of a pandemic too.
Brand strategy is a long term play, so ensuring the foundations are strong now will help fortify your position for the future
Investing focus and energy in brand strategy will never be a waste. By focussing on critical components like your value proposition and brand values, you’re bolstering your core in order to withstand (further) unexpected economic shocks. Having this solid base provides stability for the longer term, for well beyond the crisis management phase.
Your value proposition is a statement about how you uniquely benefit your customers’ lives, and why yours is a solution that is superior to alternatives. A simple structure is:
- we help [your target audience],
- do/feel/be [what you help them do]
- by offering them [the core benefit]
- which is better than alternatives because [what makes your offer proprietary/unique]
Your brand values are a set of fundamental principles which act as your business’s moral compass. Every business activity and touch point for the customer should be guided by these values.
Brand strategy remains relatively stable (because it’s a long term play), meaning the levers you pull to adapt to changing conditions will be at a tactical level.
At a time when ‘unexpected’ has become the only certainty, getting brand strategy right will provide some level of grounding from which your marketing activities can spring.
Brand strategy includes elements which are fundamental to the consumers’ experience with your brand, so getting clear on these allow for your marketing messages and possible new offers to land more securely. This ultimately provides lower risk for marketing and advertising investment.
In addition to value proposition and values, elements such as your brand positioning, who you compete with for your customers’ attention and what your brand personality and voice are, all remain consistent. Your marketing efforts therefore become more about tactics and nuance to deliver the result.
Relevance and ‘share of heart’ means ‘share of wallet’ – and ‘share of heart’ comes from knowing your own and that of your audience.
Being clear on your target audience’s core needs and uncovering insights into why they might be changing their buying behaviour right now will also form an important part of your brand strategy. Brand metrics which track what consumers think and feel about your brand will be more powerful at this time than awareness metrics.
Dive deeper than demographics and get crystal clear about your customers’ fears, motivations and hopes. These will be far more powerful indicators as to how your brand can better serve them and be relevant to them, ensuring you’re hitting the mark when you do get in front of them with your advertising messages.
Luckily, you’ve probably never been better positioned to empathise with your audience than now. Taking advantage of the shared human experience above the business challenges you face will undoubtedly serve you well.
Unsurprisingly, one of the key Gartner report recommendations is that whilst juggling priorities and what will likely be significantly reduced marketing budgets, investments should focus on long term outcomes, not short term wins. This is true even in a pandemic or recession-free world, because a focus on a solid brand strategy is a powerful play to set a business up for long term success.
Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to remind us of that.