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May 12, 2008

A 4 Step Model for Online Brand Building – Part 1

A great new start-up company I know asked for my suggestions recently for “how to build an on-line brand”. To help guide the conversation, I created a document for them which outlines my own, non-patented, get-what-you-pay-for methodology for online brand building.  Because I have been a bit lax with posting recently, I thought I would graze two birds with one stone and provide a copy here as well for community consumption.

First things first: Measurable Outcomes
I always start Brand Building challenge the same way - by asking what the heck the company wants to get out of building their online brand? 

Brand building is never an end in itself, but rather a means to an end, and that end is usually to move the needle on one or more of the core business metrics for the organization. These may be more site registrations, more online purchases, increased loyalty from existing customers, expanding share of wallet, etc. So, the starting point of any effort to build an online brand should be a very clear definition of the measurable outcomes of those efforts.

This may seem intuitive but I am always surprised at how many companies just don’t seem to have a clear and specific set of measurable business outcomes associated with their brand building efforts. 

Take those Bell Beavers and that multi-million dollar ad campaign for example. Certainly that was a successful campaign in terms of brand awareness.  Regardless of your opinion of them, we all know the Beavers.  The question really is, did the needle actually move for Bell products and services as a result of their campaign?  Without a clear definition of the measurable outcomes, this campaign could equally be argued to be a stunning success or a complete failure.

My Four Step Model for Brand-Building
So let’s assume that you do have very clear business-related outcomes defined, now what?  Well this is where this chart comes in, which is a crude picture of the marketing model that I’ve subscribed to for a while now (mostly assembled by listening to folks much smarter than me). 

4_steps_brand_building_garrity_6

It has four steps to it which are sequential.  I’ll describe each below:    

Step 1:  Define Your “Really Important and Specific Problem” (RISP):

In order for your company to be successful in building an online brand, your first step is to be crystal clear on what “Really Important and Specific Problem” (RISP) you are solving for customers. 

Really good RISPs are “Important” enough to be burning issues for people and “Specific” enough to be solvable by you.  For example, “Solving World Hunger” is not a RISP because, while important, it is far too general and large a problem to ever be solved by your product or service. 

Without Specificity in your RISP, the acronym becomes RIP, which is likely what will happen to your online marketing efforts. 

Similarly, remember that the goal here is to solve a CUSTOMER problem. If your marketing pitch sounds like “World’s First” or “World’s Best”, here’s a hint: those aren’t customer problems.  In the majority of cases, customers who hear “world’s first” of something think it means “unstable” and “bug filled”.

Without a laser-like focus around what your exact RISP is, I would argue that you shouldn’t spend a dollar of your company’s money on marketing.  Again, I have found it astonishing how many companies do not have a clearly defined and commonly agreed to RISP. 

Here’s a little test for whether your organization is clear on your RISP.  Ask 10 employees what customer problem they think your company is solving.  If you get 10 different answers including an “I don’t know”, then this is a great place to start work on your brand building efforts.

Step 2:  Have an Excellent Core Offer (ECO)
Crafting an Excellent Core Offer is the logical next step after being crystal clear on your RISP.  An Excellent Core Offer is the outcome of the sum total of your organization’s:  product or service offer, website functionality, key message clarity, fulfilment model and customer care model. 

The best way to test an ECO is to have everyone in your organization (and I mean everyone) contribute to a two column list. Column A says “Stuff About Us That Rocks”, Column B says “Stuff About Us That Sucks”.  If Column A significantly exceeds Column B, then congrats. In either scenario, give Column A to your marketing lead and give Column B to your executive management team. This is what they should spend the majority of their time on.

When companies actively brand build while they still have major ECO problems, it is usually because they find it easier to market their service rather than to fix it.  I would once again argue that if your company isn’t at least on the path to an excellent core offer, then you should save your marketing dollars and concentrate on fixing your service model until it is excellent. 

I know how hard this is to do for many companies because of factors like organizational dysfunction, fractional leadership and short term revenue targets.  That said, if you don’t focus on an ECO when you need to, you will waste the majority of your marketing money building a brand promise at cross purposes with your service model. 

In one company I was part of, I actually repurposed some of our ad marketing budget to instead fund internal and external product usability improvements.  The results were significantly higher long term results.

Identified your RISP? Confident in your ECO? Then stay tuned for Part Two, where I’ll talk about recruiting a relevant community and tactics for general awareness brand building.

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