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Three Lessons for the Future – Revisiting the Brand Gap

By Joanne Jacobs

Back in 2007, when I first came across this presentation by Marty Neumeier I loved the way it explained the way that business strategy and brand could come together. It spoke to my interest in strategy and marketing and seemed to make sense at a time when social media was beginning to shape our thinking around digital businesses.

So, after all this time, how does the Brand Gap hold up?

Most recently, in the strategy work I do for clients, I have been revisiting the power and necessity of branding. It has come as a slight surprise – but a pleasant one. For as the presentation explains, branding is “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization”. And when you take this into account, it humanises everything you do.

Neumeier suggests that there are five disciplines that must be mastered are:

  • Differentiation: Because we are hardwired to only notice what’s different, brands must stand out from their competition. This is done by having a focus that both extends the brand and reinforces the experience of the brand. This means that the brand must focus on being different rather than simply messaging differently. It’s cultural.
  • Collaboration: Make no mistake, brand collaborations are hard work. No matter whether you are working with an agency/agencies or in-house, you increasingly need collaborators to bring your brand, offerings and promise to life. This is where strategy can make a huge difference. Be clear on yours. Develop guiding principles and find new ways to play nicely with others.
  • Innovation: This is where many brands struggle. Often brands capture our attention through innovation. Then as they grow, they become less not more innovative. It’s the innovators dilemma. But innovation – and even disruption – doesn’t have to come at a cost. Here are three ways that you can innovate more consciously and effectively.
  • Validation: Applying a lean startup approach to your marketing / product development is the perfect framework for brands that operate in a real time world (and yes, that’s all of you). Keep your tests cheap, quick and dirty – and move on.
  • Cultivation: I’d apply this principle in a slightly different way these days. With big data, powerful networks and analytics, brands now have the ability to cultivate communities (of customers, suppliers, employees etc) consistently, collaboratively and at scale. Investing in these things builds trust.

The Brand Gap – Strong principles applied to new conditions

The Brand Gap still clearly speaks strongly to our current branding challenges. They are strategic principles that must be interpreted for your own conditions. Here are three things to consider when doing so:

  • Think outside-in: Don’t think about your brand from your own perspective. Take a walk in the shoes of your customers. Better yet, host them in your spaces. Visit them in theirs. Get out from behind your desk (and your analytics dashboard) and speak to them. You will be surprised what people will tell you when you do it naturally. Oh – and I don’t mean focus groups.
  • From customers to communities: We all have customers, but the underlying relationship we have with customers is transactional. Brands need to begin thinking in terms of communities and fashioning their segments according to community organisation principles, not marketing segments.
  • Change comes from your culture: It’s almost impossible to differentiate, collaborate and innovate without a commitment to cultural transformation. This means doing the hard work of changing your business culture. It comes by working one person at a time. Your time starts now.

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