Branding or re-branding a company takes a lot of time and effort. When done properly, it’s a process and journey that shouldn’t have to be repeated unless there is a major change in business or market focus.
However, that doesn’t mean that the underlying elements of a brand should be forgotten until the next major overhaul is needed. As with most marketing processes, an assessment and update of underlying brand elements — beyond the logo — can ensure the brand continues to be positioned properly in its target market.
There are two key brand pillars that should be assessed and refreshed as needed: a brand’s key messages and the visual elements that support the brand persona. If the messaging and visual brand elements stay fresh, strategic marketing efforts will continue to create the right perception with a target audience, and the brand will continue to get a return on its original branding investment.1. Assess and Update Key Messages
A brand’s key messages use simple and compelling business language to:
- Position what a company offers
- Explain the value the offering provides to customers
- Itemize the benefits the offering delivers
- Outline the proof points that support the positioning
These messages are collected in a comprehensive message house document that can be used for effective B2B marketing strategies. Typically, the message house is structured around an umbrella message or elevator pitch, a series of core messages, and the supporting points that position the brand’s market offerings. Ideally, messages are presented in a hierarchy format, focused on customer-oriented value statements, and supported by company credibility statements that reinforce the reason to believe that the brand can deliver on the promises it makes.
The message house serves as a toolbox for all marketing content that is generated to position the brand. Keeping this content toolbox fresh and in line with the market is the key to effective brand positioning. And there are three key areas to focus on when updating a message house.
Words have power, so the terminology in a message house is important. One way to keep a message house relevant is to eliminate outdated, over used, or superfluous terms.
For example, is the message house using the word “innovative” too much? Is it emphasizing a “new paradigm” that is no longer new? Is tablestakes software referred to in a context that implies people aren’t familiar with it?
The world moves fast. That means the terms a target audience uses and the frames of reference for those terms do as well. Outdated and overused terms and phrases will stick out like sore thumbs when they are used in a content marketing program. So, there’s nothing wrong with updating messaging with key words and phrases that will resonate more effectively with a target audience.
Businesses, especially in B2B industries, tend to want to show off their knowledge and strengths by over-emphasizing technology positioning with text that is written in an academic style rather than a marketing style. Standard editing practices are often viewed as over-editing that simplifies the content unnecessarily. The typical argument is that the academic approach is okay because the core audience is smart enough to understand what is being presented.
While it is true that audiences can detect, and won’t like, content that is dumbed down so much that it is almost simplistic, it is also true that the opposite can have a negative effect. A healthy degree of simplicity and concision is needed in all messaging content. Effective messages strike the right balance in terminology and writing style to avoid unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome statements.
All key messages should be direct, to the point, relevant to what is being positioned, and edited down for clarity. Additional details can be added in context later when the messages are used as the anchors for brochures, briefs, guides, and case studies that are part of a strategic content marketing process.
Position Credibility Last
Credibility positioning is important, but it should not be the first part of a message house. Still, many organizations continue to structure their messaging and positioning around how long they’ve been in business, how much experience they have, how much post-secondary education the C-suite has, and so on.
Yes, this credibility information is important, but it should not be front and center for brand positioning. Target audiences are primarily interested in what a company offers, how it can solve their business issues, the value it provides, and how it differentiates from competing offerings. Credibility statements are only needed to reinforce these messages and should be the tertiary level of statements in a message house.
2. Refine Visual Brand Elements
The visual elements of a brand should also be assessed and refreshed as needed. Unfortunately, the visual pieces of the branding puzzle are often judged more on their style and less on their ability to fit with market positioning objectives. Therefore, these elements should be revisited with two questions in mind:
- Do they still help shape the perception we are trying to create?
- Do they still support the delivery of key messages?
If the answer to either of these questions is no, then refining visual brand elements is necessary.
Revisit Colors and Supporting Images
At its most basic, the refresh process should begin with the fundamental blocks of the visual branding foundation.
Photos, illustrations, icons, and even colors do have a design expiration date. Color selections from a few years ago that were on trend at the time may no longer be appropriate for a target market. The types of images used to position the brand may no longer match with the desired perception. So, trying to get away with keeping an illustration, stock image, or original photography that worked three years ago is probably not the right way to go.
Ensure Visuals Support Desired Positioning
It’s easy to fall into the trap of obsessing over how visual elements look rather than what they are supposed to communicate. But updating a brand package isn’t simply about having an eye for colors that pop, shapes that are visually pleasing, and understanding what grabs attention. Harnessing the power of visual branding is understanding that visuals are part of a larger positioning framework.
When visual branding elements are working properly, they leverage and support key messaging and positioning statements to create and reinforce a desired brand identity and perception. These elements should attract the attention of the target audience, establish the desired impression, and bridge the gap between what is said (the key messages and positioning statements) and what is seen.
Effective visuals get the audience’s attention, maintain it, and guide it through written material with ease. They ensure that key messages are delivered and that the right perception is created in the process.
Bottom Line: Keep Current
Obviously, the point of all this is that marketers should always be aware of where their brand is in its evolution, be ready to assess it objectively, and take the necessary steps to ensure it continues to fit with the market perception they are trying to create.
Just like changing the oil and keeping up regular maintenance on a car, the same ongoing attention and care to a brand will continue to provide a return on investment and reduce the risk that target audiences will get the wrong impression from a marketing program.
*Updated version of blog published 09-04-2017*