What does on-brand mean?

By Kate Elizabeth
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29 January 2019

An on-brand strategy defines how a business approaches every aspect of their marketing strategy. Marketing strategies don’t just incorporate advertising - when marketing is focused, it also incorporates reputation management, social media, search engine optimisation, visual branding, and customer service. Since marketing is as much about visuals as it is about customer interactions, branding strategies aren’t just about brand guidelines that define color palettes and logos.

With the right branding strategy, a business promises a unified, professional, and understanding response to any customer issue.

When it comes to marketing, the on-brand strategy presents a cohesive, omnichannel presence for the business that can be easily recognized and shared.

When a marketing team starts discovery with a client, they should always start developing an on-brand strategy that will guide all marketing efforts, as well as customer interactions.

Start with Brand Discovery

Any marketing team can start asking a customer questions and get an idea of how the customer feels that their business operates and what’s most important to themt. However, is that what the customer wants to know? Is it what will help that brand become more visible and customer-friendly?

In most cases, after talking to the customer, marketing teams will need to do a full audience analysis, looking at insights in the client’s CRM data, as well as social media and Google Analytics. Learning how the audience is responding to different products, previous marketing campaigns, and overall content response will help you define what’s working and what’s not.

In addition, user experience surveys and customer outreach campaigns can help you get more insights into how audiences are responding to current marketing materials, allowing your team to identify triumphs and corrections, to remain on-brand.

Here are a few questions to consider when wireframing a brand's strategy:

  • How is the brand currently positioned online? How many touch points do customers have on a daily, weekly, monthly basis?
  • What is the customer service response to users online or by phone? Are there scripts used to talk to customers? What user surveys have been conducted?
  • What are the most popular products? Who’s buying those products? Are there any friction points for these customers when they try to purchase these products online or in-store?
  • What’s the company’s history look like? What does the about section of the website say about their values? Do these align with what their audience likes? Do these align with competitors?
  • What would make the brand stand out to their audience? What can be gained by softening or hyping up certain aspects of their brand?
  • Finally, what should be the overall “brand promise” to the customer? What statements can you and your team write out that would fit into a brand promise statement?

Conduct a Brand Architecture Exercise

If the brand promise is the umbrella, then the ribs comprise the brand architecture. This exercises can organize your marketing team’s thoughts around how to approach different aspects of a brand’s message, personality, visual presence, reputation, products, and so forth.

Here’s an example:

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The brand architecture is comprised of five parts as follows:

Brand Essence

The first step to understanding brand essence is looking at the products being sold to customers. You should be able to define the most popular products, as well as upcoming promotions and other future products that your client wants to sell. How do these come together to define the brand?

In the end, you should be able to come up with a statement that shows all of the products fit together underneath the brand. This will define how the brand and its products will be positioned on the market.

Brand Values

We call this a code of behaviour. It can define how the brand creates the product (think “crafted with handmade goodness”) or how it approaches customer service (“we serve our customers with utmost integrity”). It can help your team to go through a visual exercise of what aspects are important to the brand.

In this example, we look at a collection of vacation resorts under a tropical brand. They value “family,” “corporate citizenship,” “integrity,” and “predictable quality and value.”

Underneath each, a statement builds upon each of these values. Overall, you get the sense that this is a corporate business that puts family first and values their customer’s well-being at all times. As you build out marketing materials, you can guide designers towards visuals that represent these values, as well as messaging for social media, reputation management articles, blogs, and public relations pieces.

Brand Promise

We put the brand promise in the middle because it is the meatiest part of the brand architecture. You may not develop the brand promise statement until the other parts of the brand architecture chart are complete. In addition, you should present this chart as a proposal to the client, so they can give their input on a brand promise as well.

In this brand statement, we articulate the commitment of the brand to the customers in a single statement. While it can be generalized, it denotes happy vacations with family. That brand promise will define the rest of the strategy.

Value Proposition

To build upon brand values, essence, and promises, you need actual services and products that can be delivered to the customer on a consistent basis through your branding and marketing materials.

For example, in this brand architecture, the resort promises services to make it more family-friendly, connected, relaxing, valuable, and fun. These service items listed under value proposition create the value that the brand is based upon.

When you have a multitude products, the value proposition should be defined by how the products are made, such as materials used, or how the products are tested. It may also define customer support or the expertise of the sales associate.

The value proposition ultimately defines the product attributes that deliver the brand promise.

Brand Voice

Finally, you can brainstorm with your team about different statements that match the brand voice of your client. These statements will define how the brand speaks publicly as well as internally. Perhaps, your client’s brand voice statements will define customer service, social media outreach, or product marketing messages.

The brand voice exercise is important to do with account managers, designers, and other team members who will be working on the branding and graphic materials for a client.

Transitioning to Brand Management

Once you have completed the brand promise and brand architecture exercises, you should already have an idea how the brand will be managed in terms of voice and personality. This information is very useful in going one step further to create a brand management strategy.

When managing a brand, marketing teams should define all channels where customers currently find products, as well as any other channels that would help the brand be more visible. Social mention and reputation management tools will also be important in looking at any threats, as well as activity in search engines, marking content that is positive or negative.

A brand management strategy should always focus on building positive content and minimizing negative content. You can’t completely remove all negative reviews, but you can diminish their importance and relevance by promoting other content and publishing newer, positive content as much as possible.

However, if your client has a striking amount of negative reputation management problems, then your strategy will need to consider how to remove or neutralize these threats, and what will the company’s response be to future threats.

Brand management strategies will typically include:

  • Brand reputation audit with positive reviews and negative threats noted
  • Channel definitions for each social network, site, forum, directory or blog that is important to the overall marketing strategy and brand visibility
  • Customer service pages, contact information, accurate profiles in directories, and any other location or customer response helplines
  • Product marketing, messaging, visuals, and related customer service responses for those products
  • Unified visual branding across all channels, including logos, graphics, color palettes, slogans, and other messaging
  • Channel response libraries that define or provide guidance on unified, canned responses to requests for information, whether they are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TripAdvisor, or other review website
  • Solutions for negative reviews including removal, neutralization, customer service promises, and resolution
  • Scripts, internal resources, and information to help employees, such as customer service representatives, respond to marketing lead generation, product inquiries, negative threats, positive feedback, and other interactions with customers
  • Social media styling, about information, messaging, editorial calendars, frequency of posting, hashtags, and overall content guidelines

While marketing teams aren’t able to oversee every aspect of brand management, they can make it easier for clients to communicate to their employees by supplying materials that define the brand management strategy. You can also supply internal resources such as marketing visuals and messaging that will help customer service employees explain promotions and new products to inquiring customers.

Other Tips to Improve a Client’s Brand Experience

Now that you have defined the brand promise, you can look at the brand experience from the customer’s perspective. As you start thinking about how your strategy will affect this experience, these tips may help you detail out other aspects of branding that will be important for the success of marketing relationship with the client.

Employee Training as Brand Ambassadors

Disney is so successful because its employees are trained to promote the company’s values. They share information and talk positively about the brand, spotting opportunities to provide information to customers and show their loyalty to the brand as well. This training should show employees how important they are to the overall company image.

Be Transparent with Every Team Member

Branding doesn’t just trickle down from the client. It requires that your team leaders communicate objectives clearly, defining details small and large that need to be communicated to marketing strategists, designers, developers, and client liaisons. By always keeping everyone in the loop, you’ll be able to avoid miscommunication and problems with off-branding.

Stay On-Trend and Keep Up with PR

No one wants to become the brand left in the dark. You should always be looking at different trends, picking up on marketing strategies and visuals that might work for your strategy. You can look at new trends within your industry and follow competitors to ensure that you’re staying on top of the market.

Leverage Social Media as Much as Possible

Posting on social media is organic, free marketing that is visible to your audience every day. When you promote a product, think about the brand values and represent those without trying to over-sell. People can recognize a good product and see value when it’s represented well.

Recognize When Goals Shift & Prepare for Change

There’s always a big picture, but within that picture, goals can change and shift depending on the market and audience. You should always be marking milestones and prepare for changes to happen, such as new product releases and seasonal promotions.

Be Accountable and Share Your Successes

Customers and your marketing team will appreciate transparency with a brand. If there are negative reputation problems, sometimes the best policy is to acknowledge what happened and share how the brand is changing.

Final Word

Marketing strategies only work when they are well-defined and communicated to all stakeholders. In addition, clients appreciate when they're included, but be careful to maintain a balance. Official communication should be marked and scheduled, so that you don't have to answer to the client multiple times per day, which can lead your team astray.

There’s always something to learn when you’re building a better brand. You should note when there is growth and also look at areas that need more attention, assigning goals to teams to tackle poor branding on certain channels or cleaning up old marketing materials that no longer fit with the new brand.

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