A Brand Health Check, Part 1

As more and more media players surface, fewer and fewer consumer dollars are available to share among them. The result? Marketers make branding compromises in a desperate attempt to hit revenue targets.

It’s wise at such times to recall the well-worn clichi and ask yourself: “Am I not seeing the forest for the trees?” It might be time to go on alert. I’ve written this article, and next week’s, to help you see the forest — and to help you avoid committing brand suicide.

A lot of the things I’m about to say are obvious — you might even claim they’re naove. But the fact is that I’m seeing more and more examples of brands whose builders appear to be systematically forgetting some fundamental brand-health issues and diluting their brands’ position as a result.

In today’s and next week’s online-brand test, you’ll have the chance to check out how well you’ve been concentrating on your brand. Today’s test will ask you to check your site in five ways. Next week, the test adds five more. Be prepared. The questions are simple, but they are far from easy to solve.

1. Key message

According to all your stakeholders, your brand needs to communicate a host of things via its site. But tell me, is your core message clear to your Web site’s audience? What three key messages should your site’s visitors take away with them after having spent 10 minutes on your site?

2. Consistency

Consistency is especially important when it comes to navigation. You should ensure that your brand’s core message is reflected consistently in your site’s navigation, that consumers can rely on your communications consistency to navigate their way from page to page, from your real-world store to your site, from your cell phone strategies to your site, from your catalog to your site, and so on. In short, ensure that your consumer, at any point on your brand’s communications continuum, knows without any doubt where to go and why to go there.

Another point: consistency is a fundamental branding requirement in every facet of your interactions with the consumer. Consistency ensures synergy between the brand’s message across all media channels. How consistent is your brand’s Web site message (its voice and utterances) with the message it promulgates in the stores? How consistent is your television message with its radio exposure? With its coverage in catalogs? Can you claim that at least 50 percent of the message — its tone and its content — is consistent across media channels? If yes, you’re on the right track.

3. Synergy among media

Are the many media channels you deploy in your branding strategy coalescing and co-operating harmoniously? How successfully does your strategy refer customers from your stores to the Web, from the Web to the cell phone, from the cell phone to the stores… Can you claim that at least 70 percent of your media channels are working consistently with each other in exposing your brand to the consumer — and vice versa?

4. Listening, learning, and reacting

A priority very close to my heart is that a brand not only “talks” but also “listens,” “learns,” and “reacts.” Brands that are able to listen to consumer information, learn from the data, and react with the consumer intelligently will be winners (as I explain in Clicks, Bricks & Brands). Test your own brand. Assess how good you, as the brand-builder, are at listening to your consumers, capturing relevant information about them, learning from the data by mining the tons of information you gather and analyzing it — and by reflecting your findings in intelligent one-to-one dialogue with the consumer. If you assess your ability to build your brand in this responsive fashion at around 5 out of 10, your brand is well on track.

5. Tone of voice

The tone of voice your brand adopts reflects two things: your ability to convey your brand’s spirit and personality in written and verbal communication; and your ability to pitch your communication style appropriately for your audience. Too much information can complicate the language, destroying its ability to define the brand and defusing its core message. Pick five of your site’s pages at random. Now ask an independent person in your audience to read them. His task will be to tell you whether the five pages manage, individually, to target his consumer needs and whether he believes the five pages are consistent with each other. In this part of the test, I’m afraid you’ll need a score of 100 percent — five out of five — to pass.

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