You’ve got time for brand review in 2017

Emily Hellewell | Manager Editor, FamilyShare Network, DDM | @mlehell | January 3, 2017

When I walked into my MBA marketing class last fall and saw a handful of soda cans wrapped in tin foil to cover the labels I knew we were in for some taste testing and a hands-on learning experience.

Indeed, the professor presented a variety of snacks and drinks to figure out if we really knew the difference between brands and if our taste buds really preferred the products we already knew we liked.

Taste tests – a la the Coke versus Pepsi challenge – are hardly new in marketing. But during this class session I gained a better understanding of the importance of doing the work to create and maintain an accurate, strong brand to consumers.

The biggest surprise of the whole test for me came when the professor confessed he emptied the Gatorade and Powerade bottles and refilled both with the same generic-version sports drink.

I had been totally convinced I could taste a dramatic difference between the liquid in the Gatorade bottle and the one in the Powerade bottle. I also believed that I liked Gatorade significantly better. The only real difference between the products, in this case, was the label on the bottle. Apparently, I had developed a preference for Gatorade based on lots of things – like the ads and the celebrity endorsements – instead of the actual taste.

Branding and media disruption

As media continues to be disrupted and fragmented, making sure your organization’s brand is strong in the eyes and minds of your audience is more crucial than ever. Throughout 2016, journalism found itself in several news cycles that questioned its validity, from the presidential election to fake news and the ever-present story of dropping circulation and ad revenue.

Using branding to understand how to maintain relevance is crucial for those in the media business, to reinforce and rediscover your value in the eyes of your audience.

The best news yet? A brand review project can be as expansive or as narrowly focused as you want to make it. As long as you know your limitations and interpret the findings appropriately, even a small, focused brand review can go a long way.

Create a micro-branding project

Taking months and months for an extensive brand review probably seems like a luxury you can’t afford. There are certainly situations where that luxury is crucial to the future of your business, but in-between those times, a micro-branding project might be more realistic. A micro-branding project means tackling any single element or combination of elements that are needed to create, develop or refresh a brand.

Over the last six weeks, that’s exactly the project we undertook at Deseret Digital Media’s FamilyShare. For our micro-branding project we focused on what we needed to create a brand guide. Up to this point, the individual team members each had a pretty good understanding of the current brand, however, the tone, voice and positioning of our brand hadn’t been collectively documented anywhere. Additionally, the team had been talking about new opportunities but wasn’t yet sure which ones to explore. With those considerations, we focused on broadly defining the current brand so it could fit both where we are now and any number of ways we could develop in the future.

In reality, a micro-branding project could bring up more questions than answers. That’s okay. It’s not meant to address all your branding needs. Instead, it’s a way to identify one component of your brand that you can better define and strengthen, or create for a new market.

Define your sandbox and look outside of it

FamilyShare has four websites (in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Indonesian) and nearly 100 social media pages. Creating content and advertising opportunities means we have both B2C and B2B audiences. Addressing the complexities of each of the audiences and cultures in this branding assessment just wouldn’t be possible with the limited time we were given. We decided to focus on our English, end-user focused products. The six-week timeframe also meant we couldn’t delve as deeply into audience insights and external research as we would have liked. So we put a placeholder on those tasks and made a plan to get back to them in the (hopefully not too distant) future.

Whatever your constraints on resources – like time or finances, people or expertise – don’t let that stop you from starting something. Simply use these constraints to define what you can do, while acknowledging the shortcomings. Move forward by being creative and being open to new ways to accomplish the work.

Around the same time we started the FamilyShare brand project, I began a new semester of MBA classes, which included the brand marketing class (the one with the taste testing). The main assignment for the class was a group project to complete a brand audit on a company of our choosing.

Fortunately my study group was more than happy to have FamilyShare as our client for the project. In exchange, the FamilyShare micro-branding project benefitted from having five more people contributing to the work. The students tackled aspects of the project that we wouldn’t have had time to address in the FamilyShare project. Plus, my classmates enjoyed learning about and suggesting solutions for real-life situations.

It’s worth building partnerships with local universities because those relationships can help your organization explore the potential of new possibilities, do a deep dive into research or tackle other hard-to-find-time-for projects. Plus, it can give great teaching opportunities to the next generation of leaders in your industry and community.

Get the right people involved and talk to everyone

An important aspect of a micro-branding project is to get the right voices involved throughout all the stages of the project. Of course, this means your audience or user, but it also means your own staff and stakeholders. They are the ones that know the brand better than almost anyone else. They live it every day.

For the FamilyShare project we started by defining the topics and areas we needed to know more about in order to define and explain the brand. We identified the experts among the team in each of those areas and set up small group discussions in specific topic areas, including audience and purposes.

Additionally, each team member was invited to a session we called, “What is FamilyShare?” For this session, we asked each person to bring a couple of pictures that described FamilyShare’s attributes. The only caveat was they couldn’t bring images of the product (no screen shots or logos). The descriptions they provided as they pointed out elements of their pictures were stunning. As we asked for clarity, simply by asking, “Why is that important?” we found the deep emotions driving our staffs’ efforts toward excellence and likely our audiences’ motivation to consume our work.

Now that we've finished this micro-branding work, we have a better understanding of the strengths of the FamilyShare brand and steps we can take to improve it. In 2017, we are planning to continue learning about our audience and improving our content to be better aligned with what we want the brand to be. We'll keep you posted on our progress and any changes we make.