Finance

Building a strong brand in a weak economy: 20 things to note


So, let’s get the bad news over with, shall we? Difficult times and their attendant realities reinforce the need for bold fiscal action in the business environment. If industry players fail to act, they are likely to lose millions, if not more, and an already expanding unemployment bubble could very well burst free.

So, what’s the good news, you ask, given the glaring economic realities, how do businesses and marketing leaders reinforce confidence in their ability to lead?

How do they exemplify brand integrity and any goodwill their businesses may already have? Given the current dwindling levels of consumer confidence and spending. Is such a thing even remotely possible?

Believe it or not, it is best, and only possible to build a strong brand in an unfavourable economy. Yes, opportunities abound. Using some tested and time-honoured rules, one can strengthen brand trust and grow share of wallet and voice even in the more difficult of times.

Two great opportunities to leverage those time–honoured rules come to mind: 1) competitors are reducing their marketing spend and 2) your stakeholders are most perceptive during times of uncertainty. Thus, and most important of all, you must never stop communicating with your stakeholders, particularly in difficult times.

When confidence is low, customers and employees want their trusted brands to exude competency and integrity. When competitors go back to cut costs, savvy marketing practitioners use the opportunity to fill the void with communication and brands that are relevant to the lives of all stakeholders.

Thus, at times like these, anyone who can provide comfort, confidence, constancy and consistency, wins. There are some inexpensive yet powerful methods to produce significant results. Whether you lead a small business or a multinational, every message emanating from your business and brand during challenging times must take on additional significance. Your stakeholders are listening to what you say and closely watching what you do.

Customers may not be spending as much, but they are listening to every signal your organization sends. Even as paydays draw near, employees are also anxious and thus paying close attention to every move their leaders make. With every new data point, stakeholders and customers alike will either increase trust in your brand – or you lose them to some other brand more proactive than yours.

Once again, difficult times are the best times to establish your credentials as a trusted brand. Here are some 20 critical actions to establishing a strong brand in a weak economy.

  1. Let your brand always be regarded as the company’s most valuable asset: A brand is not just a marketing tool, it is often the essence of your company. Though this may be recognized, it is often not acted upon. More attention is paid to property, machinery and technology than to brands. The truth is that a weak brand losing trust in its markets renders an apparently sound company worthless. Brands are valuable. While auditors and lawyers may take their time in recognizing this, the new generation of managers are already acknowledging the change, so why shouldn’t you?
  2. Let your brand involve customers in a relationship akin to friendship: Brands have to involve people. Personal attention, recognition, surprises and doing exciting things together are the essence of friendship. As an added extra, find a common cause to passionately participate in. Engage your stakeholders and customers every step of the way and you will then have found the perfect recipe for success as a brand
  3. Let your brand stand for something; be different: It is better to be something to someone than nothing to everyone. The traditional brand does not want to let anybody down. Atypical of mass-market products. The trouble is that such brands are emotionally very shallow. For the new individual audience, the brand must stand for something special. It must have a philosophy and be different, not only in features but in attitude. Such a brand creates fans. Or better still, brand–groups who through their sheer loyalty will not only stand by the brand but will also enthusiastically introduce it to others.
  1. Use your social media network: So much has been said on the subject, so we will not over flog it, save to say that everybody is on some form of social media platform and tuned in loud and clear. Spend some time listening to chatter about your brand. If there’s none, then you have your work cut out for you my friend. Put something out there! Engage, now!!
  2. Exude integrity: This is the most important element of building a trusted brand. Organizations that will be able to thrive in a weak economy are those that will always deliver on their promises. No exceptions! It’s no longer about what you say but what you delivered to that customer’s bank, particularly in uncertain times. You can hardly bring in a positive stream of goodwill if there’s only negative feedback about your brand, particularly for the world to see. Once tainted, your integrity is gone! No business. So, stand on your word, every day, every
  3. Showcase organizational capabilities: It’s one thing to talk a good game. It’s quite another to deliver. Stakeholders want to know that you and your team have the technical know-how to deliver on your brand’s promise. Teach people how to better interact with your brand, and they will bless you with their hard-earned monies. Become a trusted source of knowledge, transparency about your brand and in your industry or
  4. Emanate goodwill: Authentic goodwill, particularly as the public suffers in these hard times, drives a powerful message across organizational channels and throughout your marketing mix. For example, brands with long-term investment in sustainability practices are shoring up credentials as brands that do good whilst doing well. Organizations that embark on cost-cutting measures to save jobs are far better respected than those that do otherwise. The key is to lead with integrity, let your stakeholders know your company has a soul and your brand will have a cherished place in their hearts and pockets.
  1. A brand is created in the customer’s mind: The traditional view of the product or service is the brand is dead. The brand train has moved on to something almost ethereal. Whether your product comes in a 50 kg/litre pack is no longer relevant to today’s consumers. The brand is now the perception the customer has of what you do for them. How it makes them feel or be seen amongst their peers. How differently it makes people of the opposite sex perceive their importance in society. No longer can you only sell the product or its physical features, but the perception of what should be perceived
  2. Your brand should be used by management to drive the company: There is no tool better than the brand for uniting the forces and the stakeholders inside and around your business entity. Managing is all about focusing on mental energies. Any leakage of energy and any unproductive connections will cause a loss of voltage in your brand efforts thus adversely affecting your value in the marketplace. The good news is that brand builders have control to act or not to act. They can kick-start the process from the inside rather than waiting for something to happen
  3. Your brand should be crystal clear about its role in the marketplace: There was a time when you could manufacture or produce a little of However, internationalization and tough competition have brought this to an abrupt end. Brands must be focused. You not only have to focus on which business you are in, but also on what role in that business you wish to play. Pin–point a niche and stay there! Stray not!!
  4. Let your Brand encourage creativity; not the least amongst your customers: Interactivity and creativity are necessities, not occasional indulgences. A brand has to encourage a feeling of ownership amongst its users. The customer must feel as though they are a brand’s creators, a sort of ‘Beta–tester’ playing a vital role in helping it achieve constant improvement. Your brand should be a gigantic creative joint venture involving critical stakeholders. Most of all, the customer.
  1. Let your brand enjoy alliance with other Brands: Traditional brands are very anxious not to involve themselves with other brands, but those were yesterday’s brands, or will soon be. Brands of the future must be strong, distinct, stand for something special – based on deep values – and have nothing to fear from connecting themselves to other brands. Sharing common ground can make everybody a winner. Indeed, a strong brand might gain even more strength through co-branding with an apparently weaker brand or in other cases, with an even stronger brand. Every brand has everything to gain by connecting itself to the right alliances, in the right environment, and with the right people. Partnership
  2. Your Brand is best protected by the Brand itself: Traditionally, trademark legal protection has been central to brand protection. Now, thanks to internalization, and the transparency of the web, it is very difficult to control all the aspects of a brand. Great brands need not fear, however. If you have a deep relationship with customers, bad copies and imitations hold no fear for you. Actually, and in a lot of proven cases, fraud against a brand that maintains a base of loyal customers, will probably further strengthen the bond between your customers and your brand, maybe even garner you new ones dissatisfied with the fraud or
  3. Your brand must be a vehicle for the transfer of both value and values: The brand transfers value and values from one product generation to the next; from one product to its derivatives; from one kind of a product to another kind. It transfers value between company and product, and vice versa. The brand is not simply an economical mechanism; it is also a philosophical mechanism. It’s not just about money anymore; it’s about culture and humanity as well. A brand of the future will need philosophical strength to gain economical results. A strong value chain will give way to an even greater chain of values, centred around a strong and lasting customer experience.
  1. Discover whether you and your potential customers are a good fit: Let go of forcibly trying to close a deal or getting the appointment by any means and you will discover that you don’t have to take responsibility for moving the market process forward. If you simply focus your sales conversation on problems that your brand or services can help potential customers solve, and if you don’t jump the gun by forcibly trying to jolt the sales process, you will find that customers will actually bring you into their buying process. Patience is a virtue.
  2. When you lose a target, it is usually at the beginning of the marketing process: If you believe that you lose a customer because you make a mistake at the end of the process, take a look back at how you began the relationship. Did you start with a presentation? Did you use traditional marketing language like “We have a solution that I believe you really need” or “others in your industry have bought our solution, so you should consider us as well”? When you use traditional marketing language, customers can’t help but label you with the negative stereotype ‘marketer/salesman’. This makes it almost impossible for them to relate to your position of trust. And if trust isn’t established at the outset, honest communication about the problems your brand is trying to help them solve, then you have lost the customer from the very beginning.
  1. Pressure is the only cause of rejection; Rejection should never happen: Rejection happens for only one reason – something you said as subtle as it might have seemed, triggered a defensive reaction from your potential customer. Yes, something you said! To eliminate rejection, simply shift your mindset so that you give up the hidden agenda of hoping for a sale rather than building your brand. Everything you say and do should stem from the basic mindset that you are there to help potential clients. This makes you able to ask the kind of question customers wish to hear. e.g. “Would you be open to talking about issues affecting your bottom–line?”
  1. Never chase a potential customer, you’ll only trigger more marketing pressure: Chasing potentials has always been considered normal and necessary, but it’s rooted in the old ‘macho’ selling an image that “if you don’t keep chasing, it means you’re giving up, and that means you’re a failure”. This is dead wrong! Instead of chasing potentials, let them perceive that you would like to avoid anything that involves the old cat–and–mouse chasing games by arranging a quality time for your meeting. Build a bond, and the money will build the bridge.
  1. When a potential offers objection, uncover the truth behind them: Most traditional branding and marketing programs spend a lot of time focusing on overcoming rejections. These tactics only put more marketing pressure on potential customers and fail to explore or understand the truth behind what the customer is saying. When you hear “we don’t have the budget” do you think you are hearing the truth, or do you suspect that these are polite evasions designed to end the conversation? Rather than trying to counter objections, you can uncover the truth by replying “That’s not a problem…’ – no matter what clients are objecting to – and use gentle, dignified language that invites them to reveal the truth about their perceptions of your brand.
  2. Never defend your brand or what it has to offer; it only creates more pressure: When a potential client says, “Why should I choose your brand over your competition?” Your first instinctive reaction will probably be to start defending your brand or service because you want to convince them to buy. But what do you think goes through your potential’s mind at that point? Something like, “This marketer is trying to sell me on why what they have to offer is better, but I hate feeling as if I’m being sold to…” Thus, rather than defending your brand, try suggesting that you aren’t going to convince them of anything because that would only create marketing pressure. Ask them about the key problem that they are trying to solve, and then explore how your product or service might solve those problems – without ever trying to persuade. Let potentials feel that they chose your brand without feeling sold to.

As earlier suggested, creating a strong bond between you and your target audience is always the key to building, and more importantly, maintaining a strong brand in a weak economy.


Brain Essien is a business consultant, with expertise in digital marketing, crowd funding and business plan/proposal formulation/design and pitch decks. mcbrainandcompany@gmail.com. +234703-444-6041



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