To differentiate your brand, let customer focus guide your strategy and operations.
Competition for brand recognition has never been more fierce. An ability to connect with customers is essential. Writing for Strategy+Business, Isaac Krakovsky say that, to implement a successful customer-centric strategy, you need to transform your strategy and operations in order to differentiate your brand.
A FRAMEWORK FOR SUCCESS
Take an honest look at your current strategic and operational performance. Your company probably falls into one of four groups:
- Differentiators have both a differentiated brand strategy and effective operations.
- Visionaries have a differentiated strategy but fall short on operations.
- Doers have effective operations but are in need of a cultivated strategy.
- Hopefuls need both a differentiated strategy and effective operations.
To find out which group your brand is in, evaluate your strategic and operational performance. Give yourself a ranking for each, using a scale of one (basic) to four (differentiated). To come up with your rankings, assess your company’s effectiveness in each of the following ten components:
- Brand strategy: identity, value, perception and awareness.
- Operations: product offering, strategic pricing, digital engagement, loyalty programmes, omnichannel experience and supply chain.
To be considered differentiated, you should rank three or four in each of the four brand strategy components; and at least two of the six operational components.
HOW TO BECOME A DIFFERENTIATOR
The path to differentiation depends on whether your company is currently a hopeful, a doer, a visionary or a differentiator.
- Hopefuls. Build a strong brand strategy. Understand what your brand represents, what value it brings to customers, and how that sets it apart from the competition.
- Doers. Identify what your competitive advantage is – and build your strategy around that.
- Visionaries. Allocate resources in a way that aligns with your brand strategy.
- Differentiators. Grow strategically – through innovation and strategic alliances – to stay on top.
PwC used this framework to assess the performance of 20 consumer brands and discovered that the differentiators had the highest growth rate: 10.9%, compared with only 1.7% for hopefuls.
BUILD STRATEGY, THEN OPERATIONS
Put customers at the centre of your approach to the four brand strategy components – then build operational capabilities on top of that strategy.
1) Focus on what you do best for your customers. Beauty brand Sephora allows people to experiment with their products. That experience has now been translated to digital via an app.
2) Realise that value involves more than just price. Kotn sells cotton apparel at affordable prices, sourced directly from Egyptian farmers who are subsidised by the company.
3) Know who your customers are. Apparel brand Vineyard Vines understands that authentic, relevant, personalised communications are critical to how the brand is perceived. Built on top of that strategic principle are operational elements, such as robust analytics.
4) Get the word out. Today’s consumers want immediate, authentic information and inspiration, and they go to social media to find it. Engaging content, visibility via hashtags, and a constant focus on the voice of the consumer are effective tools for emotional engagement online.
DON’T TRY TO DO IT ALL, OPERATIONALLY
Operational excellence doesn’t require differentiation in all six components. PwC’s assessment of 20 brands found that for a brand to be considered operationally differentiated, it needed to excel in at least two of the following six components:
1) Product offering. As part of its growth plan, Adidas chose to focus its portfolio. This is a differentiated approach, because retailers often do the opposite, expanding into other products.
2) Strategic pricing. Everlane is an ethical value player in the premium apparel market. Its pricing strategy reflects its commitment to prioritising fair wages and trade practices.
3) Digital engagement. L’Oréal has bolstered customer experience by encouraging people to experiment online with their products, via an app that uses augmented reality.
4) Omnichannel experience. Successful brands integrate offerings across multiple channels. A seamless experience is essential to ongoing customer engagement.
5) Loyalty programmes. As consumers become inundated with choices, loyalty programmes grow in importance. Successful loyalty programmes offer either exclusive or original rewards.
6) Supply chain. A well-functioning supply chain is crucial to supporting the brand promise across the value chain.
Retailers confront continual market disruption. Stay vigilant, and use the following tactics to remain relevant:
1) Embrace disruption. To maintain a leading position, have an appetite for innovation and reinvention.
2) Capture growth opportunities. Acquisitions provide opportunities to reach new customers and penetrate different markets.
3) Know your competition. Scan the marketplace to identify emerging competitors. Pursue strategic alliances to remain competitive.
With a plan centred on first defining a customer-centric strategy, then bolstering operations, then continually checking and protecting your reinvigorated brand identity, you’ll be on the path to lasting differentiation.