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Back to Basics: Branding Remains at the Core of Marketing

By Jennifer Polk | September 13, 2017 | 1 Comment

MarketingBrandingCustomer ExperienceMarketing Leadership and StrategyMarketing Organization and Talent

Marketing leaders are facing tremendous “scope creep” in terms of the span of their roles and the responsibilities of the marketing organization. Gartner’s 2017 CMO Strategy Survey shows CMO and marketing executives are taking on greater accountability for the end-to-end customer journey, from customer data and insight to customer experience strategy to digital commerce.

Where does this leave traditional marketing responsibilities like brand building and storytelling?

Are these callings passe? Have these duties lost their importance in the age of the customer?

Are customers so jaded by empty brand promises that branding itself is now a lost art?

Should marketers focus on designing the best customer experience and let the brand speak for itself?

Quite the contrary. Brand building and brand storytelling are more important than ever. CMO and marketing leaders who ground their brand building efforts in both instinct and insight can define a differentiated value proposition, which can have deliver brand and business growth.

Grounding Brand Building in Instinct and Insight

The basics of brand building remains the same:

  • Identifying your brand’s core values and purpose
  • Creating brand drivers based on reasons to believe (RTBs)

The fundamental elements of the brand become the foundation upon which marketers build brand architecture, define brand personality and establish brand positioning. Yet, while the foundation is unchanged, the inputs, which were once rooted in product knowledge, now include a mix of new ingredients.  Branding no longer begins with what you sell, but rather the customers who buy it.

But wait, weren’t customers always part of brand building? Yes, they were, but they weren’t the starting point or central focus of creating the brand architecture. Customers appeared episodically in various phases of brand development. They may have played a role in focus groups, panels or surveys and influenced brand strategy and campaign creation. But customers took a backseat to the product itself.

The age of customer experience isn’t an age where branding doesn’t matter, but an age where brands, in order to succeed, must define their value in terms of what matters to customers.

  • Use data and analytics to identify high value customers and prospects and to unlock the characteristics that bind them together and make them unique from others. Anything less is, at best, a shallow sense of customer understanding. If this sounds like common sense, remember the number of brands targeting “adults ages 18-54”.
  • Tap into the voice of the customer to increase awareness of their wants, needs and expectations of your products, and their attitudes, perceptions and behaviors toward your brand. These represent two distinct types of insights. Customers may have clear expectations of a utilitarian product, like insurance, but decidedly negative attitudes toward insurance providers.

Failing to focus on the customers you seek to serve puts your brand at risk and your branding efforts at a serious disadvantage. It leaves the focus on the products and services you sell, which are becoming increasingly commoditized. There is precious little that can’t be purchased through an online marketplace or procured through the sharing economy.

Distinguishing your brand means focusing on your customers, positioning your offering in terms of what they care about and what your brand does exceptionally well. It also means using your expanded scope of responsibility and authority to improve that offering–whether by delivering insight that influences product design or leading digital innovation–in order to close any real or perceived gaps between brand promise and customer experience.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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1 Comment

  • You said “Brand building and brand storytelling are more important than ever.” — Agree, but I’m wondering how many marketers are thinking of storytelling in regard to enhancing their brand. This topic seems to be misunderstood by legacy marketers who merely equate this process to advertising.

    Also, when the narrative is product-centered, it’s less likely that the customer will find themselves in that story. Ironically, when you try too hard to make the customer the focal point of the story, it can seem unauthentic. So, perhaps marketers need to find the right balance between those two extremes.

    My point: back to basics, but with an updated perspective of the typical brand challenge.