A Branding Expert Weighs in on Brand and Market Perception - (Archived)


Jen Sterling,
CEO and Founder,
Red Thinking, llc

While we help our clients measure market perception, that measurement is just one piece of branding; there is so much that goes into building a strong brand identity. We met with partner and founder of branding agency Red Thinking, Jen Sterling, to get her take on a few questions our clients frequently ask. Here are her thoughts:

MC: What is your top level take on managing brand perception in the market?

Jen: Perception is reality. No matter what industry you serve, remember that. And no matter what industry you serve, your employees and customers are brand ambassadors. As a branding company, we can do our due diligence of promoting a brand — we can create messaging that resonates and an image that hits every metric we want to measure, but one negative or incorrectly managed experience with the brand becomes the reality. Every touch point matters, so companies need to pay attention to how their market perceives them.

MC: How can a company do that?

Jen: I think market perception research and brand trackers are ideal, but they aren’t the only way to know how your market perceives you. Social media is an excellent resource. Monitor how customers are talking about you and the experiences they have with your brand. Are they engaging with your content? If not, that can be an indication they don’t perceive you as an authority on the topic.

MC: When you’re working with a company to brand (or rebrand), how do you ensure they’re speaking to their target customer in a way the customer can relate?

Jen: It’s the same answer as above; through research. Not just research the company does, but general market research can tell us a lot about the target demographic. We also watch social media carefully because it can provide a fairly deep dive into the target market’s mindset.

MC: What are the key elements of the brand that will help address reaching the target market demographics and bolstering market perception?

Jen: I’d like to say it’s all in the visual identity, but I believe it is the tone and manner of the company voice. Every brand is telling a story and it needs to resonate with the audience. That means using language they use and telling a story they can relate to. Perception is personal. Now, I think the visual needs to be strong too — you have to present a brand that is on the level of your audience. But the most beautiful visual identity will fall flat if the voice behind it is not authentic.

MC: This is a question we get frequently: How do you justify the marketing spend on branding?

Jen: That question has been around since the beginning of branding. How do you measure return? Creating a strong brand and building a positive market perception does not happen overnight. It’s tempting to take that budget and spend it on hiring a few high-performing sales people who can get out and talk to prospects. I happen to think successful companies need to do both: build the brand and hit the street. Over time, if the brand is not strong and market perception is weak, those sales people will struggle. Sure, the good ones will make sales, but it’s going to be a lot harder if the market doesn’t have a positive perception of the company.

What has changed in recent years is marketers can track everything now. Digital data doesn’t lie. Part of the branding spend should be to create metrics and measure impact. Those metrics will change by industry, but we now have ways to see and track the results. Branding without strategy is not a good investment. But branding with a strong, results-oriented strategy is effective. Spending on a B2B, B2C, or B2G brand with strategic reasoning behind it will be measurable and effective.

MC: What is your favorite metric?

Jen: I think one of the easiest and lowest cost, is website landing pages with capture forms. These forms link to your CRM and show you in a snapshot the path the prospect is taking. That may seem like a sales function, but it can be linked to branding initiatives — you can split test messages and see which resonate. How many hits and how you measure the quality of those leads is up to the company. I know of professional services firms that only need two good leads a month, and I know companies that need hundreds.

MC: Thank you for taking time to talk to us.

Got questions for Jen? Let us know in the comments.

BEST PRACTICES WEBINAR: Using Research to Assess Market Perceptions and Company Positioning

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Date: Wednesday, April 5, 11:30 AM EDT

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