While marketing typically “owns” the brand in most corporations, public relations helps leadership break down internal silos and communicate effectively to foster creative brainstorming and provide strategic development and direction.
Asking tough questions is the hallmark of the exercise. It’s also a highly productive way to start exploring the boundaries of what could be, no matter what the strategy and tactics you eventually employ. Here are five of my favorite questions:
1. If your brand were to die, how would its obituary read? What would be the cause of death, who would mourn it?
Example: “Oldsmobile, a long-standing American automotive brand, died today after years of lingering illness. The cause of death was believed to be a lack of differentiation and clear purpose. Oldsmobile was once a proud and admired name, but mourners, mostly old fogies in Florida and Arizona can’t remember exactly why.”
Brand extinction can sneak up slowly or pounce rapidly; but usually the cause can be traced back to the same few sources – a lack of focus, a lack of support, or the inability to keep up with a changing environment.
2. Where would you like to see your product category sold that it’s not sold today – and how could you get your brand there?
Example: Apple sells iPods in hotels and airports via vending machines.
It’s not uncommon to see these machines now in airports, hotels, etc., but it probably sounded like a wacky idea at first. But then so did selling frozen pizza in the home improvement center, but it’s working for Menard’s.
Sometimes a new market isn’t about finding new customers, it can be finding your traditional customers in new places, delivering your brand message in unexpected touchpoints. Play a short game of “What if?” and you may be surpirsed where it leads you.
3. What would happen if you raised your prices by percent? Lowered them by 10 percent? Just exactly how price-resistant is your brand?
Okay, I know that your distribution channel might scream. But take a few minutes to imagine the possibilities. Sometimes, raising prices a bit can actually increase sales by inferring a higher quality on your brand. In a service business, it can eliminate a layer of unprofitable customers. Conversely, lowering your price a little bit may entice loyalists of your competitor to give you a try (but it’s awfully hard to raise prices again anytime soon). Either way, think of your price as an active component of your brand’s image, not just a margin over cost.
4. Is there a universal truth about your brand communications? Does everyone in your organization know it?
Example: As the “ultimate driving machine,” BMW advertising never depicted a person. Human beings are fallible, BMWs are not. A consistent application of this truth has helped make BMW a global icon of excellence.
What’s your brand truth? Sometimes this may be expressed by what your brand will never do, rather than what it will do. Walmart doesn’t have sales, because they have “everyday low prices.” Woot.com only has one item for sale every day. Ikea relentlessly works to take costs out of their production cycle. These are their brand truths.
5. Does your brand have a mission that makes your people want to get out of bed in the morning? Is it something you can rally around?
Example: “Do no evil” from Google is pretty cool. A mission like that inspires employees to become evangelists because you give them something to believe in.
Compare that to “Apply synergies to increase shareholder value while being the best place to work,” which is not exactly an inspiration to shower and get dressed.
All of these questions lead to your company’s brand mission. These are the questions you should ask – and answer — before beginning any communications project. Especially one as critical as your brand mission.
If you don’t answer these and other questions, you cannot provide creative, effective, memorable and honest communications to your employees, customers and stakeholders.
Whether your venue is public relations, marketing, advertising, digital, direct response – taking a “question everything” approach should be at the forefront of your brand thinking.