There are two terms buzzing around boardrooms across the world right now – “transformation” and “customer centric”. Of course, the two are part of the lexicon of Brand-Led Business that every organisation has to embrace if it is to have a hope of surviving the digital economy. It’s a pity so few people really get it.

So what is Brand-Led Business? 

There’s no mystery here. It’s exactly what it says on the tin – an approach to business that starts with brand. A problem I frequently encounter though is that remarkably few people really understand what brands are. So let’s start by getting that straight. If you want to get the full picture read some of my articles, but if all you need right now is the abridged version, read on.

Brands #101

Brands are communities of people with shared values and beliefs and a common goal. They are not products, logos, stories, culture even, although all of these things play their part in a brand.

The common goal is the delivery of a promise that is at the centre of the “brand model” that every organisation should be built around. If you don’t have a brand model you are already at a disadvantage in the digital economy. You’ll certainly not be as efficient as you need to be to compete in the new paradigm.

Building your brand community

A brand community usually embraces six stakeholder groups – Investors, Partners, Suppliers, Distributors, Employees and Customers and it’s the job of a brand developer to align all of these disparate, self-interest groups behind the one brand promise.

The process of brand development is a crucial component of any business strategy and the same insights drive both. In fact, these days, because every organisation is primarily a marketing organisation, the marketing strategy IS usually the business strategy. So, that’s where any Brand-Led Business starts.

The insights you need fall into four broad categories – consumer needs,  competitive positionings, company resources and market facts. The one we are most concerned about here is “consumer needs”.  

Brand-Led Businesses don’t compromise

In the past businesses have got away with delivering solutions and products that are the closest fit to a consumer’s needs. This no longer works, of course, so you have to be very clear what these needs really are.

One of the reasons why the digital economy is such a big step-change is it makes pretty much anything you can imagine possible. This being so, you can deliver EXACTLY what a consumer is looking for. Near misses these days are nothing more than a miss and if this is the best you can do you will fail.

A brand-led business therefore has the means to deliver what customers really need – not what you think they want, or the closest you can get to what they want or what you think they should want, which is, sadly, the best a lot of businesses can do. This is being “customer centric”.

So that’s the simple definition of brand and a quick explanation of the way it enables a Brand-Led Business to be customer centric. Let’s move on to the transformation word.

Distinguishing “change” and “transformation”

There’s a great deal of confusion between automation, change and transformation. “Automation” and the process of introducing digital work-flows, which are both “change” are relatively easy fixes that will bring short-term benefits. Unfortunately though, if you are relying on this to secure your future you’ll be disappointed. In fact if this is all you do you’ll only be hastening your organisation’s demise. Greasing the mechanism of a process that is almost certainly taking you in the wrong direction.

Think back to my earlier point about technology enabling us to deliver exactly what a customer needs and how, until now, businesses have largely delivered the closest they can get with the resources at their disposal. Now that the perfect solution is available consumers are not going to settle for second best and that’s one of two reasons traditional businesses are going to fail. In fact, one in three is predicted to fold within the next two years.

Any kind of change or automation costs money and is an upheaval few businesses can afford to go through more than once, so if you digitise your existing processes first time around, that’s pretty much all you are going to have the resources or time to do before a disrupter turns up and takes your customers away. However, your newly greased processes were designed to deliver a product or solution that’s doesn’t meet today’s customer’s needs, so it will all have been a waste … of time, money and discomfort.

Building your Brand-Led Business

Transformation differs from change because it starts with customer need and then works out how, with today’s technology, sector insights and market knowledge, a business might deliver that.

The next step in the transformation process is defining what components of your traditional business will contribute to this. This is a wake-up call for many businesses, because they are forced to acknowledge that few of the resources they have amassed over the years are relevant in today’s digital marketplace. Next you have to decide whether you are going to fill the gaps in your resources and if so how. There are a few option, but I won’t go into these here.

Wrong place, wrong time!

I’ve known organisations that, at this point, realise they are literally in the wrong business. Most businesses end up producing new and different products or services as a result of transformation – there’s nothing like staring oblivion in the face to drive innovation! – and it’s not unusual for transformed companies to shift to another market sector altogether, because their inherent resources make them a better fit in a different sector, which itself may have changed shape due to digital forces. 

So, you should see now, if you want to do more than merely playing lip-service to the concept of “customer centricity”, you should be building a brand community, thereby enjoying essential insights, encouraging committed stakeholders to drive the innovation that’s going to transform your business and thereby enabling you to become a winner in the digital economy.  It’s an inescapable linear process and you simply can’t get around it any other way. That’s brand-led business.

So, back to my original question, is yours a Brand-Led Business?

Phil Darby
January 25, 2020

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