Last month we talked about how to thrive with less by being more judicious with our spending. But we have always tried to do that, right? 

So, rather than saying again that we need to learn to do more with less, let us talk about the amplification of our efforts. Much in the way home cooks may use specific ingredients to stretch their budgets and recipes, a strong brand strategy can do the same for all your marketing efforts. 

We know a brand helps to distinguish us from our competition. We know we need that brand to fit the promise we can deliver. We know it should be consistent. However, the brand strategy is a little more than what is typically thought of when you hear the word “brand” and a bit different from the overall business strategy.

Some think of business, brand and marketing as cascading steps. I like to think of them more like a spiral design where you cannot see the beginning of one or the next strategy, and every piece is in support of the other.

The business strategy sets a direction for the operation and the path you will need to take. The brand strategy is about how you will position yourself in the mind of the guest, team members and stakeholders. A great brand strategy can also show you how to navigate the business, evaluate opportunities and view the world in relation to your operation. It is meant to guide growth and not just creative and graphic aspects.

The three most significant pieces of the marketing budget quickly benefit from a reliable brand strategy:

  • Advertising is probably the most obvious. Yet, sadly, it’s the one that seems to most easily slip through the cracks because we often approach it as a checklist: Logo, check. Tagline, check. Commonly used imagery, check.

    Because of this, I often see competitive advertising that looks very similar, with the only differentiation being the logo. That shows me the messages are not based on the brand strategy, but merely on a creative direction.

    How do you overcome this challenge? As the person in charge of the advertising, you should always think about the overall strategy and what the goals are for how a potential guest develops their pre-visit expectations and whether that meets the purposes of your brand strategy.
     
  • Direct Mail is advertising. Mailers are the delivery mechanism we use for offers and return visits, and the vast majority of the “real estate” in a mailer is dedicated to selling and enhancing the desire to return. However, once again, lose the property logos and all mailers look pretty much the same. Meanwhile, research consistently tells us that our customers are mostly just interested in the offers and use them to decide their schedule of visitation. 

    Of course, we would never consider just sending coupons to them with no creative! Then, why are we not considering the brand strategy in the creation of our mail? 

    Recently, I worked with a client who started to see a difference in the guests they saw coming through the door. They wanted to make some changes to the direct mail based on this one factor. We talked through the brand strategy and how these new guests might fit into it. Once we did this, we realized the needed changes were more of an update or tweak to the look and feel of the direct mail instead of a complete transformation. 

    This case is an excellent example of how a strategy can keep us focused—to see differences and quickly react becomes effortless.
     
  • Reinvestment is a creeping expense. We start with a goal and a variety of matrices, but the more we feel pressure from competitors, or as guests start changing patterns, the creep begins. Sometimes we notice it quickly and take a step back to evaluate. Often, it gets away from us, and then we are trapped between making the needed cuts or disenfranchising our guests. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did not have to buy our business? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if guest chose to visit simply because they want the experience?

My glasses do not have rose-colored lenses. I know reinvestment is a necessary part of our efforts. I am just saying we have many opportunities to draw people in just because they might want to visit. We need a clear vision, and a strategy that we all can follow.

 

BUILDING YOUR BRAND STRATEGY

I once worked with a Midwest gaming company. We had a variety of properties in our portfolio. When compared side-by-side, some of the properties were obviously lacking. We could have tried to sell the lesser properties or sucked it up and spent millions of dollars in capital to bring them all to the same level. However, the reality was we did not have the level of ROI we needed for these types of investment. 

We had to take a moment and consider our brand strategy. As the person charged with the brand, I had become extremely focused on the creative rather than the path our brands could take to be successful. We were cranking out creative that everyone wanted to change (for whatever valid reasons they may have had). It took so much of my time that I never stepped back to define the brand strategy. Finally, we had to take a few days with no distractions to review the research we had as well as analyze the markets and the economic trends.

We took a more realistic view of the properties and their potential future. We considered a few different approaches the brand could take. We ultimately decided on a bifurcated brand strategy that would allow all of our locations to stand out from the competition and emphasize each property’s uniqueness. One brand would embrace its unique fun flair, while the other would continue to grow to become a destination. Not only did this aid us in telling our story to the investment community, but it also painted a clear picture for all of our team members to truly understand the brands they would represent.

In the time of COVID-19, I am still figuring out what “normal” is and what it will become. Strategies may evolve and grow, but the need and usefulness of a well-defined and understood strategy will always be a must-have for marketers and the industry. Obviously critical, a well-defined brand strategy can also amplify your marketing efforts.