As is further noted in the Harvard Business Review, ”… then every competitor is going to have more or less the exact same strategy as you. That means that you are likely to be indistinguishable from your competitors and the only way you will make a decent return is if the industry currently happens to be highly attractive structurally.”4
In addition to sounding the same, thus making it challenging to stand out, it’s unclear if these messages are actually effective at driving decision-making. Several studies have shown a significant disconnect between the brand messages that companies provide and what motivates a customer to choose you.5 In reality, what you consider important for your brand image may have minimal influence on a prospect’s decision-making.
USING SCIENCE TO MOVE THE NEEDLE
The best way to determine what’s effective is through research. Yes, this involves some cost and time; however, learning from customers who experience your brand is important input (as well as learning from people who considered you but chose another firm). It is also critical to conduct the right kind of research. Just asking customers and listening to their answers is insufficient. “Stated importance” (what someone says is important) has been proven to be different from “derived importance” (a statistical measure that is the outcome of a regression analysis, which infers the relative importance of perceptions or attitudes based on the patterns in how people rate brands. Once data are collected, multivariate regression is applied to determine which perceptions correlate most strongly with preference, likelihood to purchase, etc.)
An example of this can be seen with research from the Financial Times on fund image. When asked to rate the importance of specific attributes when considering an asset management company to place assets with, respondents stated that “risk management” and “transparent” were very important. They ranked as the third and fourth (out of 12) most important attributes when selecting a firm. However, when we look at the attributes that drive usage (derived importance), these two attributes dropped significantly. Risk management fell to 11 and transparent to 9, clearly the lower echelon of influence.6 Thus, learning what really drives customer decision-making is key.
THE ART IN EXPRESSING WHAT IS IMPORTANT
To cut through the clutter, you need to be distinctive, effective and ownable. A barrage of messages is not a brand. Too often, we see firms throw everything but the kitchen sink at the challenge and what you get is either a lack of cohesion or more sameness. That is because your disparate messages need to connect to a larger promise or strategy.