If enlightened self-awareness is the key to personal happiness, fulfilment, and success, then it stands to reason the same holds true for your business.
Knowing who you are, how you’re different, and why it matters–then being able to clearly communicate that to your customers, prospects, employees, and investors–is a key element to building a sustainable business. And it all starts with your brand.
Like so many elements of marketing, the process of developing and articulating a differentiated brand is an ongoing one. Done right, it’s a continual cycle of discovery, definition, communication, and evolution.
At ICU Medical, we broke the process down into four easy to understand steps, each with its own set of strategies, objectives, and tactics that ultimately led to what we believe to be a sustainable brand that fits who we are today and has the flexibility to extend to where we want to go tomorrow.
In a nutshell, here are the steps:
- Know Who You Are: This is the part of the process where you seek to fully understand and define what your brand stands for and what makes your business different from and better than the competition. Before beginning this phase, we conducted a baseline brand awareness and perception study to see what the market thought of us.We then engaged one of the country’s top B2B branding firms, to walk us through a comprehensive brand development process that looked inside to better understand how we defined ourselves, and then looked outside to better understand how our competitors defined themselves, and how current market perceptions shaped where we had “permission” to go as a brand.The result of this phase was a fully defined “Human Connections” brand positioning, and a set of brand guidelines that included all of the verbal and visual elements–new logo, fonts, colors, tone-of-voice, photographic style, etc.–necessary to express the brand.
- Be Who You Are: Now that it is defined, it’s time to consistently express the brand at every point of customer contact. For us, that meant blowing up everything we had and starting from scratch. We created a completely new website, all new literature and sales support materials, a new ad campaign, and–with a new logo–all new building signage, packaging graphics, even trade show shirts for the sales staff. Everything was different. Everything was better. And everything reflected our “Human Connections” brand positioning.This is where having a top-notch in-house marketing communications team really paid off. In the course of a single year, we developed and produced more than 1,000 individual marcom pieces in-house–from brochures, to ads, to web pages, to integrated lead development programs, to computer animation and product videos, to trade show signage and presentations, to social media content–that would have cost us in excess of $2.5 million had we bought it all on the outside.We would never have been able to “Be Who We Are” as quickly or as completely without having been able to do so much of the heavy lifting ourselves.
- Show Who You Are: After building the branding infrastructure, it is time to reach out and show the world. Our goal is simple: find out where our customers get information about products in our category and actively engage with them in as many of those places as possible. This is in itself an ongoing and evolving process, but suffice it to say the process is considerably more digital and social than it has ever been.The best communication is personal communication, and we are trying to be as close to the customer as possible. That’s why in addition to our awareness and lead generation activities, we made sure that at the point of sale, our sales team had the tools to carry the branded message through to the customer with confidence.Each member of our direct sales and clinical support team has an iPad fully loaded with all of our marketing materials, product videos, competitive comparison pieces, and clinical support tools that allow them real-time access to the most up-to-date content they can present and share with customers.
- Grow Who You Are: The brand development process helped sharpen our focus. It’s now time to use that focus to build our business by expanding into adjacent markets or categories that align with our brand strategy. The great thing about a focused strategy is that it helps us decide what not to do. Too often, companies without this focus venture off into non-aligned business segments that don’t make sense for them. Not a good thing.
If you’ve never been through it, the brand development process can seem daunting, full of strange-sounding jargon, and requiring the services of creative types who can be, well, let’s just say different. But if you follow a framework like the one I outlined above and connect with the right resources, it can be one of the most personally and professionally rewarding experiences of your career.
Just remember, brand development is an ongoing evolution, not a static exercise.
Lather, rinse, repeat . . .
Tom McCall is Vice President/General Manager of the Critical Care Unit at ICU Medical, Inc., a designer and manufacturer of medical devices and systems for infusion therapy, oncology, and critical care applications. Mr. McCall’s prior executive positions include as Chief Marketing Officer for ICU Medical – and as a Vice President for both Masimo Corp. and Welch Allyn, Inc. Follow him on Twitter.