Brand Research: So Who Are You – Really? (Part 1 of 2)

Brand Research: So Who Are You – Really? (Part 1 of 2)

In today’s unprecedentedly rapidly changing world, where technology and the economy force companies to focus on the short-term, day-to-day adjustments that must be made to keep ahead, it is more valuable than ever to take a time-out to look for the long-view. Instead of focusing on the trees, take a look at the forest, for it is only this type of strategic analysis and review that will allow us to create the innovative and game-changing initiatives that will make it possible not only to survive, but to thrive. This month’s guest blogger Ron Strauss talks about the importance of this activity and of taking a marketing perspective. Here’s part one:

“Winning in today’s ever-competitive business climate means defining who you are to your customers. Can you?

SO WHO ARE YOU REALLY? -by Ron Strauss
Ron Strauss

The Great Recession. The shift to digital technology. The rise of online advertising and social media. There are many developments in the macroeconomy that have disrupted a “business as usual” mentality. Well, guess what? That “new normal,” as some call it, is here to stay.

“So what?!?,” you say.

No single company can change the overall environment in which it operates. Instead of focusing on the macro-economic environment, why not focus on the things you can and do control? Among the things you can control is how you view your business and its future.

When you’re asked, “What business are you in?” how do you answer?

If you respond, “I’m in the (name of your industry goes here) business,” you have a problem. You are, in effect, saying, “I’m in the business of providing an undifferentiated, commodity product.” You might as well sell it by the ton.

The sad truth is that there only is so much room for “low-cost” providers in any industry or industry segment – with few winners and many losers in the race to achieve maximum economies of scope and scale.

Survival of the Fittest: The marketing company

Fortunately, many companies realize they must clearly differentiate their product offering by wrapping customized services around it. They examine the changing marketplace and adapt by creating more “value added” service offerings.

They do this by listening to – and working more closely with – their key customers. They identify their core competencies and which customers can most benefit from them, and align their strengths with their customers’ needs. They also examine the various activities they engage in with customers and eliminate the ones that don’t add value, thereby cutting costs and emphasizing activities that add value – and charge for them.

In essence, they become more of a marketing company than a product company.

They stop trying to be all things to all people and understand that not every customer is of equal value. They become more selective in aligning their company’s product and service offerings to selected customers’ needs. They make sure that sales and marketing talk to each other, and that they offer an integrated solution.

This is called a marketing approach. In today’s world, while necessary, it’s not sufficient enough to meet the challenges of the “new normal.”

For example, Kodak answered the “What business are you in?” question by saying, “We’re in the film business.” When technological and other changes made film less relevant, Kodak and the film industry had a problem. Kodak and others made the mistake of focusing on producing and marketing film products, rather than looking at the real value they provided. Their customers didn’t care about film per se; they cared about capturing memories and sharing the stories of their lives.

The lesson is that smart marketing is about providing value as your customers define it. Even better, smart marketing is about providing value as you and your customers define it together. It’s all about keeping your company relevant to your customers’ needs. And in an age where information is readily available, where there are few trade secrets, where the customer is in charge, new thinking is necessary.”

(Check back for Part II!)


Ron Strauss is an innovative thinker in marketing and branding. Strauss founded Brandzone, his brand guidance firm in 2002, to help CEO’s use their brand to create a framework for accelerated and sustainable value creation.

Hundreds of CEO’s have benefited from his insights into how to rediscover the power of their corporate and product/service brands. Marketing campaigns Ron led for clients Siemens, Schlumberger, Land O’ Lakes, Mobil et al are featured in textbooks and magazines – and have won CLIO, One Show and AMY awards.

Ron and Bill Neal co-authored the highly acclaimed book “Value Creation: The Power of Brand Equity.” They also authored “Leading CEOs and Boards to a Greater Understanding of Brand Equity” in the inaugural issue of Chief Marketing Officer Journal. Ron created the American Marketing Association’s training seminar “Brand Measurement – It’s Purpose, Potential and New Approaches.”

A Cornell University alumnus, Strauss is a recipient of the BMA Atlanta Chapter President’s Award and is a Certified Business Communicator (CBC). Ron currently serves as vice-chair of The Edge Connection, a business incubator and is a member of Vistage and a member of the faculty of the American Marketing Association.

Topics: brand image, brand research, brand position

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