It’s not much of a stretch to say that the user experience will always have an outsized impact on a company’s brand, regardless of the industry.
Take, for instance, the example of LaGuardia Airport here in New York City. LaGuardia has long been saddled with the reputation of being the worst airport in America; in fact, our own President Joe Biden famously (or infamously) called it “third world” several years ago.
"If I blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York you'd think I must be in some third-world country," is how Biden specifically phrased it back in 2015 when he was vice president.
Biden was far from alone in his condemnation of New York’s oldest commercial airport. Travelers viewed LaGuardia as being “among the most outdated, noisiest and least accessible airports in the country,” according to CNN.
To put it another way: The user experience at LaGuardia was terrible, which is why its brand reputation could be summed up as the worst airport in America. It was Biden’s comments back in 2015 that led to an $8-billion renovation of the airport in order to improve the user experience for travelers.
What LaGuardia did was to recognize (however late) that whatever its brand strategy had been, it wasn’t working and needed to change. This is a lesson every company can take to heart: Building out a brand strategy not only helps you build brand awareness, but it should also be able to tell you if your brand reputation is suffering and why.
A Deep Understanding
The good news for brands is that the most important tenets of effective brand strategy aren’t really a moving target that you have to constantly be catching up to in order to successfully connect with users.
“I think the one nice thing about brand strategy, unlike digital strategy, is that its principles stay pretty consistent,” says Ilana Gamza-Machado, brand/digital strategist for RocketAir. “Deeply understanding your target market, constantly learning, evolving and changing, and tapping into culture/trends. And then making sure you are also thinking analytically and tying your brand strategy to KPIs that are hard and measurable.”
Gamza-Machado likes approaching brand strategy by following SMART goals: This means your strategy is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. When adapting these to your brand strategy, it would look something like this:
- Specific: Your brand strategy should not be so broad that it becomes unclear what exactly you’re trying to achieve with your brand. Narrowing your focus is always ideal.
- Measurable: This is where your KPIs come in. It’s important that you have established metrics that will tell you whether your strategy is actually working or not.
- Achievable: If you’re a fintech startup trying to disrupt the banking sector, you’re not going to come out of the gates competing with JPMorgan Chase for brand recognition, no matter how smart you think your ideas are for banking. Make sure you’re setting a goal that you can actually achieve with your brand strategy.
- Realistic: You can also think about this goal in terms of whether it’s relevant. For example, if you built a new app and were aiming to grow your brand as a peer-to-peer marketplace for buying and selling concert tickets last year during the worst part of the Covid-19 pandemic when no live concerts were happening, your brand strategy would’ve been neither realistic nor relevant.
- Timely: Okay, you’ve got a brand strategy that is both measurable and achievable, which is awesome. Now make sure that it is also time-bound, and you’ve got a goal about when you want to hit those KPIs. If you miss this goal, it’s best to reevaluate your strategy and see why it’s falling short.
If you’re a startup, we’re going to assume that you saw an unmet need in the market – or at least a need that wasn’t being met adequately by the established players in the marketplace – or else you wouldn’t have started your company. But there are few markets you can enter that aren’t already crowded, and so building your brand will take time.
But what are the biggest challenges facing a young company that’s trying to establish brand recognition?
“Being unique in a sea of competition and bringing to the table something that no one else can,” Gamza-Machado says. “Also, carving out a space that they can provide deep expertise and analysis on."
And so, if your brand strategy is to become the new anything (e.g. the new JPMorgan Chase), you have to be bringing something to the table that would make people want to drop an incumbent’s product or service for yours. Be familiar with your competition, so you know whether your value proposition is going to work.
“Good brand strategy is the intersection of consumer insights, business goals/objectives/vision and the white space amongst the competition,” Gamza-Machado notes.