In the wake of efficiency, many providers squeeze the last out of their products and rely on long-established brand values as a counterweight. “Today’s markets are transparent and characterized by personal opinions. Customers have more choice and no longer blindly follow a brand promise. The social web communicates within the blink of an eye whether a product really keeps its promise …” Heiko and I agree. So, it’s worthwhile that we discuss in depth the topic “strategic branding”.
Many customers approach us with the desire for a “design update”. Some mean a purely incremental rework, a variation, a little less material here, a slightly different surface there. This wish is pretty justified: “Almost every product can be optimized in just a few steps,” Heiko notes nonchalantly in the conversation. “And yes, it can reduce costs, maximize profits and eradicate vulnerabilities.”
However, when the hidden question behind the supposed “design update” is: How do I maintain brand loyalty among existing customers, counteract aggressive competition and at the same time inspire new customers of my brand?” Then we are dealing with a brand and product personality. This wants and should develop further. Since it is not expedient to ‘redesign for the purpose of increasing efficiency’ or to limit the variation in the usual sense. Rather, we have to develop an understanding of strategic branding together with the customer”, emphasizes Heiko. It’s about recharging the brand experience. From the inside out, through customer centricity and with a focus on the brand. “Because the brand is perceived with all senses and shake hands with the customer! That’s not inconceivably new, but it’s enormously helpful if the client and service provider agree on this point.
Brand vision, mission, and values are built around the nucleus of the brand. This is where the brand promise derives. For many companies, the brand is sufficiently described here. The transformation of these values into products often takes place half-heartedly or not at all. The development department is decoupled from branding. “Even worse the engineering pursues technical goals and the branding takes care of the communication. The common goal is only in the brand description and is not anchored in the minds and hearts,” Heiko sums up his experience.
The manifestation of the brand in the product has a body, a language, and a soul. “It is important that all levels are – if possible – coherent and consistent. Because often the user experiences only a partial aspect; For example, the product itself. And if that experience is frustrating, the brand manager can invest a lot of time and energy in communicating their brand values without ever convincing that user.” In short: it is counterproductive to preach quality and then to produce and distribute cheap goods or to make innovative power a brand core but offering me-too-s. The user experiences this inconsistency and accordingly makes his future purchase decision.
When it comes to strategic branding from an INDEED point of view, it is expedient to put the user in the center of attention and enable them to have a say in the decision-making process. After all, the products are the central, sensory-emotional touchpoint of a brand. The actual first contact with reality! Here the brand promise must be redeemed because here the users come into direct contact with the brand. They either become loyal brand ambassadors who proudly tolerate large-scale logo placements in their affinity or disloyal, price sensible customers. “Strategic branding requires a look at the overall perception of the brand, coupled with the question: how do we charge the product with real value to the user? For us, this means initiating a purpose-driven process,” says Heiko, summing up his experience from innumerable strategic innovation developments.
Away from any design update to a value-adding brand experience.
“It’s about adding value through innovation, about an improved user experience – that’s real brand development, not just product optimization,” Heiko says. Of course, when we talk about added value for the user, we have to start with research. Because first, we have to understand the user, know what he or she needs. We do a lot of field research. “For well-known tool manufacturers, my colleagues and I were on construction sites from Europe to America on the road to get an idea of how the products are used on the construction sites. Always driven by the question: where are our touch points for improvement? How can the brand experience be increased?”
The observation is followed by a complete innovation process in which, ideally, all stakeholders are involved; not only the users but also all those who are involved internally, employees from all departments f.e. development, production, design, and of course from the logistics and the marketing and sales site.
An agile and iterative process is crucial and ensures an optimal result. For a better understanding, Heiko likes to break down such an innovation process linearly:
- Qualitative Research
- Pre-ideation including MVP
- Patent search and further reviews to know the idea immediately secured
- Opportunity filtering for brand affinity, feasibility and cost-effectiveness
- Ideation sprints with users and internal stakeholders through prototyping and testing
- CAD development
- Ergonomic fine tuning with regard to various user scenarios (construction site deployment and provision and also assembly, storage, etc.)
- Design detailing
- Consulting and support in engineering and implementation
The tightrope walk between functional added value and preservation of the brand character in the cost framework.
“Qualitative research is about identifying the key innovation opportunities,” notes Heiko. For example, Hilti’s new ‘double carry’ feature addresses the need for user safety and efficient mobility. As recognized by the Red Dot jury, the new handle solution allows two suitcases to be carried in one hand at the same time. That means up to four suitcases can be taken per person – that saves way. Heiko adds: “The safety aspect was even more important to us: if only two suitcases are worn at the same time, they can be placed on stairs or scaffolding in one hand so that one hand is always free to hold tight.”
The thoughtfulness and respect to actual work demands resonate with the user after the “design update”. That moves the brand closer -honest and trusting.
Other functional features arise from the needs of other stakeholders, such as in terms of production, logistics, and service. Here, it pays off to think about high modularity in order to make sensible use of resources and capacities. Making the entire brand perception physically tangible requires a holistic view of the entire user experience right up to the sound design – inside and outside because users are not only those who apply the product but also those who make it applicable, e.g. the production.
“You cannot completely alienate a brand,” Heiko demands with shoulder-glance at failed “design updates” that left users baffled or were inconsistent with the brand promise. “Disruptive approaches, which emerge from generated user insights, can be the starting point for completely new products or services that are addressed in further projects,” Heiko therefore states and explains: “WithHilti, the long-distance effect is not touched! The reference remains clear. But the brand is functionally taken to a new level if you consistently assign the brand values to the product.”
Product and Innovation Development – What needs special attention?
Innovative capability decides on the success and continuity of a company, on its relevance in the market. In our experience, many large corporations believe in excessive checks in many instances before rubber-stamp a project. The decision-making process becomes a struggle.
Advantageous for the improvement of brand potential in an innovation process is the cooperative attitude of all participants. The interaction of, development, involved designers and engineers on the one hand, and project management, leadership, and decision-making on the other is decisive. “Experience has shown that cross-unit teams ensure solid development. Motivation and courage to make decisions are just as important,” adds Heiko. “In many cases, it is the obvious ideas that make up the added value. The ideas, where one wonders, why has not someone done this before,” says Heiko and adds: “If I really go in the innovation process on the search for added value for the user, inevitably the right ideas occur. “
It all sounds very elaborate and expensive …
“Smaller companies often say they do not have their sources to innovate, but that’s not true. Also in a compact framework, the main thing is to remain innovative,” pleads Heiko. In fact, at INDEED we also work with start-ups and medium-sized companies with whom we achieve a lot. The process is quite similar but in a stacked frame. For example, we do research, but it happens with far fewer stakeholders, locally or even internally. That’s how we bring in something new with every product. According to Heiko, the basic requirement is: “You need a development team that has a high level of empathy and open-mindedness and is well versed with the product, the market, and the user. With less user engagement, and thus a smaller opportunities landscape, the possibilities are more limited than those with larger budgets, but it is riskier not to innovate.” If you do not innovate, you will be driven by competition and price wars, and you will forcibly relinquish your brand values. Simple optimization today hardly leads to an increase in sales, let alone to grow in brand trust. Somewhere someone can always do it better and/or make it cheaper.
“It’s important to keep in mind that it does not necessarily have to be a tangible innovation on the real product,” says Heiko. “With the advance of digitization, above all the user experience has become extremely important through the design of services, interfaces and continuing applicability. Here, the brand can be experienced holistically. The DNA comes alive. The brand vision is verifiable and comparable for everyone, the actual experience is crucial – for sure!”