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Steal This Idea: Brand thinking

The stock market is spiraling downwards. Large institutions are looking for handouts. Corporations are cutting head counts. Budgets are slashed to the bone. Time to huddle in the basement? Not if you want to thrive in the next economy.

If your strategy for surviving the recession is to hunker down and try harder, you don’t have a strategy. You have a bomb shelter. And a bomb shelter won’t save you from the fundamental changes shaking the business world—namely, unprecedented speed and overwhelming choice. When customers have nearly unlimited options and competitors play a perpetual game of leapfrog, the only real barrier to competition is brand strategy.

Brand strategy is really just a way of thinking about business. And since thinking is virtually free, it requires little in the way of special funding. Here are four questions to help you work through the recession, along with a simple chart to start the conversation among your team.

1. What makes you different?
The active ingredient in any brand is differentiation. If it’s not different, it’s not strategic. What can you do to increase your difference? How can you make your difference more meaningful and compelling?

2. How well are you focused?
Without focus, customers will have a hard time seeing your difference. What makes you the “only” in your category? Which of your offerings best support your difference? Which should be cut to make your focus stronger? What new offerings could be added as you pick up momentum?

3. What trend are you riding?
Tomorrow’s economy will create new trends. What wave are you riding? Is it a wave that’s still forming, or one that’s already crashed on the shore? Is it possible to ride more than one trend at a time? What new trends are barely visible yet inevitable?

4. Are you communicating clearly?
Good strategy paired with poor messaging is no better than poor strategy. What messages are your various constituents hearing from you? Do all your brand stories add up to one big story? Is your big story clear enough and bold enough to earn a place in their minds?

If you can respond to these four questions in a compelling manner, you’ll not only survive the recession, but be in a stronger market position when the dust settles. All it takes is the right kind of thinking.

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