There’s a fair amount of bad marketing out there. Where did things go wrong? It’s usually well before the creative was developed or the media was planned. It’s right at the beginning during the brand strategy process…or perhaps lack thereof.

If you’re involved with shaping your brand message, it’s time to test your brand strategy IQ here.

A brand strategy is a promise. It’s your tool to help make your company the first choice repeatedly for customers. It’s also an important compass for internal employees and the key to not wasting money on media by launching a campaign that’s inconsistent or worse, off the mark. (People are busy, your category is crowded and the media options are endless, so let’s try to avoid that.)

So how do you know if you have a strong brand strategy?

Let’s start with your ability to truly understand what motivates other human beings by looking at three big, successful brands; Nike, Apple and Starbucks. Quick—tell me their brand strategies in three words or less. That’s right, no more than three words. Write it down.

I’ll wait.

If you said athletic performance for Nike, technological innovation for Apple and premium coffee for Starbucks you would be wrong. Those are components of their success, but you didn’t dig deep enough within the brand or within their loyal flock of consumers.

Nike goes beyond athletic performance to self-realization. No need to look beyond the Nathan Sorrell jogging spot or one of the early spots where 80-year old Walt Stack helped launch the true meaning of “Just Do It” by leaving his false teeth in his locker when he went on his runs to keep them from chattering.

Apple’s brand truth is about individual empowerment. Sure, their products can do amazing things, but it’s more important that we can do amazing things with them.

Finally, Starbuck’s brand essence is that it’s your third place. Coffee is only part of it – it’s the vibe there–the barista, the music, the consistency and how it fits into your idea of your lifestyle. How many people do you see sipping that coffee with the green mermaid on it as they walk their dog, drop their kids to school or first sit down at work. You’re the lead in your own Rob Reiner movie and you like the part.

So, let’s say you nailed all three brands above. Give yourself 10 bonus points. Someone has already done the heavy lifting, spent millions on marketing and you got it. Even if you couldn’t perfectly articulate the above strategic platforms, believe me, millions of people still absolutely get it.

So, can you define your own company just as easily? More importantly, can your potential customers? To crack the code for your own company, here are a few questions to ask:

  • Would it be impossible for a competitor to seamlessly swap their logo in for our tagline and advertising?
  • If I asked a stranger working in my category would they be able to nail our brand essence in one simple sentence or even a few words?
  • Could all your employees articulate your core values or brand strategy?
  • Does my brand strategy answer how it benefits a person’s life more than extolling a product attribute?
  • Do I know how my company is different?
  • Can the top executives agree and prioritize our top three benefits? Do they know the difference between our product attributes and brand benefits?
  • Do I know what my company is not?
  • Can and does my company consistently deliver on our brand promise? Do we get consistent feedback from clients and customers?
  • Does our brand strategy move people in any way, make them feel valued or is it something that can help them grow?
  • Do we truly believe in our brand and our message?
  • When we invest in marketing are people talking about it?

Give yourself 10 points for any question you answered “yes” to from the eleven points above. If you scored below a 90 or 100, it’s time to develop a new brand strategy. Yes, it takes time and costs money, but it’s one of the most important steps in growing your company. Below are some reasons why you might be falling short on the branding front.

Top 12 reasons why most companies don’t develop powerful brand strategies:

  1. They don’t believe a brand strategy fuels sales or expanded offerings.
  2. They can’t agree internally on their greatest point of difference or reason for being or they decide by committee.
  3. They are too close to their own company to see their true relevance.
  4. They don’t include their competition in the evaluation process.
  5. They don’t understand the importance of making an emotional connection with consumers.
  6. They don’t know how to dig deep enough or don’t know where to begin.
  7. They are too literal with a specific brand benefit, or conversely, too broad.
  8. They get lost in research and data.
  9. When it comes to developing their brand message, they don’t sacrifice, distill and repeat.
  10. They are so focused on their competition they tend to replicate key components.
  11. They focus on price, not value.
  12. They describe what their companies do, not their core values or benefits.

Feel free to add to this list or suggest revisions. If you can navigate most of the 12 hurdles above, you are well on your way to building a great long-term brand.