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8 ways to refresh your brand image.

For startups and mature companies alike, the most basic marketing asset a company needs to compete effectively is a differentiated message.

We call the tool we use to get there the “message framework”, and it can be a key asset for selling to customers, convincing prospective employees to work for you and communicating with the press and industry insiders. A best practice is to review your messages once a year to make sure they are still as strong as you need them to be.

Here are eight tips to help you create a lasting, differentiated message:

  1. Examine your competition. You can't compete if you're not different. You must first understand what your competition is communicating to determine how you can differentiate yourself. A formal competitive analysis of a minimum of four of your top competitors will provide a landscape that shapes where you can stand apart.
  2. Define your most important target audiences. Every business has both good customers and customers they could live without. Figure out who your best customers are and define them as clearly as possible. Then look at your next level of customers. Gain alignment within the company on exactly who you want to focus on selling to in the future. This will help shape your messages so that you'll appeal to them.
  3. Talk to your customers. You are not your target audience. And no matter how firmly you believe you know what your customers think about your company, products or services, chances are you have plenty to learn. Create an interview guide for customers that contains key questions that will lead to the real nuggets of insight around positive and negative perceptions of your business in the market.
  4. Talk to your sales team and internal stakeholders. Your sales team knows what the company's barriers are to effective selling. Why are customers not buying? That's as important as knowing why they are. Your key stakeholders within the company also contribute to the process of gathering insights because they hold the vision for the company and where it's heading. That's important in shaping the final messages.
  5. Lead the team's brainstorm. Take all that you've learned and distill it down to the key points that will direct your new messages. Meet with key decision makers in the company and get everyone aligned on what you've found out. As you narrow in on three or four key messages that set you apart from competitors, be sure to capture the substantiation points so that if you are challenged about the claim, you have proof that it's true.
  6. Define your value proposition. The value proposition is a statement that defines who you are, what you do, whom you serve and what makes you different and special. Some companies use this as an internal definition, while others put it on the homepage of their website. Everyone in your company should be able to readily recite this.
  7. Educate and train. Bring the company together and provide a clear understanding of the new key messages and value proposition. New messages often call for a new visual and verbal creative platform for the company that brings the messages to life conceptually in a way that your customers will remember.
  8. Stick with it. As your business grows, you'll hire smart creative individuals who'll have new ideas. Often, the brand messages tend to degrade as more and more people offer up their new insights or personal creativity. If your brand messages change, it should be an intentional deliberate process.

This article originally appeared in the Austin Business Journal.