You walk into a doctor’s office with a week-old hangnail. It’s still painful and showing signs of infection. The doctor asks no questions, hands you a bottle, tells you to put two drops in each ear twice daily, and call him in a week if you’re not feeling better. You walk out, satisfied and grateful for the miracles of modern medicine. Ridiculous, right?

Then what about this? You walk into a communication firm’s office with a year-old product or service, for which you have no established brand. The firm hands you two ads, tells you to run each one four times during the year, and suggests you come back for a couple more if you haven’t sold anything by then. Is that more or less ridiculous than the situation with the doctor?

The first situation is unlikely because patients aren’t inclined to accept medical prescriptions without explaining their symptoms, answering their doctors’ questions, and receiving appropriate diagnoses. The second situation happens often because companies are inclined to seek communications prescriptions without explaining their symptoms (objectives, competition, resources, obstacles, clutter, confusion, etc.) and receiving appropriate diagnoses.

For the challenge of brand-recognition, there isn’t one permanent cure — no magic pill or silver bullet. Keeping a brand prominently positioned takes tireless vigilance and relentless work. But there are ways to keep your brand healthy — to make sure the members of your target audiences know who you are, what you do, why you do it the way you do it, and why doing it the way you do it is advantageous and valuable.

If your brand is ailing, ask yourself these 10 questions:

  1. Can you clearly articulate what your company is or what it does in in one sentence?
  2. Have you and gauged your brand awareness in target markets or segments?
  3. Have you researched your competition to assess their communications methods and spending levels?
  4. If not, how will you establish brand-building direction or derive expectations for what you can accomplish and when?
  5. Can you state your objectives meaningfully and specifically?
  6. If not, how will you determine the challenges you face in achieving them and measure your progress?
  7. Have you clearly identified your target audience(s)?
  8. If you don’t know who they are, what they need, and how they think, how will you reach them most effectively?
  9. Do you consider marketing an investment or an expense?
  10. Do you use the terms uniqueinnovativeleadingend-to-endgranular, or robust — or refer to your offering as a solution?

If your answer to #10 was, “No,” your condition isn’t fatal.

If you realize you won’t get healthy by taking a fistful of pills from Dr. Feelgood without consultation, examination, and diagnosis, you won’t try nursing your brand to health by the same errant means. Effective branding may not be science. But it should be artful in its thinking, planning, anticipating, judging, and responsiveness to opportunity. Practiced diligently, like good medicine, those arts can help ensure your brand’s long-term health.

You have to diagnose the problem before you can treat it. And you have to measure the treatment to know if it’s effective.

Anything else is ear drops on a hang-nail.

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