Out of the Box Solutions
Are you branding with Intention or by default?
Four questions to ask your brand manager
By Mark Roberts
One of the most important items every company must address is its brand. Some of the questions that come up are: What do we want to be known for? Who are we today, and where we will be tomorrow? What do we represent? What is the promise of our brand?
Those questions get the conversation moving, but to talk about branding alone is not enough. Companies must brand with intention. Branding with intention means consciously deciding who you are, what you represent in the space you choose to play in, and most importantly clearly defining your value proposition. How do you want others (potential buyers and the communities they interact with) to know you?
Who are your competitors? Try this: ask yourself to explain your competitors’ value proposition to someone. Sometimes, (way too often actually) I hear we are better than them because…this is not what I asked. Get past the emotion and ego and state who your competitors are objectively as possible and what they represent in the space you both share. Then explain your own value proposition. I find it interesting how consistently people can rattle off their competitors brand in one focused sentence, but then it takes 30 minutes to hours to explain their own. Often this is because we know too much about us, we hold it all too close to the vest, and have not spent the time to strategically shape our brand. Take a look at yourself from an outsider’s point of view. Find out why a customer would value you, and you’re on your way to intentional branding.
What is your value proposition? What makes your product or service unique, and better yet, what do you do better than anyone else? Plant that flag and defend it in everything you do. In the event you discover there is no unique service or product, which is often seen with; frustrated owners feeling the pressure of a negatively sliding commodity price models and rising costs that are forcing their team to “save “ their way to meeting their targets. Or do you have a feeling, as I have with different companies in varying industries, price is becoming the single determining factor in the purchase decision and or you see a plateau or erosion in EBITDA. I recommend listening to your sales consultants in a new way. Are they talking more about what the competitor(s) are doing right than the needs your products solve? If this is the case it is time for an intentional course correction.
I tell clients it’s like the desire to start improving your health. Let’s say you want to loose weight. There are a myriad of books and programs that will gladly ask for your money to share their secrets. However the answer is truly; move more and eat less of non value adding foods. If you intentionally set out to do this, living your intentional plan each moment, over time you will loose weight and unlike most of us who yo-yo diet have sustained weight loss because the very process became a part of your life. Being a unique person with specific likes and desires, you must find the weight loss program that works uniquely for you and have the discipline to stick with it.
Your company’s marketing, specific to your intentional brand and their brand promises are no different. Once you plant that flag in your market you must live each day intentionally and not compromise with the choices that take you far from your core, your root value. If you find yourself with over three years of commodity based price models and stagnant owner’s equity you may wish to bring in an outside consultant to challenge the paradigm your team feels they are in. Much like a personal trainer or nutritionist this will be uncomfortable for you as the owner and often frightening for your team but it must occur. I love working with client teams when they finally open up and let it out… “You just don’t understand, you are not from our business/industry, and you do not understand how we do things around here…” What I often want to shout is “That is why you hired me, to see this business in a fresh new way, identify unmet market needs, and shatter those paradigms that have you and your team stuck for the past year(s).” Once we reach this point in the engagement process, we can start making sustainable strategic intentional adjustments to drive revenue and growth to the bottom line.
What is your intention? The power of being intentional leads teams to success. Once we identify the root at the core of who you are, why you are, and why someone would want to choose you over competing alternative companies it sets the groundwork for explosive sales growth.
In The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, does a brilliant job of capturing how it’s the little things that can make a big difference. He goes on to discuss the “stickiness factor” and how there are ways to create an epidemic, a contagious message memorable. I attended a seminar recently and the speaker said; “word of mouth is, even in this age of mass technology driven communications and multi million dollar ad campaigns is still the most important form of human communication.” Although this presenter’s message was met with groans and the uncomfortable rustling of nervousness we not only knew this to be true, we felt it. We experience what used to be a viral exchange of thought at the golf course , church, gym, now intentionally shared throughout the world when click “send” in a blog. When we send our message, our virus is now born and has a life. It seeks out those who have expressed an interest in it, affinity for it. Through technology our thought virus is also found, invited, requested if you will, through search engines, RSS and so on.
What does your customer need? What do you do if you feel you are in a commodity business as seen by constant customer pressures to reduce costs and provide better services? Ask your customers as well as prospects what they need. Get inside the skin of those you are selling and feel the emotion behind the purchase.
The first thing I ask sales teams, product managers, marketing managers and owners is to shift their thought process. For example, often the company is focused on selling their product and or service and that is the mission when they meet the marketplace. They are trained, they have tools, and their mission is to make the sale based on their objective/goals for what they sell. If that customer does not write the purchase order then we must bang on more doors until their goals are achieved. One of my favorite plays is Death of a Salesman. It was, in many ways, ahead of it’s time in the closing of the old sales paradigm. Having sold products in many industries and a variety of channels myself this play speaks to the root deep within sales people everywhere. In addition it reinforces why we must not fall prey to a fixed “I win you loose model.”
The new model is one that embraces the “client partner” approach leading to win-win. Yes, you still have sales goals, number to meet each month however winning companies have changed the approach when working with client partners. They take the time to learn about their clients, the markets they serve, and they understand their needs. Winning companies today position their product or service in the mind of the customer as a solution to a problem or unmet need. Though subtle, this approach now adds an emotional connection. This model now creates a thread between sales forces that use this model and the buyers that the “make the sale and move on” salesman will never have. You now have added an emotional attachment to a specific unmet need or pain that the client partner will not only buy, but buy and feel a perceived value.
I help my teams understand… “Customers buy with emotions and then justify those purchases with facts.” If you are selling your products or services through a distribution model it is critical you understand the end user as well as the economic model of your distributor.
In “Blink” Malcolm Gladwell points out that consumers make decisions based on thin slices of information or as he puts it “rapid Cognition” within seconds. The slices are taken from the barrage of messaging we all encounter in our everyday lives. It is critical companies are intentional in everything the say and do to be a part of that consumers’ thin slice that sticks and ultimately leads them to choosing your product or service in the buying decision.
Companies that choose to be intentional in all they do experience explosive growth. Recognizing consumers will establish a perception of your brand if it is not clear, why would anyone choose to leave that to chance? Leaving it to chance as many companies unfortunately do leads to what I refer to as “branding by default” in which you are the follower of the markets perception of you that may or may not be accurate.