In over ten years of working in sales and marketing I have yet to speak with a company that has said something along the lines of:
"We are pretty traditional in our approach"
"There is nothing that really differentiates us"
"Our people are average"
"Service isn’t something we really focus on"
"We just show up and do what we need to do"
Every company believes they are the best around. They all have a multitude of reasons why people do business with them and why they are superior to their competition. Why else would they be in business? The problem with most of these companies is not the fact they have built a cookie-cutter business exactly like the next. The problem is most of them have a hard time effectively identifying and communicating their differentiation, message and client experience - their brand.
So, how can an organization extract that ‘special sauce’ and craft it into a compelling brand?
The first step is to go through a process where ‘anything goes’. This can be as simple as getting a group around a whiteboard or even utilizing survey technology. The goal here is to lay out all the words and phrases that make up who you are as an organization. The focus should be to flush out any and all suggestions/ideas. Make sure you encourage an open forum where there are no bad ideas. You want to get as big a sampling as possible. Don’t be surprised if some of the items that come out are negative. If this happens, it’s a great opportunity to dig deep to understand and also to set plans to reverse this.
I am not a fan of organizations spending tens of thousands of dollars to have another firm come in to do traditional marketing research. You may have received an RFP like this in the past. These firms suggest interviewing your employees, key personnel, vendors, clients, competitors, etc. The truth is, you know your company better than anyone and if you are an engaged leader then that process is a waste. Some of the best leaders I know have decided not to go this route; and surprise, they somehow figure it out and create great corporate brands.
With the amount of information available now it is very easy to do your own research. Speak to some of your best clients, have lunch with your longest-term and newest employees, Google your competitors.
This step is about simply finding out what people think about you, and finding out what you and your competitors are saying about yourselves.
Once you have a long list of items from your brainstorming and research steps it’s time to start grouping them. You will quickly begin to see some patterns and general groupings occurring. Next it’s time to step back and think about your current brand and future brand. Your future brand should be the company that you want to be in the future. What do you want people to think about you?
There may be a big disconnect between your current brand and your future brand. That is ok, and fairly typical. The idea here is to clearly identify your differentiation and why that matters to your clients and potential clients. Questions you should ask yourselves:
- Why will they care?
- Is this really a differentiated brand item?
- Can we deliver on this promise?
- Can someone else say the same thing?
- Can we be best in the world at this?
- Is this really of value to our clients, employees and other relationships?
Most companies craft a brand and confuse it with a mission or vision statement. The brand most often becomes a long complex story that sounds great when it’s released, but then fades. Has this happened to you? If so, there is an explanation. It’s too long! If you can’t remember your brand, and your employees can’t remember it, then there is no way that the market will remember it. There was a Harvard Business Review article done years ago regarding this. The basic message was that most employees could not accurately recite their organization’s brand when asked. Enter icons...
Brand Icons are a branding hack I learned from my mentor. The idea here is to take your brand items and use illustrations, or icons, to make them easy to remember. For example, one item we used in one of my previous companies was “Goldie Locks’. In everything we did, we wanted to deliver the appropriate client experience. This meant it could not be a negative experience due to errors, but it also could not be so over the top that it was distracting. In our live events, as an example, our materials had to be free of errors and our clients had to have everything taken care of for them so they could focus on the value we were providing from the stage. We also had to make sure the theatrics around the event were impressive but not so over the top (like using fireworks or pyrotechnics) that they distracted from the real reason our clients took the time to attend. The event had to be just right - Goldie Locks.
Once you have your items in place, the next objective is to ensure all of your communication channels are in alignment. This means:
- Making sure all of your employees, both customer-facing and back-stage, all understand, promote and adhere to the corporate brand
- Your offline and online brand says the same thing
- All digital, written, verbal & non-verbal messages are in alignment
The key here is consistency. Make sure you have everyone and every thing talking and behaving in a way that reinforces the brand you've developed.
PERSONAL BRANDING IS CORPORATE BRANDING
For most companies, the personal brands of your employees largely define your corporate brand. Key executives must lead by example to ensure their personal brands are closely aligned with the corporate brand and vice-versa.
RINSE & REPEAT
Branding is not a one time event. At a minimum, your organization should reevaluate it’s brand every year (once per quarter or semi-annually would be preferred). Do an evaluation to make sure you are proactively promoting your brand correctly, and look to improve to move closer to your future brand.
If you follow the process above, then you will be in a much better position to extract the true value you’ve built as an organization. This will help you differentiate and create a truly remarkable brand.
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