Everyone’s talking about Brand … many brand managers promote it to the exclusion of sales! Now that’s pretty ass-backwards, eh.
But everyone assumes their brand is doing its job, and supporting new and ongoing customer relationships. Their agency does all they can to make the client feel that way! But, more often than not, a company’s brand is not doing its job. Is yours?
It’s easy to fall off track – in some cases, no true understanding of a company’s brand has ever been established. There are lots of ’branding agencies’ out there who are simply designing logos but don’t really have a clue as to how to define or grow a brand.
Really doing it right – defining your brand, establishing it, supporting it – is not an easy task. It’s not something for the ego-driven agency who wants to win awards. It’s not for the client who is hoping to get kudos in the company meetings.
And — It’s not something that just happen on its own – it must be worked on with sincere effort and in most cases an outside eye or guidance to hit the mark. But it’s well worth some concentrated effort to get it right.
What is “brand”?
It’s MUCH more than a logo or a tagline; it’s your company’s DNA. Without a thorough understanding of your brand – and a clear definition of it – you’re missing the most important key to your success now, and in the future.
Historically in direct selling, brand was not considered important, or even relevant until the mid to late 90s. In fact, brand advertising was scoffed at by direct marketing folks who themselves were attuned to measurement of response.
Even today, the imbalance in over all expenditure between ‘brand’ work and direct selling is mind-boggling. I’ve been inside tech companies where they were wringing their hands over whether to spend $500,000 to have a single outdoor board up for six months, or to spend it on a direct marketing campaign to measurably generate quality leads and renew customer relationships. D’oh! They think an outdoor board is an essential step in branding. So far from the truth!
In today’s world of convergent marketing, establishment of your brand, and your brand itself is an essential tool your relationships with your customers, and your bottom line. But it has to be done with wisdom and careful expenditures in appropriate channels — not thrown into the most visible to a world that frankly doesn’t care or need to care about your product. Brand matters to the customer who is YOUR customer. All the rest is money down the drain.
Historically powerful brands
Think of the brands that you know by heart – and how they present themselves. L.L. Bean may not be the same old merchant it used to be, but the basics of the LL Bean brand are still strongly evident.
First and foremost, it’s about complete customer satisfaction. It’s also about family, friends, and clean living that favors and celebrates the outdoors. It’s about quality and goodness, the kind that will never go out of fashion. Test this brand as you peruse their many catalogs, visit their website, read their emails … it’s consistent and it’s all theirs.
A well-established and true brand endures through time and difficulty. Tylenol survived the poisoning incident in the 70s. Martha Stewart’s brand has come roaring back stronger than ever even after she spent five months in the slammer. Williams Sonoma grows and expands, but in the words of its founder, Chuck Williams, they’re known for “Quality good enough to last a lifetime”. Williams emphasized from the start that he would never sell anything he didn’t like or appreciate its beauty and functionality. That is one of the key elements to their very successful brand.
Brand is so important, it is to your advantage to establish it in writing, in your emails, in your catalog or on your website, using the form of a vision statement or mission. And when it’s present, the emphasis must be upon what your brand means to the customer in terms of advantages and benefits.
Check out Harry & David’s website and you’ll find their ‘guiding principles’ – it’s a great template to start your own thoughts on how you express your brand to your customers.
Where will brand show up?
When well-established, your brand shows up in far more than your logo. It will be part of your company culture, effecting customer service, merchandising, your offers, employee benefits, fulfillment, and of course, creative. Your guarantee is a reflection of your brand as it pertains to customer confidence.
It also shows up in the company you keep (relationships with the community and with other like-minded companies), and even your PR.
How do I know my brand is relevant?
I highly recommend a few kinds of research to check, double check or even establish a valid brand positioning for your company. E-research is very valuable and affordable, but there are other options too. And of course, plan on spending ample time speaking directly to customers and to your customer service personnel who spend many hours a day speaking with customers.
Through this research you will be able to cull a ‘vocabulary’ of language that defines your brand, and categorize these words so that you know how and when to use them to sell products, establish relationships and more.
You’ll also learn what language you are using now that is inappropriate to your customer. In addition, you get a much clearer view of your customer, which will empower your merchandise selection and what directions you can effectively grow your company.
The language you develop will be key to identifying and communicating your value propositions as well as your core identity.
Does everyone need to work on brand?
There are some companies who tend more than others to lose their way when it comes to a well established and valid brand. Those companies in which the founder is no longer present sometimes lose the ‘heart and soul’ of their brand – the keeper of the ‘flame’ so to speak. With the financial advantages that happen through the sale of a catalog comes this disadvantage. It takes sincere diligence and continuation of longstanding employee relationships to keep it intact.
Companies who have grown ‘seat of their pants’ without brand being part of the mix often find themselves with multiple logos and no real establishment of good brand practice. These companies are at high risk of being eaten alive by their more organized competitors who look more stable and trustworthy if their own brand is better established. If this is you, it’s time to take a serious look at brand across the board, and once it’s established in a unified way, police it with vigor to keep everyone on track.
If your customer base has changed a lot since you first established your catalog, it’s important to revisit brand to find out who you really are speaking to at this point. You could find yourself using a brand that doesn’t ring true enough to your customer base – and they are more likely to leave for your competition when that happens.
8 steps toward a more powerful brand identity
These steps should serve as a checklist for you to review where your brand shows up, how valid it is to your customer base, and opportunities you have yet to explore.
1. Understand your customers, both existing and incoming – and acknowledge customer behavior
2. Know who your opportunities lie with, and don’t abandon your core customer group
3. Link all communication they have with your customers – silos hinder brand strength
4. Set standards and expectations for all contacts made – keeping the bar high with no exceptions
5. Map out and plan the total customer experience and relationship, right from the start. When changes occur, look at the whole plan, and don’t band-aid solutions
6. Clarify your selling and service proposition
across all their internal network – for consistent customer experience …
• Merchandise quality
• Service, including customer service, fulfillment, etc
7. Never omit the basics of solid marketing:
• great offers
• quality, intelligent and focused creative
• personal service for one-on-one experience
8. Seek out partnerships with companies whose customers have similar demographics and psychographics – including merchants and even service providers – to support and grow their brand
When you take on this brand project remember that you are unlikely to be able to take an unbiased path doing it all internally. As one of our marketing research affiliates describes it, “when it’s done internally, the research results are most often tainted because there is nobody in the company who does not have a view of where the company should be going”. It’s just human nature.
The team you DO use internally should be kept small and focused – ‘grandfather’ research in a company, or asking random opinions, is more likely than not to drive the process off track. Keep in mind that people’s opinions often do not match actual response activity – thus the reason why even with research, we back-test in the real world.
Your work on your brand fine tuning or actual establishment is a great investment, but establish a budget to get it done and set a timeline so that the project doesn’t drift out to sea. In the heat of daily work, a project like this can lose its place in the chain – but it’s a project and an outcome that can move you more successfully into the coming years.