Your Brand Is More Than The Obvious

A brand is a far reaching thing. It involves more than just the obvious. A good many businesses have brands that are less than they ought to be. They’re not the kind of company to take bold moves and create a unique experience. I am quite frustrated when I see companies play loose with their visual brands. Take the accompanying photograph. When this business took over the building and removed the old lettering, they took the cheap way out and failed to bother re-surfacing the facade. What you have is what looks like the building was sprayed with bullets. Ironic that it’s a legal office.

photoThe proper move would have been to resurface then apply the new signage. MUCH more professional. This is just sloppy and lazy. Is their legal advice any better? Who knows, but their street level visuals is saying exactly that. The few bucks they saved may have cost them business. Something so basic can and does damage brands. If you were to ask them if they run a tight ship, no doubt they’d think they are first class operation.

Is there an aspect of your business that could show better than it does today? It might not be a visual thing but an experience perhaps. If you have service as one of your brand values but it is common practice to leave a customer on hold or put them through voice mail hell, that speak as negatively of your brand as the unsurfaced facade. Uninspired sales teams – same thing.

I constantly try and add value to my brand service. It’s a practice what you preach philosophy.
Imagine the message I’d be sending if I let mediocrity rule my brand. What you even consider retaining my services? All of us must walk the walk. Too much effort goes into doing what we do to make a living to risk it’s value as a brand.

The New Brand Benefit

bowIn a lot of ways starting a business and giving birth to a new brand can be an exciting process. No one knows who you are yet, so they have nothing to build an opinion on. On the other hand, since there is no formal introduction yet, everything about you is essentially rumour at this stage. A good place to start your brand is PR. Having a basic introductory website, and a weekly update to media, will help build interest and keep your information factual.
Any contact with suppliers and potential customers should alway be cordial. How you treat any contact at this initial stage, could set the tone of your new brand. Determine how you would like to be perceived and then strategize as to how you might influence this. Developing a positioning strategy that makes you the leader or the best at something will give your new brand resonance with your market. The worst thing you could do, is “follow the leader.” In doing this your brand offers nothing to the marketplace. Why bother existing at all? Every decision you make should assist in differentiating your new brand.
In discovering your difference, your launch can be exciting. You could be on your way to building a remarkable brand. Dream big! Don’t strive to be one of the best – strive to be the best. Just delivering good customer service isn’t enough – deliver the best service. Discover ways to over-deliver. Never forget that every thing you do affects the success of your brand. Don’t take designing your brand image lightly. An amateur attempt just reflects back on you. I’ve known some small businesses who took more interest in their decor than their brand image. Ultimately this shows in their success or lack there of.
Another important strategy is to build your “expert profile.” Your expert profile is your customer’s perception of your level of expertise. I typically recommend using Linkedin as a good start. Bringing your profile as close to 100% is a great way to get a handle on your level of expertise. Next round it out with a Facebook business page. But, I think that the number one activity that defines your expertise better than anything is blogging. It allows you to actively put your opinion out for all to see. With blogging the trick is to give away valuable information. It’s a lot of effort but the rewards over time can be extraordinary. I’ve not only gotten leads from blogging but press interviews and unique opportunities.
Your brand is in your hands. Ignore it and the competition will step up to define you. Own it, live it and strive from it.

Brand Strategically: How To Tell When Your Graphic Designer Doesn’t “Get” Branding

Brand Strategically-060514There’s a great deal of discussion these days in regard to branding and re-branding. Typically branding is seen to be the domain of the big players in the marketplace. But what was formerly thought to be only available to them is now available to the rest of us – small and medium size enterprises (SME’s) who wish to use strategy to win. They are intrigued that they can absolutely succeed through taking a leadership position. SME’s turn to graphic designers to facilitate their “branding.”

It’s this writer’s opinion that a good percentage of graphic designers see branding or re-branding as nothing more than changing the logo and marketing materials – visual solution. The reasons SME’s have for needing branding typically have very little to do with visuals per se. Many are searching for a solution to flat sales, low moral, changing culture, up-dating of positioning, expansion , succession and any number of business issues. If you’re looking to have branding done properly, I’d recommend working with a firm that has a proven branding process that strategically looks at your brand and can develop strategies that position it as the leader in its category. If the graphic designers you’re speaking to only mention logo and marketing materials – hike up your britches and run like hell.

Avoiding these designers is imperative because they simply don’t “get” branding. They think it’s too complicated and frankly don’t have the confidence and expertise to deliver the real article so they deliver what they do have confidence in – a visual solution only. The unqualified designer will view a strategic, process-driven approach as counter-intuitive. I’m guessing it won’t to you when you understand that strategy is what the visual solution is based on. An experienced branding expert will deliver a strategic and visual solution together as an overall deliverable. Experiencing this properly allows you the customer to appreciate the value delivered. When delivered to your branding team, a qualified designer now becomes an integral strategic partner to your business. They will be able to assist you in not only developing a leading brand but also assist and facilitate launching it effectively.

Look for and demand that a branding process be utilized. A branding process allows everyone on your team to easily understand what is taking place. Your Team may not be used to things like branding, design and strategic brainstorming. A process allows everyone to see the deliverables as they emerge. They get that something comes next and over time builds into something very powerful and motivating. If you as an SME have experience in things like compliances, ISO and industry standards then a branding process with its validation components will make perfect sense to you with you.

As with anything an SME does to improve their business, it’s important to get it right the first time. Branding is no different. If you find it daunting to walk yourself through it, then it will benefit you to bring in qualified assistance. I’ve been branding companies for a while now and every time i facilitate the process with a business’s branding team, establishing a dominate position in their category has more impact than a slogan or a new logo. It reaches deep into the culture of the company and reflects the core values in it boldness. If branding is something you’re investigating but would enjoy some research in the matter, I’d recommend the book, “Blue Ocean Strategy” to help understand why positioning is the key deliverable from any certified branding expert.

For more information on how designers can work with a branding process, or for designers wanting to up their game and deliver a genuine branding experience, check out these two comprehensive brand training programs: “How to Talk About Branding,” and the Brand Academy Certification Workshop.
Designers should also catch the no-cost webinar, “How to Make $20,000 to $50,000 on Your Next Branding Project“.

How To Make Brand Difference Sell For You.

I read an interesting blog today. The author felt that using differentiation as a brand strategy was misguided. He felt that being different wasn’t enough considering that many people purchase things based on a commitment in their minds. Being different wasn’t enough of a reason to change their minds.

Time for ChangeI think he was well intentioned but he took ‘different’ too literally. Using his theory, it’s easy to understand that if you’re a fan of say, Apple products, it’s not likely that your next purchase will be swayed by a brand that is completely different than Apple. Different doesn’t necessarily mean better. Different for difference’s sake IS misguided.

A differentiation strategy from my perspective takes a stand. ‘Different’ can mean many things. But it can’t JUST be different. Your brand strategy has to been authentic. Just being different is masking a weak reality. Swaying a purchase your way involves many things. In addressing a need, one has to intrigue the buyer. To get the customer to move their money to a new resource, that resource has to provide a solution that resonates with the buyer. It has to compel them to give your brand a shot. It’s not enough to emulate the leader in the category, which really only reinforces that leader. Your offer has to lead not follow. Your brand has to earn the trust of the customer and deliver on a promise to your customer that raises the bar against the competitor. You have to exploit the weak flanks that they are taking for granted. Once you own that flank, you must become it as well. You must offer a benefit in your differentiation. Your brand has to be a viable alternative, not just window dressing.

If it were just being different that would be too easy. If that difference emulates from every corner of your brand, then it can resonate and allow you a foot in the door. Difference is all about the conversation. You want to change the conversation and control it. If you are able to do that, your customer will take your story and give it a moment of their time. Branding properly opens doors. From there it is the sales staff’s job to land the business. If you are one and the same, then you have to be a master of your message and consistent in its delivery.

Embrace your difference, then sell it and land it. If your difference is all visual you will lose the opportunity. Your difference goes to the core of your brand – exploit it.

The Convenient Entrepreneur

Branding[Entrepreneur] according to Webster’s dictionary one who undertakes a business venture, taking both control and risk.

I would add to that – a commitment to one’s vision or dream. When you decide to put up that shingle, you’re making a promise to yourself and your customer to work in the best interest of both. In this world economy of ours many people found themselves out on the street for the first time in their careers through no fault of their own. Streamlining, down-sizing – whatever the cause has had a lot of people “re-inventing themselves.” You may have noticed a plethora of coaches, consultants, gurus, agents of change and what ever moniker these discarded individuals hoist upon their shoulders. Don’t get me wrong – there are a great many who are the genuine article and come with their guidance, a rich portfolio of wisdom. BUT, there there are many who lay claim to being something they’re not.

In your community, you see them everywhere. Individuals who love the idea of “entrepreneur” but lack the gumption and commitment to walk the walk. When they worked as an employee they may have envied the entrepreneur and even envied their “freedom” or perceived freedom. They answer to themselves (or so they thought). A true entrepreneur is the hardest working person in the room. They recognize that it’s not about who’s the boss. Their motivation is not simply the money but the satisfaction. They weather the risk and some even thrive in its uncertainty. An entrepreneur is a unique individual.

You see the cracks in psuedo-entrepreneurs very easily. They are the ones are looking for the short-term solutions. They are the ones who book meetings at their convenience. These are the people go into business and wait for the customer to somehow grace their door steps. They are the individuals who quit at 5:00pm, using (balance) as an excuse. The worst offence is these are the people who profess to love their business but secretly yearn that someone will come forth and offer them a full-time job with benefits. This is a dangerous individual. Companies that hire their ‘expertise’ are thrown to the curb at the first job offer. Instead of looking for opportunities to grow their businesses they try to play all the angles to minimize risk. The best way to minimize risk in business is to work harder and focus on your core competency. If that competency is being a great employee then focus on that and be the best employee there is. Businesses need great employees. They don’t need opportunists. They’re hard to rely on. Employees should do what they do best and that’s work for the visionaries. Be a great follower.

If you are the leader and are having a hard time with it – get out there more. Network – meet people who are making it happen . Talk to them, read about them. See what makes them get up in the morning. Try new things, put yourself in situations out of your comfort zones. Align yourself with individuals that you admire. Avoid negative people who will bring you down. Consciously try and stay positive and provide positive vibes to those around you. Start a mastermind group of brilliant business people who love the concept of sharing.

As Webster’s states – ‘…take control and risk.’ Stay true to yourself and you’ll end up where you ought to be. Pretending causing confusion and opportunities that should be yours avoid you until you are clear in your intentions.

How To Avoid A Weak Brand in a Post-Patent World!

Patents. They’re great things aren’t they? It gives you absolute control over that product. It protects you from unscrupulous competitors. Life is good.

11409504_s-300x267Have you given any thought to the day when that patent runs out? Maybe it seems so far away, that it simply isn’t on the radar. Twenty years off seems like a life time. Maybe just worry about it when the time comes. For many that’s the conventional wisdom. I’ve known companies who did exactly that. During the patent years things were good. Business was growing and the future looked promising.

And then it happened.

Where did the twenty years go? You’re sure it was just yesterday that you got your patent and you were set. Now with the patent opened up, hawks are all around you. The protection you enjoyed has slipped away. What to do? What to do?!

In hind-sight what you should have done was have a plan. As it stands today, your brand is at its weakest. You’ve sat back and allowed your product to coast on its protected status, not paying any attention to what brand you were building. Because of your monopoly status, the brand was lazy and maybe a little arrogant. Now, all that has changed and the marketplace demands to know why they should care about you. In the onslaught of emerging competition, you now stand the real chance of being left behind. Deemed irrelevant in the industry you invented! How can this be, how can you stop this?

Patent

What you should have considered long before the patent ran out was how to develop a strong brand that, when the patent ran out, could come out of the gate with all guns blazing. You had the time and room, to define your brand as the only choice because it was superior. Your patent would have allowed you the luxury to establish a positioning that was unchallengeable. An enviable position for any business. Early planning would have allowed you to grow your brand story at your own pace. But if you waited, you’re scrambling making up for lost time and opportunity. Depending on how the competition launches their attacks, you find yourself responding to them. It didn’t have to be that way.

If your patent is still active, then NOW is the time to embrace and grow your brand. Envision your company in a post-patent era and determine what you would like your brand to stand for. Take that vision and put strategies in motion that will allow you to build to that positioning. Having done that will remove a lot of the anxiety attached to lurching into an unknown environment you may have failed to anticipate. Planning early not only makes your brand stronger, but also keeps you grounded and completely aware of any fluctuations and trends in its marketplace. Defining your brand right now saves you a ton of aggravation later.

My client while failing to plan for the post-patent moment was quick to realize his error and put into motion strategies to correct it. Now, they have gained back lost market share and have surged forward. Their brand has once again established its leadership role. They fully recognize in hindsight that should have reacted earlier and could have saved themselves a huge dilemma. Many other companies in the same boat, didn’t come to that conclusion early on and are now drowning in waves of competition and are desperate to find a solution – any solution. It usually revolves around ‘lowest price’ and the inevitable race to the bottom and out.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Put that patent smirk away and plan for the day when it is no longer there to protect you. It IS coming. You can either have a brand that refuses to succumb or one that panics and flounders. Start the conversation today.

Start Your Conversation with Confidence.

I just returned from a successful workshop in San Diego where I facilitated (with a friend Marcia Hoeck). We were teaching graphic designers how to drive profits by building brands for clients before any design work is done. Our audience was graphic design firms from across the U.S. Essentially we went through Marcia and my eleven step branding process. One important issue kept cropping up – confidence. It would appear that our audience that day and i’m sure many small businesses in our audience here, have a rough time selling with confidence. Especially a new service like ours.
talking
I’ve found over the years and I’m sure Marcia would concur, a great way to gain that desired confidence is to start the conversation immediately. Start talking up the subject with everyone you come into contact with. Without looking like a boor that is.

One of our attendees did exactly that on the flight home and landed herself a new lead. Talking – it’s that simple. Show everyone how excited you are about what you do. Show the passion. You will find yourself getting on people’s radar. You become the go-to person on that category. Your personal brand is tied to it.

Because of our subject matter we encouraged them to making branding their core service, driving all other services, starting the proper conversation helps to clarify and differentiate them in their markets. Go ahead and say nice things about your brand, it’s good for the soul.