Hitting the Bullseye When Creating Your Brand Identity

Branding, in general, is only effective if it falls on receptive ears. That is, if you communicate a value proposition to your target audience and the message(s) falls flat, then you didn’t do an effective job of branding, to say the least. Effective branding is all about not only understanding who your target audience is but also knowing how to get through to them.

For example, let’s say you offer on-demand legal services. Your target buyer could be small businesses who do not have the budget to hire full-time counsel. So, how can you get through to these people? Well, you have to do a few things first to best understand their hot buttons, such as:

  1. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine walking through a typical day – what challenges do they face? What might irk them the most?
  2. Develop a buyer persona to bring these users to life.
  3. Make an educated guess as to what they read (industry publications, websites, blogs) they might read and visit those sites to see what topics are trending.

Once you have answered these questions, it is time to aggregate your list of challenges/hot buttons and industry topics and develop messages/value propositions to address them with solutions and value.

Crafting Targeted Key Messages

Here is an example (again, using the on-demand legal services firm):

  • Identified hot buttons: no free time, small budget, limited cash flow.
  • Identified challenges: compliance infractions, customer disputes.
  • Key message: XYZ offers small businesses enterprise-caliber legal services without incurring upfront capital expenses or having to retain full-time counsel.
  • Value proposition: Small businesses have immediate access to the legal support needed to comply with relevant regulations, settle otherwise costly disputes and more.

Every key message and associated value proposition should at the very least specify the target buyer and the value they receive, as shown above.

Dedicated, Buyer-Specific Web Pages

Another way to resonate with target buyers is to bifurcate your audience on your homepage by directing visitors to pages dedicated to their specific needs. For the legal firm, buyer pages might include “Small Business Owner”, “Venture Capitalist” and “Small Division of Big Enterprise”. On each of these pages, focus on the following:

  1. Intro – appeal to their needs, challenges and hot buttons to show you understand what they’re going through.
  2. Solution – present your solution (products/services) as the answer to their problems; use differentiation to make your wares stand out from your competitions’.
  3. Value – introduce the specific value your solutions afford this target buyer and try to fit the value into their particular business environment.
  4. ROI – if possible, cite a customer example and the associated ROI they received.

Branding isn’t easy…at all. This is why there are scores of branding professionals at the ready to help you perform the functions outlined in this article. As a small business yourself, it is absolutely imperative that you do more with less. I know this, as a small business owner myself. I’m always having to turn water into wine or a quarter into a dollar. It’s what we do.

Being as targeted as possible with your branding is yet another way of doing the same thing. You don’t have the resources to boil the ocean, so pick a small cove and just heat that up. The more targeted you can get with your target buyers, their needs and the value you afford them, the more you can do with less.

As an aside, you can extend your targeted branding practices to your sales scripts, your collateral materials, your blog posts, your event booths and so on.

The Power of Anecdotal Differentiation

What sounds better during a sales pitch:

1. We help businesses improve their bottom line.
2. We helped XYZ company increase revenue by 19%.

Quantifiable_TestimonialsObviously number 2 is the clear choice, and the reason is because it includes quantifiable data that validates the value the company claims, which helps differentiate the company and its offerings. This type of anecdotal differentiation comes in many flavors, regardless of the type of organization you run, e.g.:

A. Tree removal company – We helped ABC park district remove 26 trees so it could finish its new park on time.

B. Law firm – AAA Law Firm saved BBB company $457,000 in erroneous liability claims.

C. Technology company – Our ABC product increased staff productivity by 26% within the first three months following installation.

D. Ice cream shop – Eight out of every 10 of our customers surveyed state they would gladly refer a friend or family member to our shop because of the taste, variety of flavors and cost of our ice cream.

E. Insurance company – Following Hurrican Sandy, we helped 45,000 people in the Northeast rebuild their homes will full replacement value payouts.

F. Tire company – We helped John Smith and his family save $145 (versus the competition) on their set of new tires for their minivan.

G. Web development firm – ABC Web Development gave RRR Recreation Company a professional-looking online presence in just three days.

Regardless of the type of business your work for or run, and irrespective of the size or industry, you have the ability to dig into your performance and pull out such anecdotal evidence of the value of your products/services. In the worlds of sales and marketing there really is no more valuable data that this. Having worked for over 15 years in both B2B and B2C marketing environment and for sales teams, I can atest to this fact. Whenever we were able to uncover such testimonials for the sales team, they were estatic, to say the least.

Ways to Secure Anecdotal Performance Data

Quantifiable testimonials and return on investment (ROI) data such as this is worth its weight in gold and it can unfortantely be a little challenging to get your hands on at times. There are, however, many proven approaches to securing this invaluable data. Here are a few of those methods:

1. “We want to showcase your success” – Contact your most successful customers and tell them you are so proud of their success with your products/services that you want to highlight them in your outbound communications. Many clients will simply say “okay” because of the free, positive publicity you are offering.

2. Offer an incentive for helping – Offer your most successful customers a free month of service or 15 percent off their next purchase or six months of complimentary support, e.g. in exchange for giving you a quantifiable testimonial. This method has proven the most successful for me in the past.

3. Put a clause in your contract (primarily for B2B) – Put a clause in your sales contract that states the company will serve as a testimonial for your business once they have ROI to demonstrate. Many times the client won’t even notice it in the contract or if they do may simply disregard it at the time of purchase.

Branding and differentiation today can sometimes come down to inches – meaning a few dollars here and a few dollars there in terms of selecting you over a competitor. You need to do everything you can to stand out from the competition, and there are few better ways than with anecdotal evidence. Take the time to amass a number of these types of anecdotes – whether simple quantifiable bullet points like above or embedded into full-blow case studies. Case studies put the substance and color around the metric to help bring its full value to life.

Either way, anecdotal evidence will go a very long way toward distinguishing you and your offerings from the next guy, and that is what successful business is all about – offering something people want and demonstrating its value with real, quantifiable data from past customers.

8 Ways to Differentiate your Small Business

We have all heard the word differentiate before, but…

1. What does it really mean?
2. How does it really work?

The term “differentiate” is defined by dictionary.com as “to form or mark differently from other such things; distinguish”.

As a brand positioning specialist, I define “differentiate” as a means of distinguishing one’s business over its competition. The most important aspect each definition communicates is the need to look at the other guys in your space and find out what makes them special/unique. You then want to do the same with your own business and then compare. This keeps you from hanging your hat on the same hook as the other providers in your space. By comparing your business to your competitors, you can identify key positioning niches that you can claim independently of the other companies. By right, you are then differentiated – as long as the niche(s) you choose is/are distinguishing.

There are an infinite number of differentiation areas a small business can choose, depending upon the particular target buyer, the vertical industry, the solutions being offered, and so on. For the purpose of this piece I am selecting about 15 effective ways to differentiate a business. This is based largely on the many brand positioning programs I have worked on for clients. Also, please note the important characteristic they all share – they can and should be substantiated with proof.

Successful areas of differentiation (in no particular order):

1. Number one or the largest – There are a number of ways to define the distinction as the number one provider in a given industry segment. You can base it on the highest revenue or market cap, the most number of customers, the largest staff, the most offices, etc.

2. Percentage or amount of repeat business – some companies will claim to have the highest customer satisfaction in their industry because 98 percent of their clients, for instance, recommend them to others; or because almost all of their clients use them again.

3. Customer satisfaction – Aside from the explanation in number 4 above, customer satisfaction can also be a claim a business makes as the result of a customer satisfaction survey it conducted. There is obviously a lot of leeway for contrived interpretation since your business is the one conducting the survey. Nonetheless, however, it is a claim based on a survey.

4. Number of clients in one business segment – If you are a business consultant and you have 48 customers and 43 of them are law firms, you can likely claim the distinction as the number one small business consultant focused primarily on law firms. This is of course only possible if your positioning comparison indicates no other consultant has made such a claim.

5. Most cost effective (aka the cheapest) – In some industries this market position makes sense. In others it does not.

6. Most comprehensive – If you are casting yourself as a “one stop shop” in your industry and offer the broadest set of products/services, then this is a very viable positioning stance to take.

7. First or longest standing – While the Internet era has made it cool to be a fresh, new business on the scene, there is still something special about claiming to be the first provider in the industry or the longest standing.

8. Specific features/functionality – so many businesses today try to distinguish their business based on the attributes of their offerings (e.g. we have the most number of stripes on our widget). This is a dangerous position to claim because you really never know where your competitors are in their development efforts. They might be just 2 weeks behind and about ready to come out with a widget that has more stripes.

There are so many bad ways to differentiate a business, and there are so many businesses that choose these poor positioning niches. Here are several examples of distinctions you do not want to claim because they can almost never be substantiated:

A. Best service
B. Most customer focused
C. Easiest to work with
D. Most knowledgeable
F. Nicest (yes I’ve seen such positioning)
G. Best (what does this even mean?)

These are just some of the ineffective positioning niches that I try to avoid at all costs. Trust me, there are so many more.

Me-Too Positioning gets you Nowhere in B2B Marketing

The other day I was speaking with a prospective B2B software client who needed to better differentiate itself in its market. When I asked the President of the company to tell me what makes his product more special than the next provider, he referenced the following:

  • Our product is easy to install
  • We provide incredible service
  • Our product is available at a very competitive price point

My reply to this business leader was something you might expect. I told him that at least five of his top competitors can not only say the same thing, but they already are! Like the title of this article says, me-too brand positioning will get you nowhere, fast. Me-too brand positioning is not worth the paper it is printed on. Throw it out, forget about it and find a more distinguishing way to differentiate your business. One caveat, however: There are certain times when me-too messaging must be used to ensure a sales prospect that you have the same table stakes every other provider does. The key, however, is that if you must use me-too messaging; by no means hang your hat on it. Instead, use it as back-up messaging. You must put that repetitive positioning behind more substantial competitive positioning that will really set your business apart from the rest or your sales opportunities will surely fall flat.

This example, I’m afraid, is all too common today in business. Business leaders and even marketing personnel do not take the time to look at what the competition is saying about itself before developing and utilizing its brand messages. This is a dangerous path to take and one that usually leads to lost sales opportunities.

Every business, whether large or small, or new or established, has something it can hang its hat on in terms of distinguishing characteristics. It is critical to business success that you figure out what those things are and build your elevator pitch and key messages around those points. While each business is unique and will have its own differentiating areas, there are some trite statements and phrases to try your best to stay away from, because your competition is likely already using them, and they do very little to make you stand out. Some of these overused and really non-differentiating aspects include:

  • Best-of-breed solution
  • Easy to use (try to find a better way to say this such as intuitive navigation, e.g.)
  • Industry leading (you’ll note that this is hugely overused today!)
  • Increase performance (it’s better to specify what aspect of performance)
  • Improve efficiency (it’s better to specify what aspects are performed faster and with less resources)
  • Rock-solid (what does this even mean in terms of business value?) Why not say dependable or reliable and state the reason(s) why?

I must reiterate that there are select instances when some of these words must be used, but as a general rule they should be avoided at all costs.

Customers buy B2B goods and services based on specific aspects of price, service, features, reputation, reliability, interoperability, comprehensiveness and others areas. As a business owner and/or marketing professional, it is your job to figure out what unique aspects your business has/offers and build your company’s brand positioning around those points. This distinguishing messaging will help you stand above your competition and will go a long way in terms of strengthening your sales and marketing efforts.

Keys to Small Business Sales Success

A small business constantly worries about where its next client is coming from. Without dedicated sales people typically, most entrepreneurs generate leads themselves amidst their multitude of other business functions including servicing existing client accounts. Often without professional sales experience, the small business owner (myself included) would be remiss to turn away some helpful tips on how to sell effectively. With this in mind, I took some time to interview a proven sales professional.

Following is my interview with Kenneth Barns, founder of Breaking the Sales Bottleneck (BTSB) Consulting (www.breakingthesalesbottleneck.com):

Kevin: What sales challenges do you see the small business owner facing most prevalently today? [Read more…]

B2B Branding with PowerPoint

Branding is an imperative in business today if you intend to make your company stand out from the crowd. Many businesses (large or entrepreneurial) take this to mean a slick logo or a graphically pleasing website. These promotional/branding mechanisms are important and should be considered, however, one of my personal favorite means of branding a business and its offerings (primarily applicable for business-to-business organizations serving other businesses) is to leverage the PowerPoint medium. The ability it affords for you to develop and display graphical models/images that speak volumes about your business and the value your products and services provide, make this medium a true winner in my eyes.

Personally, through my many years of PR/Marketing/Branding experience, I have come to realize the true power of a company capabilities/sales presentation that tells prospects, investors, partners and even employees who the business is and why its products and services should be considered for purchase. I have developed countless capabilities presentations using PowerPoint and have come to rely on an eight slide format that works for any organization, regardless of size, marketplace, etc. The slides include:

1. Business challenge – Talk about the challenges your clients and prospects face that lead them to search for solutions like the ones you offer
2. Your value proposition – In business value (rather than product features) terms, describe how your solutions (product and services) solve the problems described in slide 1 [Read more…]

The Power of Business Partnering

Regardless of the size of your business or the industry you operate in, aligning your business with complimentary organizations that can help you expand your reach and even your set of offerings can be a highly effective way to succeed, especially if you are a small business with limited resources.

Business partners can serve a multitude of purposes in the course of a mutually beneficial relationship. Here are several examples:

1. Help you expand and round out your set of offerings – if you’re a law firm and want to also offer a lower-end “product”, you can align yourself with a pre-paid legal services firm, for example
2. Expand your reach and penetration into new customer segments and markets – if you have a small firm operating in the U.S. and can find a viable, complementary partner in the U.K., for example, you can tap international market segments without having to physically expand into the region.

[Read more…]

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