Developing A World-Class Brand

toolboxIf you have a world-class brand, are you showing world-class quality at every turn? Is your brand involved in on-going training? It’s not just about customer service and brand awareness. It’s not that everyone knows your brand, it’s what their perception of your brand is. Here are 3 areas where a brand might drop the ball to save a few bucks?

Organizational communications is sadly lacking in a good many companies. With most of the companies I’ve had the pleasure to assist in their branding, communication is a major hurdle. This one area would catapult your brand if you found an efficient honest way to keep employees in the loop. Encouraging active participation in the brand would reap benefits in the areas of productivity and employee satisfaction.

How many brands that see themselves as world-class have little to no marketing plans? If a brand has no plans in place to draw new business to their doors, these are usually the kind of operation, that only reacts when times are slow. They don’t have an ongoing strategy. I understand why their rational seems sound, but the truth is marketing is part of a long-term strategy, no instant relief. Your customers are no different than yourself. How often do you react to a promotion immediately on viewing something? Most of us react when the need arises and we seek out brands that we perceive as the leaders. This leadership perception is not the result of hit and miss marketing but an on-going strategy.

Taking your brand seriously is not just putting your best foot forward in one area, but doing it better in EVERY area. When you cheap out, initially if seems the rational thing to do, but when the chips are down it’s too late to change perceptions. Home-made marketing materials are a good case in point. ‘Amateur’ doesn’t sound like a brand anyone would want.

Is Your Brand Believable?

I’m struck lately by large companies who say one thing but clearly speak out of the other sides of their mouth. It strikes me that some PR person or ad agency is advising them to put a great spin on everything. Say it enough times and the masses will believe them. Reality has nothing to do with it. It’s all about the spin. It’s also timely that it’s election season in the U.S. and many of the negative ads are also following this pattern. It doesn’t matter that Anderson Cooper is “Keeping them honest,” drive it home enough times and it sticks. Sometimes.

Oil companies are incredulous how, on one hand their spin tells us how much they care about us and their beloved homeland (whether that’s Canada or the United States). They proudly outline how many jobs they create, how they support community, how much they influence innovation and on and on and on. Then they jack up the price at the pumps and collectively drive the economy into the ground. Everything comes from oil. If they “really” cared, they would charge a fee that allows them to make an honest profit, but not hold the world economy hostage. They would be an honourable citizen partner. But greed is really their brand. Wait until gas is $15 -$20 a gallon, wow, just think of all the great things they’ll be able to do for us.

Airlines too are heavy into speaking out of two sides of their mouths. Siting in your seat watching the CEO of the airline on the video spew out how much he appreciates your business, and then rambles on about how great they are and how wonderful they are – blah, blah, blah. What is incredulous here is that while you listen to this tripe, the hostesses are trying to sell you a pillow to use. A few dollars more for a headset. Earlier in your trip you were subjected to: pre-boarding fees, extra luggage fees, long lines and the humiliation of security. I had a friend recently who clicked the wrong button by mistake when purchasing a ticket online, only to be told it would cost $250. to make a correction. Today the worst part of any trip is the flight. They have sucked the pleasure out of it.

None of us can afford to have a brand that relies on spin to try and fool our customers. Airlines and oil companies know that for the foreseeable future we have no choice. They can play their games and win. BUT, there will come a time where they will fall, and fall hard. When faced with a choice our customers will show their dissatisfaction with their feet. You’ll get no second chance. If it is your intention to make your brand shine for years and decades to come it has to be built on authenticity. Your values have to be rock solid. Thank heavens most brands do exactly that.

One thing that greed brands do is is serve as an awesome mirror for everyone else. They reflect on how not to do it. Holding your brand up to them, allows you the opportunity to do the polar opposite and be great.

DominateYour Brand Space

Currently, the 2012 Olympics in London, England is playing to a world audience. Everyone is counting medals and having a great time watching the competitions unfold. Amidst all this good sportsmanship, there’s a commercial battle going on with rule #40. This rule disallows any athlete from wearing or exhibiting any commercial product except those sanctioned by the IOC. One headphone maker (Beats by Dr. Dre) had brilliantly (my opinion) high-jacketed brand awareness by giving a free set of head phones to every athlete. This effort has the athletes wearing them before matches, tweeting their gratitude and generally becoming willing advocates for Beats. This has the IOC up in arms. Nothing worse than letting a loose end, end-run their rule #40. Some satire has even surfaced on YouTube with athletes appearing with tape over their mouths with Rule #40 written on it. Of course this again benefits Beats and their awareness efforts.

Taking this as inspiration, you too can dominate your brand space with a little creativity. I happened to speak with a co-ordinator of a large industrial manufacturer who has numerous trades and labourers on construction sites. It was my suggestion that they wear one common colour shirt emblazoned with their logo. This move would allow them to dominate the job-site. At a glance any observer would assume they owned the job. Not unlike the Beats Olympic strategy, the goal is to project the illusion of dominance through brand awareness.

It’s always important that your brand dominate. Every chance large and small to push your name must be acknowledged. The smallest example might have to be the humble email address. If your email doesn’t end with your company name then you’re doing your brand a disservice. If your email ends in Yahoo, Gmail etc. the only brand you’re promoting is Yahoo and Google. It says your brands is not important enough.

When I blog or visit social sites, one way I try to dominate is to purposely leave comments and opinions all over the place. Leaving opinion behind, intrigues people who are also visiting those sites. My awareness is being touted by my becoming a thought leader.

Are you attending any conferences or trade shows soon? Are you attending any where you happen to know where your prospective customers might be staying? If so, consider hijacking the hotel they’re staying in. Maybe leave coasters with your logo and any information that might resonate with them. Leave postcards and brochures in lounges, buy the billboard across the street and use it to speak directly to them. There is any number of ways to pull a Dr. Dre in your world.

Dominate the space you do business in.

Branding Yourself Online

Chances are great that your competition is not taking full advantage of their time by promoting themselves properly. Take comfort in the fact that most people will not do the hard work it takes to succeed.
If opportunity resists walking through their door, they blame the world for their failure to make an impact.

This time of year is ideal for taking a step back and analyzing how you have done over the past year and what goals you will strive for in the near future. How you achieve those goals will be critical in validating new media you’ve taken the time to implement for your own success. Traditional media are becoming increasingly less important. Technology is fast dominating how we live our lives. How we stay connected from a personal and professional perspective.

Some of these new media include:

• Social networking including Facebook and Twitter. Make sure that your comments are directed towards your services that you offer. Mix in a healthy dose of comments to do with your personal interests. Together, all of your comments will flush out your personal and professional brand.

• Html email. Virtually every one of your target market willingly accept email at their desktop. Where traditional mail fails to breech the gate keeper, email is delivered right into their hands. Developing lists is fundamental in targeting messages that resonate.

• Targeted text email. The simplest form of email promotion. Text email allows you to express a quick message without concerning yourself with visual content.

• Websites. Where once it was sufficient to have simply a brochure site, today the focus is resources and tools for your customer. Using your website to fulfill a need for information, throws a lifeline to them.

• Web video. A fabulous platform for inspirational messages, product launches and any message where visuals can be harnessed to tell a story.

• Podcasts are audio files that generally provides great free content that benefits your audience. There are also video podcasts that extend the medium.

• Mobile marketing is the new kid on the block. The vast majority have smartphones in their possession. Increasingly it is becoming apparent that harnessing this new media will prove it’s importance to us all.

What other new media are you watching? Sharing your insight strengthens us all. Slow moving competition have no idea that many of these new media models exist. Snatch the opportunity before they do catch on. If your competition has embraced these new media, then it is your duty to out-finesse them. As I’ve always stressed, “Lead don’t follow”. Use this holiday season to investigate how you can adopt these new areas to your benefit. Establish time and budget targets to start using them to develop new business leads.

The Toughest Thing About Branding

branding expertsEvery day – day in and day out you are your brand. It’s a forever effort. If you know anything about branding you’ll appreciate the fact that a nurtured brand works for you. Understanding what you stand for and delivering on those values, makes for a pretty compelling message to your customers. That goes for every type of brand. It can be you – your personal brand, your company’s corporate brand, your community’s place brand, your staff’s internal brand – any type of brand. The goal of any brand is to differentiate so that establishing that ever coveted relationship with it’s targeted audience is made easier.

Easier of course meaning – resonating. Getting their attention, being top of mind in that category. Definitely not easier in execution. That takes genuine effort. We all recognize that no matter how much positive effort we devote to our brands, sh*t stills happens and mostly through no fault of our own. Those negatives have to be put in their place, and allow us to move forward yet again. Sometimes things don’t happen soon enough. As the month trudges on, sales figures for the month are creeping up, but sometimes not as fast as you like. The sad truth in any business is that adversity is an unwelcome cousin. They challenge us at every turn in the road to greatness. Your brand is everything in business. Adhering to your brand values when challenged, is sometimes the hardest thing. Putting food on the table is quite a motivator. It can also be a temptation to surrender your brand for the quick buck. You see it all around you.

Staying true to your brand will win out in the long haul. Whether you have the stomach for it is the question? Branding is not easy. It expects you to take the high road. Branding expects you to present a brand image that makes you look larger and more successful. It doesn’t want you to get the cheapest business cards, or print your flyers on the office printer. Branding doesn’t want you to put the screws to your sales team and expect them to get the sale at any cost. Branding doesn’t expect you to go to market advertising multiple services and master of none. Branding especially doesn’t want your to regard re-branding as a changing of the logo. That would just be wrong.

The toughest thing about your brand is simply that – your brand. Your reputation – what you stand for. We all face adversity – how we deal with it is the true measure of a brand. We can bend with the wind, take a short cut. The true leaders embrace adversity and see it as a catalyst for moving forward. Much of that is attitude. Believe in yourself- your brand and you will welcome success at your doorstep once again. As tough as things get from time to time, never (or try not to) let down your guard. We all lose from time-to-time, just don’t let it get the best of you. Do as my motto challenges – Lead Don’t Follow. Simple as that is, it WILL keep you moving forward.

The Leadership Brand Principal

Corporate cultureI recently sat through a lecture from Vancho Cirovski from Peak Consulting – a culture specialist for sports organizations. The topic was ‘Leadership Culture.’ It was a fascinating discussion and it got me thinking about how it relates to branding. Since my take on branding positions a business as a leader, Vancho’s perspective on leadership culture particularly hit home with me. His comments on authenticity and genuine leadership are the foundation of every successful brand.

Imagine identifying an organization’s true influencers. These individuals are not always the obvious ones. They are none the less talents that must be nurtured and allowed to blossom. A major challenge to a brand leading and being successful in the marketplace is staying true to the positioning and that takes powerful leadership. This is often quite a challenge to a business’s leadership. They must absolutely believe in their positioning. The company’s leaders have to possess a culture that embraces their difference and has the ability to grow from it. Positioning based on a differentiation strategy establishes the company as a leader in their category. That claim can’t be simply advertising spin but a genuine claim to greatness. It is not enough to simply say you are the leader, but the brand must be able to live up to it. The supporting culture must be such, that it supports and drives the leadership position. Anything less and the brand will implode on itself.

The underlying culture is key to sustaining a long term benefit from its positioning. You would stand to benefit immensely if you are able to identify individuals and behaviors that support the brand positioning. Imagine the effectiveness in rolling out the positioning among employees for instance if you could positively identify who among them have leadership skills that would qualify them to be a best choice to be on the branding team. That individual would be key in influencing their peers. Encouraging leadership within the corporate culture will absolutely support the brand leadership and by extention the brand itself.

If the positioning was merely spin, the brand would quickly unravel as there would be no foundation on which to grow. Effective communication throughout the company when done strategically allows the leaders to be more confident that the organization is aligned with the brand.

From my experience leadership of the brand and its supporting leadership culture are the two underlying components of any successful re-launch of a brand. One feeds on the other, culminating in a powerful message that resonates with the audience.

In closing, the makeup of your brand’s corporate culture determines if it has the moxy to support a leadership brand. Discovering deficiencies early will provide you the impetus to correct a cultural wrong and allow you to embrace the true leaders within your brand culture. Only this will ensure future success

How To Take Your Brand Seriously

How customers look at your brand sets the wheels in motion whether they will purchase from you or not. What are they thinking? Are they getting what you stand for? Is your image and brand promise resonating with them? How is your positioning affecting how a customer reacts? Here are some observations that might help you understand how even the little things can be taking opportunity out of reach:

1) Amateur Logos
Designed as art not a communications tool. Why is it you can tell the national brands from the local brands just by the design of a logo? The designer takes a world view. They take into a count the use and audience and deliver consistently.

2) eMail
Maybe it’s just me, but I find it very hard to take a brand seriously when their emails use gmail not their domain. I’m told that they’re worried about spam. Get over it and start pushing your brand. [email protected] says so much more than [email protected]

3) Authenticity
You might say you’re a coach, a mentor a leader but you’re not acting like one. As a matter of fact so many in this category don’t take their own advice. I know many in my region who profess to be management consultants but who have never had any reasonable level of success. Their advising out of someone else’s book. Be authentic – be yourself. I knew a person who sold CRM software but never used the system they were selling. Authentic?

4) Consistency of Everything
If I can take myself as an example. From the first point of contact through delivery and follow-up, my image and message are absolutely consistent. If we were to meet, you’d see me in my trade mark black and logged shirt. I’m approachable and willing to give free advice on the spot. When you ask for my card it too carries my brand colours. The same goes for my brochures, marketing materials, website, blog, social sites etc. Everywhere you check me out your sense of my brand will grow. The consistency develops trust. I appear to walk the walk. That is important. If given the chance to perform it is my opportunity to carry on this consistency of brand.

5) Invest in Yourself
This one kills me. I’m amazed how many business people tell me reasons why they can’t or won’t invest in themselves. Everything is on the cheap, looking for grandiose results. Only this week, I had a marketing person from a local Chrysler dealership proudly show me the flyer their 9 year old daughter designed and they were sending it out to win business. It was cute, but incredulous that they would even consider it. If they fail to get the result, my guess is they will fault everything BUT that 9 year old effort.

Another example is training. I was told by a business person that nobody would attend an all day session with an expert simply because the cost was $650 including lunch. Too rich. Really!? 7 hours of instruction for under $100. an hour. If this doesn’t convince, how about that it’s a right off. At tax time you mean you’d rather give $650 to the government for nothing rather than invest in yourself? The real opportunity is that for a handful of cash you will get real advice that makes you more money and perceivably much more than the training cost.

To have your brand taken seriously you must take yourself seriously. If you’re not worth the effort your brand has no foundation. Would you buy from a brand like yourself? If you even had to think about that question, tells me that you’ve got work to do.

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