Get Real! Brand Authenticity and You.

Today’s marketplace is a great place for brands and their advocates to exist. Traditionally, prior to the web, all a brand could do was to make their consumers “aware” of their brand was using advertising channels such as bill boards, transit, radio, TV and public relations. Once a consumer got wind of the brand that interested them, they would have to physically visit the bricks and mortar location for more information. Or they could look in their mail boxes for flyers, or their daily newspapers for inserts and printed ads etc. The entire buying cycle was initiated by the brand and reacted to by the buyer. Very straight forward and not very deep.

Get Real- Brand Authenticity and You-012815

In today’s marketplace the consumer has a limitless access to the brand’s environment. Brand’s can more easily form strong relationships with their customers. Some would say today’s digital environment makes loyalty tougher. I believe it to be easier, so long as you’re willing to engage customers with a genuine brand experience. If the brand chooses to try and manipulate the experience based on an unrealistic expectation, they will more likely be viewed as not being authentic. That authenticity is a hallmark of proper branding.

But if your brand strives to provide an authentic persona, it’s a great platform to engage customers. You’re able to feed them your expertise on many levels. This acceptance allows you the potential to charge more for your services. If you’re a services based brand this open environment allows you to properly exhibit your expertise and this draws customers to you. Your are perceived as the expert your brand touts you to be.

The bottom line is to embrace the opportunities the digital world is serving up. You make think that there’s no space for you to play or that it’s over your head. Toss those barriers aside and embrace the web. You will be shocked with the results of your efforts over time.

Now’s the Time to Step-up your Game – AGAIN!

9673439_s2015 is the year that you’re going to do things a little differently. The time is right to step up your game. Without gazing at the past too much, recognize that that was how you used to conduct business. That’s when all you’re best strategies delivered on making your brand better, more memorable amidst your stakeholders. Give yourself a well deserved pat on the back.

That said, the fastest way to step-up your game is to change-up your game. Start doing business differently that anyone in your industry. Break the norms, shake the bushes and start acting in a way that has the competition questioning your sanity. “Bob’s finally lost it.” they’ll say. “Where’s he coming from” they’ll add. Those are comments aimed at a person who keeps ’em guessing. These are brands who are following not leading. They spend more time watching the other guy’s butt to the point they have to keep putting the brakes on for fear of (I think you’ve got the picture).

There’s one strategy that will absolutely change the game once again for your brand and that is positioning your brand. I would hazard to guess that well over 90% of companies have never effectively positioned their brands or even considered it. They’ve certainly applied pretty catchy slogans but they’ve never given positioning a second’s thought. Many, if not most think the slogan IS their positioning. A slogan inspires the brand culture while positioning makes your brand the only choice. It absolutely resonates in the mind of your stakeholders. Jack Trout and Al Ries call it, “the battle for your mind.” The perception of your brand in mind of your stakeholders is your positioning whether you enjoy it or not. This perception is key to making 2015 your best year to date.

You see it all around you all time – more of the same. I often wonder why businesses just carry on all the same practices without any strategy in place to help them leap ahead of everyone else. Great brands sometimes get there in spite of themselves, others use strategy to their benefit. We all know there’s no magic answer – there is only effort and a willingness to change-up how your do things. Not only does it keep the competition ay bay, but it also reinvigorates your entire brand culture. Brands people like to talk about are inspiring by just how different they really are. These are the brands who walk the talk. You see, hear and read about them in the media and social channels. These are the brands that are well known within their communities. They are known and spoke about. They are judged favorably and are the ones who seem to bounce back fastest from brand foibles. But don’t kid yourself, these brands are there through shear effort. They keep their eyes on the ball and watch for any opportunity to step-it-up.

What can you do for your brand this year. Make it something that gives the competition the cold sweats. Help them out with a case of Ban Rollon.

Why Are You Afraid Of Me?

I’m seeing more and more of this -especially on tech sites. On the contact us page all they offer you is a form so that they can qualify you. What I don’t see is anything about where they are located, what they’re phone number is etc. For me, I want to know where you’re from. No particular reason -I just like to know. Sometimes you’re near other companies I know.

It concerns me that you don’t want to divulge that information. God forbid I actually call before you vet me. Already I can see that dealing with these hidden companies shows that they are all about their convenience not yours.

It is a pet peeve of mine, but I think it speaks to authenticity in a brand. I would bet that one of their brand values is service. They understand the word, not the effort that goes in to making service part of their corporate culture. If I was to somehow find their phone number what do you think the chances are you’d find a live body answering it?

Great service is not convenient it’s expected. Every little thing you do to diminish service is one step walking away from you. There are manufacturing companies in my region who have replaced live contact at the front door with a telephone and a directory. How’s a new customer to feel when they are forced to sit in a cold little seat searching a tacky directory to hale their contact to recover them from the vestibule?

Both of these examples are from the front end of the business. Both initial contact points. Sometimes saving a few dollars or being closed to connecting personally are small ideas that can cost you a huge amount of money in the long run.

Or it could just be me. I’m guessing a lot of professionals resent these tactics. Are you willing to bet
your brand on it?

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.

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.

You’ve Been Voluntold!

confusedIf you’re anything like myself – you do a great deal of local networking. At least two or three days a week, you might run into me at some event or another. Some are professional groups where my target customers lurk and others are general professional organizations local and national. In a few of these organizations I play a managerial role, (one I’m the president). As you may well understand this takes a great deal of commitment and effort. I absolutely believe that these groups help get my brand in front of the right people who desire what I’m offering. I have a strategy for my efforts and all involve being in control of my efforts. I’m proud that my brand commands the respect of my peers and as such I never have to suffer the the terrible affliction of being “voluntold.”

If you’re on a committee or two but fail to show up when you’re needed to participate, you will fall fate to joining efforts you are unaware of at the time you were induced. Some describe it this way – ” the fasted way to getting the worst job on a committee is to not show up at an important meeting.” At that critical meeting your brethren will take great pleasure in volunteering you, and if this happens – brother you’ve been VOLUNTOLD!”

Being Voluntold is the scarlet letter of organizations. If you’re Voluntold too many times your personal brand is going to take a beating. For the sake of your brand, be aware of the importance of meetings and your responsibility within a group.

You’ve been warned.

Choosing The Right Color For Your Brand

50sColorsNothing is more striking visually in a brand than its colour palette. It can move people, calm people and agitate them. Colour has meaning and can be historically relevant. An example of what I mean by this is – let’s say you have an antique store or modern store for that matter that sells 1950’s era goods that are original or retro. You would be wise to use the pastel colour palette from that era (shown here). On doing this, your audience would immediately relate to the environment you are trying to create.

Color also can help the customer feel a certain way. Red for instance is a power colour. It motivates. This is the number one colour used in retail sales to get customers to react to a sales statement . Act Now! Call Today! Up to 50% off – these are things you see every day and colour sells them.

I also like to analyze what colours the competition is using and use a palette that is completely opposite which is currently being used. Think UPS and brown. This is a leadership approach to color selection. How ever you choose to pick your corporate palette, don’t just make the choice based on your personal taste. If mauve is the proper selection to help you sell, don’t ignore it just because you may not like mauve.