Is Your Brand Living Someone Else’s Life?

A brand is essentially the reputation of any company. In the day-to-day operating of a company, it’s confronted by a plethora of challenges. It takes a particular sort of person to grow a company while hurtling these obstacles. Brands that I admire are typically ones that are leaders in their category. There are the obvious ones that catch the global eye. Companies like Apple, Google and Virgin. But locally there are also companies whose brand shines. They are on the front lines and manage to lead in their own ways. Their positioning differentiates them and that difference rewards them.

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Then of curse there are the other companies. They’re the ones living some other brands life. These are the obvious brands that rely on analyze what the leaders are doing and mimic them. They believe that since Nike uses a swoosh, then dah, if they use one too they will become as successful as them. This of course is quite a stretch. But you see it every day.

How many hamburger joints follow the McDonald’s model? I’m surprised they don’t adopt a clown of their own. Notice how all auto dealers look exactly the same. Grocery stores also follow each other.

Where someone dares to break the mold and forge out with a brand that screams leader, the public usually rewards them. The norm is broken and they rise to the top. iTunes changed the way music was sold. Amazon revolutionized book distribution. Whole Foods showed traditional grocery a thing or two. Richard Branson and Virgin break boundaries all the time. He seems to take normalcy as a personal challenge. Steve Jobs as well.

In my own community, I see companies copying other companies all the time. I recognize that a major cause is a complete lack of confidence. The desire to BE an entrepreneur but not the where with all to actually behave like one. They all have this wait and see philosophy. Odd, the thing is they’re not waiting for themselves – they’re waiting for you. You take the risks on an idea, if you have some success they’re quick to swoop in and copy you.

I had a leading window and door manufacturer who did a fabulous job retailing his product. He was flustered by the fact that once his flyers went out, the leading competitor would mimic everything he did. As a credit to his sense of humour, he grew so tired of this that a week before his flyer ran he’d send the owner of that company a heads up as what he would be offering. It gave him the last laugh.

All laughing aside it spoke to the lack of confidence that manufacturer suffered from. It made his brand an also ran. His company name should have been called “Me Too!.” You can look exactly like any company you wish. You can behave like any company but your can never BE that company. The cultures are different and the leadership is different. A brand has to be authentic to be successful. If you’re copying then there’s nothing authentic about your brand and it’s not fooling anyone. It’s the reason Apple outsells anyone else even with a substantially more expensive product. The other-lifer’s – THEY’RE NOT APPLE. THEY’RE NOT AMAZON OR GOOGLE.

You are you. It’s that simple. To be great your brand has to lead not follow. If you follow someone else you are by definition already behind. Following doesn’t put you out front. Living someone else’s life pays homage to the original. Makes sense when you think about 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“.

11 Important Success Strategies for Small Business Owners

There is a seemingly endless supply of advice for small business owners to follow on their path to success. Here are 10 of the most important ones (and a few inspirational quotes from successful business people to back them up):

Success Strategies

1. Be Nice. Being a business owner doesn’t mean you can put your manners on hold. Be nice not only to your customers, but also your suppliers, business partners, and any one else you come in contact with on a professional level.

2. Take Risks. Owning a small business is in some ways the opposite of having a job and working for someone else. Small business owners sometimes need to take risks in order to succeed.

“If you are not willing to risk the usual you will have to settle for the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn

3. Don’t Give Up. Taking risks implies that sometimes you might fail. (After all, that’s why it’s a “risk” and not a “sure thing.”) What’s important is that you use your setbacks to teach and motivate yourself.

“Failure defeats losers, failure inspires winners.” – Robert T. Kiyosaki

4. Cherish Your Family. Successful business owners have a lot of support behind the scenes. Make sure you spend plenty quality time with your family as you work hard on your business.

“A man should never neglect his family for business.” – Walt Disney

5. Focus on the Customer. Remember that the success of your business will depend on the quality of the experience you give to your customer – focus on that.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates

6. Business is Personal. Don’t be afraid to bring your unique personality into your business.

“The NBA is never just a business. It’s always business. It’s always personal. All good businesses are personal. The best businesses are very personal.” – Mark Cuban

7. Have a Plan. Don’t think about trying to just “wing it” throughout your journey to business success. You should have a plan that covers virtually every aspect of your business operations. This plan should include all of your goals, and the steps you plan to take to meet those goals. Make sure to reduce this plan to writing; by doing so you’re making a commitment to yourself and your future success.

8. Be Flexible. While it’s essential to have a business plan, you shouldn’t resist changing it if it becomes necessary to do so.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Anthony Robbins

9. Be Passionate. Obviously one of the reasons you own your own business is to make money, but your financial goals can’t be allowed to overshadow your passion.

“If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.” – Ray Kroc

10. Keep Track of Your Business. Keep written records on every aspect of your business. It’s difficult to change and improve your business when you don’t have the data to do so.

11. Stay Healthy. Finally, make sure to keep yourself healthy. If you’re ill, your business will invariably suffer.

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” – Bertrand Russell

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.

How serviced office space gives start-ups the freedom to grow

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Entrepreneurs and ambitious start-ups growing frustrated with working from their spare room or study face the dilemma of whether to stay small fry or take the next step up the ladder into their own premises.

Serviced Office Space

Working from home often seems like a great idea initially, but it comes fraught with challenges to overcome. Home life can become a distraction, left without motivation, privacy and an increased sense of isolation, resulting in a poor work-life balance.

Taking a leap of faith and moving into your own dedicated office may seem like a daunting step to take, but the benefits of working in an office are plentiful.

Serviced offices in particular offer a swift, stress-free solution to getting your business operational externally. With a serviced office, tenants are able to rent premises that is already kitted out with all the necessary technology and amenities to get on with what you do best from day one.

Start-ups require next to no initial capital investment with office equipment and furniture all included as part of the lease. Well-equipped serviced offices are now widely available in city centres and influential business districts throughout the UK.

These range from small owner-operated business centres to larger globally-run chains. But start-ups can rest assured there is always a centre available with a location, décor and price to suit your business needs.

Location-wise, new and growing businesses can find a business centre in and around their target customer base or in amongst the competition. Firms can appear in relevant directories and business listings without having to use a home address; the centre can be used as a registered address for heightened prestige.

Professionals can enjoy state-of-the-art facilities at an affordable price in a serviced office. Start-ups can make the most of amenities that may otherwise be out of budget; from 24/7 security and call handling services to mailing and meeting room space.

It gives new firms an entirely professional look from the outset, without having to incur all the costs involved. Furthermore, on-site support staff means start-ups have increased capacity to focus their efforts on their business.

The flexibility of serviced office leases is also very attractive to new and growing businesses, with low-risk three-month leases often available for particularly risk adverse business owners.

This is also very useful for start-ups who simply need bigger work space for a particular project without long term ties; with the ability to revert back to your home office upon completion if necessary. Businesses are not subject to expensive break clauses and, as projects come and go, you don’t have to overstretch yourself with long term overheads.

The idea of renting office space in a business centre with multiple other firms is a relatively new concept in the UK; however they have been an intrinsic feature of commercial property culture in the US for a number of decades.

Now is the time to take advantage of the most economical and practical way to control company costs whilst benefitting from the prestige and stature of being in association with a fully-managed business centre.

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‘How serviced office space gives start-ups the freedom to grow’ was written by Cathie Sellars, head of marketing at Workspace and is published with her permission.

When All Else Fails, Trust Your Brand!

9673439_sWe all have good days and bad days. What do you do when that stretches to weeks and months? It’s the kind of situation that has your mind playing all kinds of tricks on you. Has your run come to its end? Have you lost your mojo? Maybe the world simply doesn’t need your product or service anymore. You start to point fingers at all kinds of reasons to explain this increasingly desperate situation. This post comes from a conversation I had recently with an associate of mine.

They felt the problem was that on their website the tone of the message was coming from “we” and they felt it should be “I”. This they felt, was one of the reasons why business dropped off the face of the earth. I thought not on the other hand. My thoughts were that once the (we’s) were changing to (I’s) we’d also be having this gloomy discussion again about poor business.

Then I asked a key question – “I understand that you’re slow, but are you taking this opportunity to market yourself?” “No” they said, “we don’t have the money.” I proceeded to ask if they had a database of potential customers and they said yes. Then why aren’t you doing email marketing? Why aren’t you cold calling? Why aren’t you attending networking events? Why are you doing nothing at all to attract business to yourself and have settled with pointing fingers outward instead of inward. There is no good reason to do a better job looking for blame than looking for a solution. We have to eat and pay bills – that’s not going away.

I too had a slow summer last year – so I spent all my time marketing myself, networking, looking and developing opportunities, trying to do whatever i could to keep my spirits up and allowing a positive attitude to drive business my way. My friend’s conversation touched me but frustrated me more when I discovered their reluctance to help themselves. Even though I was slow, I at no time felt the need to change my brand, change my message. It worked for me in the past and is still working moving forward. Suppress the urge to change up your brand. Spend your energy pushing it even harder.

Change or stay the same – the choice is yours of course. The hard choice seems to be trusting in yourself. I think change is the sucker punch.