This month’s feature is dedicated to a subject that is often talked about in business but rarely thoroughly understood: your company’s brand. Let’s start with an exercise.
I’m thinking of a business that some of us visit quite often. Customer service is how this company measures success. Staff members are trained to look you in eye, connect with you, and go out of their way to help you throughout your visit. If you say, “thank you,” they are certain to reply “My pleasure.” Have a special request? No problem! They’ll gladly seek to fulfill it. During your visit, a staff member is likely to stop by your table and ask “may I refill your beverage?” or “Did you get everything you needed with your order?” Name that business.
That’s right. That business is Chick-Fil-A. And the images and feelings you conjured up while reading that paragraph: that’s Chick-Fil-A’s brand.
Before diving deeper into what a brand is, let’s talk about what a brand is NOT. Notice what I did not describe above. I did not tell you the company’s logo is red and white. I did not tell you the logo looks like a red letter “c” with chicken feathers atop of it. Your brand is not your logo (though your logo is a component of your brand). This is the mistake business people make when they begin a branding exercise. They think brand means logo (and only a logo) and seek to hire someone to cheaply and quickly draw them a pretty picture. And then they stop. “We have a brand!” they conclude. They don’t have a brand. They have a pretty picture.
Think of your brand as your company’s personality. Your brand is what your customers and prospective customers think and feel when they think about your company. They may think of your logo, or your company colors, or your slogan or a recent advertisement, but the overall impression they have of your company is the combination of all these things and more. Your goal is to connect on a deeper level with your customers and prospects. That connection is what brands your business. How is that accomplished? What do you do to build (and maintain) an effective brand? You begin by answering these questions:
1. Start with “Why?”. I’m a long-time fan of Simon Sinek. If you don’t know him, look up his presentation “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” on TED. My favorite Sinek quote: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Why does your company exist? What do you value? What do you believe? Do all of your staff members know the answer to that question? Can they (and do they) clearly communicate it in all verbal and non-verbal interactions with your customers and prospects?
2. Who are your ideal customers? Hint: the answer to that question is not everybody and the keyword in that question is ideal. What do they need? What challenges do they face? Why are you the best company to help them?
3. What do you want people to think and feel when they think of your company? Do you want them to think, “those are the professionals I trust and who I call upon when I have a problem and need expert advice on resolving it” or do you want people to think, “that’s the widget manufacturer we use because they are currently the only people in town selling widgets?” The first is an example of a brand that is built on loyalty. The second is an example of a company that is in jeopardy.
4. Is your product or service relevant? This is a tough one for some companies to answer honestly, especially those who have been in business for a long period of time. Are you making decisions today that will anchor your company to this specific moment in time? Is your industry changing while you cling to what’s always been? Have you become complacent? Are you nimble and able to evolve as your customers’ needs change or as alternative solutions enter the market? Learn from Kodak’s and Blockbuster’s mistakes. Don’t change after your industry has left you behind. Remembering why you do what you do will guide you as your customer’s need change and provide you with new opportunities to serve them.
5. How do you help? When answering this question, refrain from merely stating the service you provide or product you sell (e.g. We are the best cleaning service in the city. Our services are second-to-none). The problem with that statement is that it’s not subjective, not measurable, and it sounds cliché. This provides a foundation for mistrust and makes people feel “sold.” A better example would be We enable busy parents to spend more quality time with their families by taking care of the household maintenance tasks that take away their free time.” This sentence describes why you are in business. It demonstrates the reasons you want to help.
Answering these questions lay a solid foundation for your company’s long-term success. Your answers to these questions define your company’s purpose, inspire your employees and enable you to distinguish yourself from your competition. As a result, your business is able to effectively connect with your target market transforming prospects into clients.