By the conclusion of this posting, you'll understand exactly why your organization needs a strong brand.
What you have to realize is this: Your company has a brand, whether you are working to create it or not.
From infancy, many organizations struggle with their own identity. The reason organizations spend so much time and effort working to define their identity is so their market will have an idea of who they are, but even more importantly, why they are different from competitors.
Human beings struggle with this challenge as well.
From the time we are children, we struggle with who we are, and what our role in this world truly is.
Organizations, like people, desire to influence how they are seen by other people.
What person doesn't wish they were thought of in this manner:
“Tina is a wonderful mother.”
“Jacob is charitable guy who loves the Philadelphia Phillies.”
“Amy is an avid art collector and book enthusiast.”
Descriptions likes these help differentiate each of us from the rest of the world, and reinforce our core interests, values and again, identity.
People relate to organizations and companies in much the same way they do to individuals. That's why a company's identity is so important. But the question is, how do we begin the process of giving our company such an identity?
The deliberate art of giving your organization an identity is called branding.
Some of you may be wondering why your organization needs an identity. Here are some common questions and concerns I hear from clients:
“I don’t need a brand because I’m a plumber, and we all do the same job.”
“Branding would be too costly, and I don’t see the value.”
“Everyone in my local community knows who I am.”
Before I get into addressing these concerns, let me first share a story with you.
In 2012, an established plumber contacted me with a problem. His competitor was a local plumbing outfit (let’s call them competitor x) who, despite several online complaints about their fees and services, was eating his proverbial lunch.
Despite advertising his services all over his local county, for some reason, his competitor was advertising less frequently, and yet, driving much more revenue.
After examining what advertising outlets he was using, I found that he was advertising on roughly the same billboard locations, the same newspapers, the same weekly advertorial mailers, and had an almost identical looking website.
So, why was he spending more money and losing so much business to competitor x?
We’ll get back to that shortly, but first let me introduce another client with a problem.
One of my first clients was a music school providing nearly every type of musical instruction you can imagine. As a drummer myself, I was really excited about this prospect, and jumped into this account with all of the intellectual brute force and relentless solid energy any young entrepreneur excited about what one of his first paychecks could muster.
This client had one music shop, and was competing against another music school owner (let’s call him competitor y) who had 3 shops, and a much larger advertising budget.
My new client's problem was he wished to triple his client base, but couldn’t figure out how to steal attention away from competitor y’s fierce marketing budget, and seemingly much larger and overlapping geographical physical presence.
While my client had what should have been an adequate marketing presence to drive new students, such as a few ads placed in the local papers and outstanding search engine optimization, he was losing.
Both of these companies shared the same problem: They were competing in an environment with a larger player who had more mind space of each potential customer, either through a stronger message, or greater promotional saturation.
Even if these companies could advertise more, it wouldn’t solve their problem. After all, their problem wasn’t getting the message out, as this was already being done, but was merely resulting to stagnant growth.
The problem also wasn’t their ability to satisfy customers as both had extremely high satisfaction levels on online review sites such as Google+, the Better Business Bureau and Yelp.
So, what was their problem?
One word: Branding.
Marketing is getting people to know, like and trust you. I first read these words written by John Jantsch in his phenomenal work of marketing art, Duct Tape Marketing. Because I have never heard a definition that, in my opinion, is even a hair more definitive and accurate than this one, it is the one I will continually use, so get used to it!
When people hear of a person, place or thing, the first thing they tend to think of is this question:
“Have I heard of this before, and if so, what were my impressions?”
After all, each of us is constantly in a battle to make good sound decisions based on the ideas, opinions and experiences we have individually and collectively manifested over the course of our lifetimes.
That brings us to the normal reaction people tend to have after they realize they have heard of something previously or not.
“If I have heard of it, what were my impressions?”
Next, when most people are searching for an answer to a problem in their head, they tend to think to themselves,
“If I can not, how can another individual or organization solve this problem, and what are my impressions of them or it?”
So, as you can see, a person will first identify whether they have heard of something -- what their impressions were of it -- and whether they were positive or negative.
Now, let’s get back to my clients.
Above I mentioned a plumber who was basically mimicking the marketing of his somewhat less competent, but certainly more profitable, competitor. After examining their messages, I had found that my client wasn’t really saying anything in his ads.
While he saw an attractive picture of his truck, logo, contact information and the many services he offered, his competitor was using slightly less physical real-estate, and communicating a message that was 10 times more simple, compelling, and most importantly, memorable: Jonestown’s First in Plumbing, since 1963.
In a country where con men lurk and charlatans thrive, familiarity is a huge benefit. After all, why not hire a local plumber who has been serving your community, successfully, for the last 50+ years?
So, what was happening was the same people in the same community were looking at two distinctly separate ads, where one was preaching loyal service to your community for the last 50+ years, and the alternative was a company who offered the same services… and that’s about all.
Now, clearly this was not precisely the case. After all, my client was, based on online reviews, the more affordable and reliable alternative. And this is the point of the first set of reasons you need strong branding, as laid out in the first half of our two-part definition of organizational branding:
Branding fosters a positive image of your company in a memorable way.
The problem for many reputable companies -- and the benefit to many less reputable companies -- is branding allows you to control the perception of your organization that may or may not be absent of reality.
All too often when a branding campaign is highly effective and successful, a less scrupulous company can avoid the proper qualifying process most customers should conduct when hiring a complete stranger.
So, what we had here for my client was a real problem. When I explained to him why his competitor was driving more attention, interest and revenue to his company, my client scratched his head and exclaimed, “Well, I’m doomed because I’ve only been in business for 10 years.”
While my client was prepared to pay my fee as 'a cost of doing business,' and going back to waiting for his phone to ring, I told him this:
Every problem is an opportunity in disguise, and this opportunity was like an elephant wearing a Zorro mask -- too obvious to ignore!
The bottom line is, your competitors will always have some value you can’t replicate, and that’s fine. The trick is the same tactic every wrestler learns in their first lesson, “When your opponent is using their weight to defeat you -- use their weight to defeat them.”
While competitor x was using the years of service to overshadow my client’s message, I determined that the solution was to let my client’s lack of years of service work to defeat them.
Let me explain.
The funny thing about people is they are all different. Let’s take, for example, men's sense of what women seek in a romantic partner. Some women like tall men, some women like short men, some like handsome men, and lucky for me, my girlfriend likes big obnoxious looking goofy men!
The point is, while competitor x created a memorable message a lot of people certainly seemed to like -- not all people value the age of a company to the same degree.
So, our strategy was to appeal to those whose fancy wasn’t tickled by the years in service of competitor x. Instead, our message used the weight of their message against them. What we did was sit down and discuss the cons of an older company.
Here is what we came up with:
• Older companies tend to have older and outdated tools
• Older companies tend to charge higher fees due to operational cost inflation
• Older companies tend to be set in their ways in terms of customer service
• Older companies tend to take their customers for granted
So, what we decided was that we were going to foster a stark contrast and use the weight of competitor x’s brand against them.
Specifically what we decided to do was work towards the goal of making my client's company known as, essentially, what it has already been: a younger, leaner company more eager to serve its target market.
We jotted down the benefits of hiring a younger company that we realized would appeal to those open to an alternative to competitor x:
• A newer company means newer and more efficient tools
• A newer company means more state-of-the-art training
• A newer company means lower prices
• A newer company means better customer service
• A newer company means product innovation which cuts costs and lowers prices
We decided on a great slogan to encompass this new brand that would serve my client as a welcome alternative to competitor x, which a slight jab at their celebrated value:
The Plumber Grand Pop Calls First
The results were overwhelming.
Immediately after giving his active ads and website a face lift with the new brand, the phone began ringing three times as much.
Also, our client noticed something else as well. Customers were no longer trying to negotiate a lower price as they had before.
There must have been an unsaid value proposition of hiring a new plumber customers now believed existed when they realized the new tools, training and pricing model that my client used were well worth the amount they were paying.
After all, companies that advertise their products or services tend to be viewed as commodities.
Commodities are oranges on the shelf of a supermarket.
Commodities are cans of generic beans found in the rucksack of an infantry soldier.
However, commodities are not what you do.
You are not just another service provider (hopefully), and a brand helps you explain why.
What you must realize is there is rarely such thing as “better.’
Almost every client I talk to says the same thing when I ask why should people contact you and not your competitor: “Because we’re better.”
I cringe every time I hear that uttered.
I have to explain that you can’t tell your customers you’re better because those words have just about the same value as a single grain of sand on a New Jersey beach.
What customers want to know is why you are different.
And they'll use that information to decide for themselves whether or not you are 'better.'
That brings me back to the second client, the music school owner I mentioned earlier.
My music lesson client had a slightly larger problem than my plumbing client. After all, his competitor was 3 times his size, and had a marketing budget equally as large.
However, just like I detailed the first lesson given to every wrestler, there is also some wisdom that exists on how to defeat a much larger foe.
What I and my client did was sit down and discuss competitor y. What we realized is, unlike competitor x above, competitor y had no clear message or brand.
You see, in being the first large music shop in the area, competitor y didn’t need a brand –- they were already top dog. If you needed music lessons, you saw their ad, and picked up the phone.
The difference was now my client was targeting their market, and he wasn’t going to stop until he won. After all, that's why he hired Imprinsic.
When we realized competitor y had no real market they were appealing to, we decided that we were going to leverage this vagueness, and capture a large portion of the market that the competition wasn’t appealing to -- and they weren’t hard to find.
What we found after doing some research was that children aged 5-13 made up the largest portion of the music lesson market locally. While adults also took lessons, it wasn’t anywhere near to the amount of students who took lessons.
Because of this, we decided to aggressively pursue the children’s music lesson market, and provide a clear choice to any parent looking to provide their children with music lessons.
The target had been identified, and now the brand was in the making.
So again, because competitor y had no branding and therefore no market focus, we re-branded all of my client’s ads to reflect that he was the leader in children’s music instruction.
Here are some of the changes we made to make it clear our client was the leading provider specifically for children’s music instruction:
• We added the slogan: Music Lessons for Kids
• We prominently displayed how all instructors had clean backgrounds (which, as a proprietor who truly valued his client's satisfaction, had already been cleared anyway), and then complimented that confidence-building element with details regarding the training each instruction had undertaken to better their ability to educate children. We displayed these credentials as well.
• We gave the shop a facelift to resemble more of a the kind of environment a kid would like to 'hang out,' with kid-related art, and a more youthful and contemporary feel.
• We ran direct mail campaigns right after Christmas with the headline “Did Santa Get You an Instrument for Christmas?”
The results were nothing short of astounding. The direct mail campaign had a response rate of 14% (the average is 2%). The ads in the local papers also yielded higher response rates, and within 6 months time, we calculated that our client attained over 30% of the local kid market looking for music lessons.
Now we come to the second half of our definition of organizational branding:
Branding fosters a positive image of your company in a memorable way, while differentiating the value of your organization from the competition.
Now that you’ve seen tangible examples of why branding is critical before any of your company’s messages should be sent out, in the next blog post about branding, we’re going to explore how to brand your business for maximum profitability.
Don't compete — DOMINATE.
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Matt Steffen was Listed by Forbes as the #1 Marketing Consultant Who Avoids the B.S.