Tried to start a new business lately? It takes a lot of energy, time and Starbucks to get it off the ground. It’s tough, and even painful sometimes. You loose all your sleep, but at the same time your excited, anxious and scared to death.

You’re thinking you’re entire future is hanging in the balance, as you dream about how the world will be a different place as soon as you get this thing off the ground.

As a startup, you have a strong need to get this baby generating revenue before your seed money vanishes. So you’re feeling the pressure to launch NOW! And that’s normal. When most companies get their goals and strategy down, they launch. The first things to be addressed: logos, voice, social media and website are at the top of the list. It’s hard to argue with that thinking since all of the pundits offer these as the steps to build your brand.

But, here’s the rub. Brand identity and brand awareness are getting all of the attention. But wait a minute! Aren’t we missing something here? Isn’t branding more than logos, colors, voice and tone? Duh!

So, think about it. What is a brand anyway?

Isn’t your brand the experience you deliver to your customers? Remember the expression “your brand is how you make your customers feel”. The entire essence of this brand is about your connection with the customer, getting to know them and why they love you. After you learn all of this, then you can create the visual identity. So why do startups get this wrong so often? Here are a few suggestions:

Forget About Connection and Depend on Assumption

Entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in their concept and perfecting everything that they just fall in love with their idea. They focus on brand awareness and brand identity and don’t even think about asking their customers for feedback. And if they do get feedback, they just ignore it.

Startups are convinced their branding will cause customers to fall in love with their company if they have the right website, logo and marketing. And don’t try telling them otherwise. They simply ignore the customer and let the brand experience fall by the wayside.

Ready – Fire – Aim!

If this is the approach you’re going to take, you’re risking the fact that your brand won’t even resonate with the market. And if you don’t connect with customers, the result is a forgone conclusion. Trouble.

So what happens is you wind up fine-tuning the things that the customers don’t care about. Eventually the startup runs out of money and they finally realize what they’re missing: brand experience.

The Brand Identity Mistake

Entrepreneurs miss the boat by focusing on brand awareness and identity and they ignore brand experience. They wind up spending years promoting products the customers don’t even care about. No website design or logo is going to solve a flawed product/service. If they don’t get the brand experience right, brand identity doesn’t even matter. Why keep trying to add customers when your current customers don’t even love your product?

How to Nail Your Brand Experience

Neither you nor your web firm is qualified to evaluate brand experience. To do that you have to talk to real customers. By getting feedback from your customers, you can find out what they really feel about your brand and its value, plus you can use that feedback to make your product/service better, quickly.

Brand experience questions to ask your customers:

  1. Ask customers, “What would happen if you couldn’t use our product any more?” You want them to be unhappy in this scenario.
  2. Ask them why they would be unhappy and what is the main benefit they receive from your product.
  3. If your product was no longer on the market, what would they do as an alternative?
  4. Find out how your customers would describe your product to a friend.
  5. What type of person do you think would benefit most from your product?
  6. How can we improve our product to better meet your needs?

Which Method Makes More Sense? 

So, you have a choice, talk to your customers and find out how you can improve, or spend all of your money first without getting any results. Then talk to customers to find out how to improve.

So get your priorities straight. Improve your brand experience first. Don’t worry so much about the perfect brand identity or growing your company until you’ve built a tribe of passionate customers.  Nail it first, scale it second.


About the Author

 Gordon at St. John

Gordon Conner is a Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW! brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding  services for 42 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or www.BranWorks.com.

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A la carte Solutions for Special Brand Challenges

Often business challenges can be mitigated with coaching. But, the solution may require a special project, or quick win, to address the specific issues and to insure the stability and future growth of the business. Below are standalone initiatives that can quickly provide significant insights and value to any organization interested in getting closer to its customers. The following articles highlight special challenges that can arise and be solved with branding/marketing solutions (Click for solutions):

Today, customers can see, learn about, or purchase almost anything from almost anywhere.

It was the Christmas season and I was on a mission. My goal was to purchase a Garmin GPS watch from the local Best Buy store in my neighborhood. I took a look at my iPhone and checked the price. In the store, the price was $184.85, but on Amazon, with no shipping or tax charges, it was $106. While I was still in the store, I purchased the watch from Amazon.

This is an early example of a new breed of customers. They’re called smart customers. The amount of intelligence now available to customers is unprecedented. You can experience the results in a rapidly growing variety of fashions: see data overlays on a map or camera image, watch a video demonstration, or even have an explanation read to you.

Get What You Want When You Want It.

Buying a used car? You can now get it’s complete history and find out if it has been treated better or worse than the owner claims. If you’re shopping for a gift, you can find out if this is the best choice for your aunt, whether this store’s price really is the best available in the market, and whether this is the best price within a 15-mile radius. Traveling on business at the last-minute? Your smart phone will find a great deal on a room that matches your preferences perfectly.

This is the Rise of Smart Customers.

Customers can now leap tall buildings? No, not really. But they can outwit your salesperson, spot inaccurate statements from your customer service reps, and have access to most accumulated knowledge of human civilization.

And it’s easy to get. Good old-fashioned laptops and desktops will do the trick. And Google will retrieve it for you in seconds. Plus, you no longer have to be at your desk to have access to information. Smartphones and tablets can now produce data that was formerly only available in mainframe computers whenever and wherever you want it.

Key Takeaways:

  • Digital devices will increasingly give individuals “super” powers to sense, remember, analyze, understand and share insights from the word around them.
  • Companies must use customer information to benefit the customer.
  • Disruptive forces will require massive changes in your company’s strategy.


    Your company must be able to act smarter than its customers, or it will cease to exist.


    About The Author:

    Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at https://branworks.com/customer-experience-2/

Marketing directors know that if you’re not analyzing your competition, you’re at a disadvantage.  Chances are they’re watching you.  To level the playing field you have to return the favor by performing a competitor analysis.

So, Why Do I Need a Competitor Analysis?

June 5 - Competitors in the men's 1,500 meter race pass by the start/finish line on Day 2 of the NCAA Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)Are you content to settle for second place, copying ideas from your competitors because it’s easier than doing the legwork required to be on top?  Since you’re reading this, I guess that isn’t you.

If you want to be a leader in your industry it’s vital for you to be proactive when deciding how to market your business.  A competitor analysis will arm you with information to create a marketing strategy that’s based on facts instead of guesswork.  You’ll be able to focus on your strengths and capitalize on the weaknesses of your competitors.

Paying attention to what they’re doing can reveal opportunities for new products or market niches that aren’t being met.  By determining where they are lacking you can distinguish which areas your business is excelling and can highlight those areas to help you stand-out to customers.

Keeping up with what’s going on in the marketplace means that you can make educated, timely and financially sound decisions about where to spend your marketing dollars.

How To Create a Competitor Analysis in 5 Simple Steps

Competition Analysis-3The best way to perform a competitor analysis is to think of it in five easy steps:

1) Define your customers.  What is your target market?  What does your customer look like?  What service or product do they want to purchase?  How much will they spend for it?

2) Identify your top three competitors.  Who is targeting the same market segment as you?  Which companies do you find at your back door, trying to lure away your customers?  Which businesses are successfully converting leads into clients?

3) Itemize success factors.  Which factors determine success for your company? Is brand recognition most important?  Are customer service and consumer loyalty the primary ways you measure success?  Do the number of locations or the scope of your services identify who is winning?

4) Weigh and rate.  Once you’ve determined the success factors, weigh them based on importance.  Then rate each of your competitors and yourself.  You’ll see clear patterns begin to emerge.  They’ll show you which of your competitors are succeeding and where you land in the mix.

5) Analyze.  Once the numbers are in, take a hard look at what you’re excelling at. Do you want to focus more energy there to really stand out from your competition?  If your analysis has revealed an untapped market segment, perhaps investing marketing dollars to attract those new customers is your best move.  Don’t forget to scrutinize areas for improvement too.  By recognizing and addressing your weaknesses, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

When Should I Do a Competitive Analysis?

Marketing managers and business owners all perform a competitor analysis before opening their doors.  It’s an integral part of a good business plan.  Don’t neglect it once the business plan is complete. It’s crucial to set a regular reminder to check-in and see what’s changed.

Depending on the nature of your business and your marketing plan, monthly to quarterly is sufficient.  If you’re immersed in a quickly evolving industry like real estate a quarterly check-up may be insufficient, whereas a cleaning service company won’t find as many fluctuations and can update their competitor analysis quarterly.

Don’t become buried in the analysis and paralyzed by the numbers. The idea is to gain information and use it to make educated decisions, not become consumed by what your competitors are doing.  Staying informed arms you with an additional tool to help your business rise to the top.


About The Author

Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at www.BranWorks.com.

Is There Anything More Important Than Improving Sales and Your Customer Relationships? 

Today, there’s a fast growing movement, a revolution, among organizations interested in improving their customer-centricity through a better understanding of customer interactions, or “touchpoints.”

Called “Customer Touchpoint Management” (CTM)

The goal of this new movement is to improve customer experiences, and as a result, improve customer relationships. By improving customer relationships organizations improve market share, sales, and both customer and employee loyalty and advocacy.

But what exactly is a “touchpoint?” Touchpoints are all of the communication, human and physical interactions your customers experience during their relationship lifecycle with your organization. Whether an ad, Web site, sales person, store or office, Touchpoints are important because customers form perceptions of your organization and brand based on their cumulative touchpoint experiences.

Savvy organizations realize that customer relationships can no longer be considered exclusively the domains of sales and customer service. If the accuracy of invoices, or the professionalism of installers or cleanliness of your store or office is lacking, then the relationship can suffer no matter how well the salesperson or “owner” of the relationship performs. Savvy organizations know that they can best enhance relationships with customers by improving touchpoints across the entire enterprise.

Powerful Results

In fact, improving your customer relationships can deliver powerful results to your organization. For example, through a comprehensive Customer Touchpoint Management (CTM) program developed to understand and improve key customer touchpoints, Avis gained market share in key travel markets and became a leader in customer loyalty and satisfaction as measured by Brand Keys and JD Powers.

So, where does your organization stand in the growing Customer Touchpoint Management movement?


About The Author

Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached atGordon@BranWorks.com, or read more athttps://branworks.com/customer-experience-2/

How To Build a Strong Brand Identity

Creating a strong brand is serious business. Choosing typefaces and taglines isn’t enough: You first have to think deeply about your company’s personality.

People focus too much on the external trappings of brand marketing, such as names, logos, and mottos. Such identifiers are important, but they only serve to signify the brand, not create it.

Instead, the essence of a brand is not the exterior elements, but how you feel about the product or service.

Create Your Brand Personality

So, first consider what feelings you want to inspire in people. This will relate to the values you want your brand to embody. Think of this as your “brand personality.”

Are you easygoing and fun? Serious and professional? Iconoclastic and rebellious? What about witty? Nerdy? Idealistic? Caring? Here’s a worksheet that might help you decide.

Your brand personality will come through in everything you do, from your interactions with your customers, to the voice you use in communications, to the visual elements you use.

Delight Your Customers

Every brand persona, no matter how edgy, should be geared toward providing customers a positive WOW! experience. That’s why it’s important to your brand to focus on responsiveness, communication, and service—all done in your own way to match your distinctive persona.

5 Reasons Brand Identity is Important for Your Business

A strong and recognizable brand can help a business be more successful, which is why creating an effective brand identity is so important. But what all does a brand identity entail, and why is it so important?

What is a brand identity?

When you create a brand identity, you’re essentially applying your brand values to any visual elements that will be used to promote your business. This means that a brand identity is more than just a logo, and consists of a variety of marketing materials. This might include:

  • Business cards
  • Stationary
  • Print materials (brochures, reports, flyers, etc.)
  • Signage
  • Product packaging
  • Apparel
  • Website
  • Logo
  • Color Palette
  • Fonts
  • Tag line
  • Imagery
  • Branding Guide

Keep Your Fans Feeling Good

Developing a cohesive and professional brand identity is an important part of any effective branding strategy. Creating a brand identity requires research and attention to detail in order to develop a style that successfully meets the goals of a business and gives off the appropriate message. Once a brand identity is created, many companies provide guidelines for how their brand should be represented on various mediums to ensure consistency.

The point of branding your company is to help customers fall in love with you. The values you choose to adhere to and the way you project those values will appeal to certain types of people—your target customers. Make those people feel good about you and you’re on your way to branding—and business—success.


About the Publisher:

 Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at www.BranWorks.com

Do You Have a Brand Strategy?

Your business may not have a brand strategy, but if you interact with the public, you have a brand. The question is whether that brand is being actively managed or if it’s just occurring on it’s own.

That brand is built (or destroyed) with each and every interaction between you and your customers. The big ones count, of course, like the actual sales transactions. But there are many other brand interactions such as inbound phone calls, all advertising, business cards, web sites, on-hold messages, how clean your bathrooms are, what your employees are wearing, social media posts, and a thousand other things that may seem inconsequential. Even that tattoo on your left forearm. But they’re all tiny drops into the branding bucket and one bad drop can contaminate the whole bucket.

A lot of people refer to their “brand” as having good PR. But your brand really is what your customers say about you behind your back. It’s the relationship you have with your current and potential market. It’s the intangible measure of “your good name”.

So since a brand is this intangible thing, how can you gauge the current status of your brand and start actively managing your brand without an expensive market research campaign? Most small businesses can’t.

What Does Your Company Do?

So, the first step is to look inward. It’s sometimes hard for business owners to develop a consistent brand strategy because they have never really defined what their business is all about in the first place. Can you tell me what your company does in one simple sentence? If you can’t, you’re probably not projecting a consistent brand message through marketing and daily operations.

The next step is to ask your customers and prospects the same question. If their answer doesn’t match yours, then you have a problem. You need to add focus to your brand strategy and messaging.

A brand strategy doesn’t have to be a complex thing. I think it actually works better the more simple it is. Build upon that simple sentence of what your brand represents, and reference it every time you do anything related to the business. And I mean anything. All those small drops add up.

The brand shows up in every aspect of a business. For example: If you’re trying to build a premium brand and you launch a 99 cent sale when times are tough, you’ve sent conflicting brand messages and destroyed all that you’ve built. Conversely, if you’re a budget destination and are trying to sell expensive upgrades, that pricing decision detracts from the big picture.

The easy place to see branding is in your outbound marketing. All advertising and communications should consistently conform to the brand standards. A bank shouldn’t use the Comic Sans font on their statements. A car wash shouldn’t use gray and black on their external signage.

But the single biggest opportunity for brand development is in customer experience. If the marketing that brings them in the door doesn’t match what they find when they get in the door, you’ve wasted your time and money.

And, most importantly, share your brand vision with your employees. They’re the ones who will make it happen, or not.

What is the image that your brand is conveying?


About the Author:

Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at www.BranWorks.com

You’ll know when your branding and marketing is paying off when your customers are singing your praises. When you have it all right, your touchpoints will be on your side, building loyalty and bringing your customers back. Ignore the customer and you’ll have no brand. It’s that important! This will be more effective than any marketing campaign. It takes a complete team of leadership and brand ambassadors and is determined by everything the brand does. (Sounds like the definition of branding, doesn’t it?) And because of fierce competition and the efforts of businesses to improve their performance over the past few years, the service and products which customers get are generally good. 

But good is not good enough. The brands that stand out are those that have the courage to pursue purpose beyond profit, to engage, entertain and educate their audiences; and who see their customers and employees as members of a like-minded community. These brands succeed because they provide an experience that is not just different, but dramatically different. Only then will you put your brand at the forefront of your customers’ minds whenever they need the kinds of products or services you offer.

The challenge for businesses is how to define and deliver this kind of experience so that it works every day across every touchpoint. While it’s evident that customer experience management is high up on the leadership agenda, there is still much debate as to the best approach to take. At BranWorks, part of our approach we recommend is WOW Branding at every critical touchpoint along the buyers journey. This often determines whether customers become loyal customer or they walk away, never to be seen again.


About the Author

Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at www.BranWorks.com.

 Don’t Overlook Your Employee’s. They’re Your Most Important Market

Perfectly timed for Canada Day, Starbucks barista, Jessica Roberts serves a cup of new Starbucks True North Blend™ Blonde Roast coffee in St. John's, Nfld. - the first Starbucks coffee in the world named by customers. (CNW Group/Starbucks Coffee Company)Starbucks (SBUX) got a lot of press for shutting down each and every one of its 7,100 company-owned U.S. stores for two hours to conduct a “partner” (employee) training event. The event was, according to a news release, part of the company’s ongoing efforts to “renew its focus on the customer.”

Starbucks’ iconic founder, Howard Schultz, said of the idea, “Our unprecedented level of commitment to and investment in our people will provide them with the tools and resources they need to exceed the expectations of our customers.” Some cynics called it a publicity stunt, but I think it was a sincere initiative from a company that has long demonstrated a commitment to helping its employees live the brand.

Starbucks’ bold, store-closing move was about more than training and free press; it was a potent form of internal branding. Closing the stores sent an unmistakable message that Schultz was serious about his expectations that all 135,000 Starbucks employees deliver on the brand promise.

“Internal branding” may not be a term with which you’re familiar. It’s partly internal communications, but it goes beyond the typical staff memos and HR updates. It’s related to training, but it’s about much more than the “how” of what needs to be done. My definition of internal branding is simply having a continuous process in place by which you engage your employees to understand the “who” and “why” behind your business proposition.

Impact of Social Media

The more you can ensure that the decisions your people make through the course of each day are true to the essence of your brand, the better. Never has it been truer than in today’s interconnected world, where running customer commentary on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can have an immediate impact (for good or for ill) on a widespread scale.

Which brings up another important point: make sure you don’t leave anybody out. True, frontline employees may have the most customer contact, but even those who don’t can help you benefit from an internal branding program. Each employee, by definition, is expected to add some sort of value at their stage of the process, whether they’re on the production line, in the warehouse, in the shipping department, or simply pushing paper. Helping them understand the bigger picture will enable them to make the right decision when the unexpected happens. And it will.

It may be crazy for a brand guy like me to say, but if you don’t have an effective internal branding program in place, you should think hard about reallocating some of your marketing budget to set one up. Of course, you ultimately have to find a way to fund both internal and external efforts. But if the former is neglected, the latter could end up doing more harm than good.


Gordon Conner is a Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at www.BranWorks.com.

It Takes lovable People to Build a Lovable Business

Lovable businesses are the high growth and highly profitable ones that perform well whatever the market conditions. A lovable business can be defined by these 9 values: listening, storytelling, authenticity, responsiveness, team playing, high quality products & services, treating the customer like a valued partner  and being grateful and saying “thank you”. 

♥  Listening – Listening effectively is at the heart of a lovable business. Everything else is built around listening. When businesses are listening effectively they are able to make the right decisions at the right time to delight their customers. This ignites referrals and advocacy and leads to more customers and more profits. For service businesses it is crucial to find out what customers are saying about their customer-facing staff. Customer-facing employees are their sales staff, sales support staff, customer service staff, technical support staff and their key customer-facing managers. Feedback on how your customers feel after interacting with your customer-facing staff is essential for responding to anything that puts them off from coming back. The questions that you need answers for are: a. you need to know if the customer was promptly attended to, b. you need to know if the staff member was polite and attentive c. you need to know whether the staff member was knowledgeable enough to provide the right answers from the customer’s point of view and finally d. you need to know how well your customer was communicated to by your staff member.

♥  Storytelling – Storytelling is probably as old as language and we seem deeply attached to it. Storytelling is what captivates people and drives customers to take action. If you are able to tell a captivating story about your employee who interacted with them while asking for feedback to improve your service, you would have done two things at the same time and both effectively. Firstly helped the employee create a lasting impression, a reason to come back while at the same time leaving the customer satisfied that their voice is heard.  Listening and storytelling are at the heart of creating a lovable business. 

♥ Authenticity – Vulnerability and humility create positive and attractive energy. Customers, employees, and media all want to help an authentic person to succeed. There used to be a divide between one’s public self and private self, but social media has blurred that line. Lovable employees are transparent about who they are online, merging their personal and professional life together and in this transparency helps create that vulnerability that triggers authenticity.  

♥ Responsiveness – Responsiveness to customers and the speed of it is key to building up a lovable company. All stakeholders are potential viral spark plugs these days so responsiveness matters. Responding shows you care and gives your customers and employees a say, allowing them to make a positive impact on your business.

♥ Team Playing – No matter the size of your business as long as you are in business you’ll need to interact with customers every day. How effectively you interact relies on teamwork. Letting employees shine, encouraging them to innovate and while keeping a sharp focus on team working will help you become a lovable business.

♥ Don’t Come on Too Strong – Respect Your Customers – A third of consumers say they experience rude customer service at least once a month, and 58% of them tell their friends. This is exactly how word of mouth can work against your company’s reputation for the long term. It’s very important to be respectful of a customer’s mood when trying to resolve an issue they have with your company.

Keeping your patience is key to giving your customer the time to air out their issue. And, in turn, it creates the opportunity for you to help resolve the issue and make them comfortable. The more comfortable the customer is the more likely they’ll share valuable feedback that can help prevent similar issues from occurring again in the future.

♥ High Quality Products & Services – You should strive to create high-quality products and services. For example, If you write e-books and reports make sure all the content is accurate and timely. Most folks remember good-quality and won’t hesitate to recommend products and services they truly like. This is one of the easiest ways to build a lovable business. In addition, when you are consistently creating quality content and products, you are building expert credibility and authority in your niche.

♥ Treating the Customer Like a Valued Partner – Take your customer’s feedback seriously and act upon reasonable requests. What’s the point of listening if you’re not going to act on that feedback? Make sure it’s clear that you want your customer’s feedback and that your business truly values them as a partner.

♥ Gratefulness – Lovable companies are grateful to people who contribute to their success. Being appreciative and saying thank you to customers keeps them feeling appreciated. When it is easy for your employees to express their gratitude to customers, it’s also easy to build a lovable company.

Finally, should a business have someone in charge of ensuring lovability? Everyone in the company should be involved in ensuring lovability, and it starts at the top. It’s not a task that is assigned solely to one person. For a business to be truly lovable, everyone from the boss to the delivery guy needs to be working together to make it happen. Managers leading by example will be able to set pace in building a team of amazingly lovable employees and a lovable business.

 

About The Author

Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at https://branworks.com/customer-experience-2


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Starbucks (SBUX) got a lot of press for shutting down each and every one of its 7,100 company-owned U.S. stores for two hours to conduct a “partner” (employee) training event. The event was, according to a news release, part of the company’s ongoing efforts to “renew its focus on the customer.”

Starbucks’ iconic founder, Howard Schultz, said of the idea, “Our unprecedented level of commitment to and investment in our people will provide them with the tools and resources they need to exceed the expectations of our customers.” Some cynics called it a publicity stunt, but I think it was a sincere initiative from a company that has long demonstrated a commitment to helping its employees live the brand.

Starbucks’ bold, store-closing move was about more than training and free press; it was a potent form of internal branding. Closing the stores sent an unmistakable message that Schultz was serious about his expectations that all 135,000 Starbucks employees deliver on the brand promise.

“Internal branding” may not be a term with which you’re familiar. It’s partly internal communications, but it goes beyond the typical staff memos and HR updates. It’s related to training, but it’s about much more than the “how” of what needs to be done. My definition of internal branding is simply having a continuous process in place by which you engage your employees to understand the “who” and “why” behind your business proposition.

Falling in Love With LUV

Southwest-1Ever wonder why Southwest Airlines’ flight attendants always seem more cheerful than those of other airlines? It’s not simply a matter of training. Since it’s founding as “the LUV airline,” Southwest has consistently nurtured its brand internally, to the point that it’s now part of the company’s DNA. Like-minded people want to work for Southwest, and the company has earned the luxury of being able to screen applicants carefully to ensure a good fit. That makes Southwest’s corporate culture a competitive advantage.

In fact, an internal branding program can create a virtuous cycle of improvement within your company. When your employees are clear about the company’s orientation and intentions, they can address elements of their jobs that are inconsistent or in conflict with those intentions, improving your product or service and creating better customer experiences. And as is the case with Ritz-Carlton, Disney, the Marine Corps, and Southwest, it can also have a positive impact on recruitment and retention, drawing a clearer picture of the type of recruits best suited for the organization.

Zappos (AMZN) is the newest company to be widely celebrated for its corporate culture. One of the things that propelled the company to fame is its offer to new employees of $2,000 to quit their jobs after four weeks of initial training. It sounds like a risky financial move, but the message it sends is worth more than it costs, and the best employees won’t cost you any money. Zappos understands the value of its carefully cultivated image and wants to make sure every employee understands it as well. That’s internal branding.

The Missing Link

 Internal Branding-3The longer I’m in business the more I’ve come to believe that companies that overlook internal branding are doing themselves a critical disservice. It can be the missing link between perception and reality, promise and delivery, effective marketing and positive outcomes. Yet internal branding doesn’t receive nearly the time, resources, or attention that external efforts do.

Most companies will expend a great deal of effort on their external marketing. This often includes collecting reams of research in an effort to develop intimate portraits of their target audiences. They’ll spend big bucks to gain insights into the lifestyles, attitudes, perceptions, needs, and wants that inform their prospects’ purchase decisions. Then they’ll spend even bigger bucks to leverage that knowledge into external marketing programs to attract an ever-larger number of customers.

There’s just one problem. After all that effort, most companies effectively file away all that wonderful information somewhere in the vault of the marketing department. Then they wring their hands when their employees don’t deliver as promised.

Recycle That Knowledge

 Delighted-2 What if, instead, all of the brilliant insights gained in the external branding process could be ingrained in the minds of each employee? What if there were a deliberate process in place to help employees not only do the functional aspects of their jobs better but also more intimately understand those whom they serve? What if each and every employee could be enabled and equipped to be a powerful steward of the brand? What if—this is sad but all too common—employees actually had a chance to see the company’s advertising before the public did? All of it is possible, and that’s why internal branding presents such a big opportunity for improvement in most companies.

Ideally, whether a prospective customer is looking into, learning of, thinking about, or shopping for your brand—not to mention purchasing it, using it, and then reflecting on the experience—the impressions you deliver along the entire continuum should be seamlessly integrated. At many of the points along that continuum, what your employees think, say, and do has a significant impact on your success.

Some organizations famously understand this principle. Ritz-Carlton’s legendary mantra, “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” is a simple encapsulation of its internal branding efforts. Disney (DIS) has long referred to its theme park employees as “cast members” to ensure that they understand they’re always on stage. And there’s no more succinct statement of internal purpose than “Simper Fidelis,” which the Marine Corps says “is more than a motto—it’s a way of life.”

Impact of Social Media

The more you can ensure that the decisions your people make through the course of each day are true to the essence of your brand, the better. Never has it been truer than in today’s interconnected world, where running customer commentary on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can have an immediate impact (for good or for ill) on a widespread scale.

Which brings up another important point: make sure you don’t leave anybody out. True, frontline employees may have the most customer contact, but even those who don’t can help you benefit from an internal branding program. Each employee, by definition, is expected to add some sort of value at their stage of the process, whether they’re on the production line, in the warehouse, in the shipping department, or simply pushing paper. Helping them understand the bigger picture will enable them to make the right decision when the unexpected happens. And it will.

It may be crazy for an ad guy like me to say, but if you don’t have an effective internal branding program in place, you should think hard about reallocating some of your marketing budget to set one up. Of course, you ultimately have to find a way to fund both internal and external efforts. But if the former is neglected, the latter could end up doing more harm than good.


About the Author
Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. He can be reached at Gordon@BranWorks.com, or read more at www.BranWorks.com.

 

Brown Cows Are Boring!

Many of you have read the book, The Purple Cow, by Seth Godin. It’s a groundbreaking book full of case studies on how to make your business truly remarkable.

As we all know, after we’ve seen one cow we’ve seen them all. When you drive by a herd of cattle they all just look like cows and it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.  But if you drive by a herd and standing in the field is a Purple Cow you have to tell someone because it is so different.  Cows might be well-bred, Six Sigma cows, lit by the most amazing light, but they are still just a cow. They’re boring. But what if the cow we saw was purple? Now that would get our attention. It could be in a field of perfectly fine, or even excellent cows, but this cow would be remarkable. Now that’s something worth talking about, and worth paying attention to. There’s boring stuff everywhere we turn, like brown cows, which is why so few of us pay any attention.

This article is a plea to marketers to make a difference by creating products and services that are worth marketing in the first place. Strive for passion, originality, guts and daring. It’s the only way to be successful. The one sure way to fail today is to be boring. Your one chance for success is to be remarkable. So you have to be a leader, because you can’t be remarkable by following someone else who is already remarkable. His remarkable thing is already taken. So go find another way to be remarkable.

So it looks like we have two choices: either we become invisible, uncritized, anonymous and safe, or we take a chance at greatness, uniqueness and the Purple Cow. The point? Boring always leads to failure and is always the riskiest strategy. The lesson here is simple: The more intransigent your market, the more crowded the marketplace, the busier your customers, the more you need a Purple Cow.


About the Author

Gordon Conner is a Marketing & Branding Consultant/Coach who helps build WOW brands for small local businesses. He has been providing advertising, marketing and branding and services for 40 years and lives in Midlothian, Virginia. Read more about Value Propositions at https://branworks.com/value-proposition-2, or visit our website at www.BranWorks.com
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