MY sons often tease me when an organization talks about its brand because they know it gets my dander up.
In every situation, the brand conversation is usually nothing more than a new logo design or tagline. To be very clear, a new logo, colour scheme, promotional concept, design details, or catchphrase are NOT a brand. These are brand identifiers, but they do not make the brand.
The best definition of a brand I know is "what people say about your company/product when you are not in the room." I have seen other similar definitions from gurus like Prof. Mark Ritson and Seth Godin, so I am confident in its validity. The definition is important because if your brand is not compelling enough with your customers you are susceptible to substitution by a competitor.
Why should this be an important focus for every company, and not just the Coca Colas, Apples, and McDonald’s of the world? Because having a strong brand that is understood, reflects your unique value and is specifically requested by your customers, can set you apart from your competition. All three of these companies have very strong or industry-leading products or service and you know the value you get when you buy from them.
Consider the examples of a corner convenience store, a private wine store, or an auto repair shop that are locally owned and not part of any larger organization. They have a brand, but it may not be compelling. How can the owner create a compelling brand for their single location store? They should know their neighbourhood and be able to greet customers by name.
Providing extra care and help finding an item or sourcing something specific can be part of their differentiation. They see and understand first-hand what customers do and say, especially listening to customer complaints, so they know what they may need to adjust in their marketing strategy.
The local store owner and employees experience these interactions every day so they can create value for their customers. So many large companies fail to listen and learn from front-line direct contact with customers.
In these examples, the brand that is created is not just what the store provides, it is what customers experience on a regular basis. The customer’s impression of the store’s product or service, quality of their customer service, friendliness, cleanliness, and overall atmosphere contribute to their definition of your brand. You can say you are friendly and have great customer service, but unless this is validated by your customers, you do not have those factors in your brand.
Of course, the question is simple — how should a local business build its brand? You must begin with those elements that you control, which includes the actual construct of your product or service and how you manage all the interactions you have with your customers. The work is hard and must continue to have a successful long-term brand. When you have complete alignment and commitment throughout your organization you are ready for step two.
Next, carefully assess your competitors and look for things you can do or offer that the competitors cannot or do not. You also need to confirm these items are valuable to your customers and are something they want. Your brand will be stronger with a greater focus on doing a few things very well.
Finally, there are important traits you should know about your customers. What is their true need for your product or service? Are you providing a direct response to an unmet need or were they referred to you by a satisfied customer? One of the hardest questions to answer is determining the specific unmet need of your customer that only you can fill.
This is where you look for patterns and links into what the customer is doing with your product or service and how it helps solve a problem they have. One of the challenges here is that different customers may have slightly different needs. A focus on your compelling service can create that extraordinary connection with all your customers.
Taking the time to uncover the products or services your customers are really looking for can create a successful brand for any organization, regardless of size. And if you can be the first and only one to deliver this in a compelling way then you create a brand that cannot be easily replicated in 2021 and beyond.
Tim’s bits: You don’t build a compelling brand in a day. You build it through all the things you do to better serve your customers every day over a long period.
Your customers will tell you if they are receiving value or if you are missing the mark. You must listen and observe and deliver the value so that your customers become your biggest brand advocates.
Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant, authorized by law, and a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.