In a crowded market-place, you have to stand to get noticed or make your peace with being invisible and forgotten.
“Branding” might seem like just another marketing term to you, but it could mean the difference between feast or famine for your business.
A few decades ago, someone called Valentino Liberace started playing piano and performing in concerts. Legend has it that he was approached by a critic who said to him, ‘You play piano well son, but you’re not memorable.’
Liberace went away, thought about it and returned wearing a suit made of lights that went on to define his every performance and public persona, shooting him to fame and fortune as the top paid entertainer during the 50s, 60s and 70s.
A modern day example would be Lady Gaga: do you think she dresses in those outlandish outfits because she wants to? No, she wants to stand out in a market filled with thousands of pretty blonde girls with averages voices who sing pop songs.
It’s worked for them but will it work for you? How do you make this type of flashy showmanship relevant to your stationery business or your printing company?
What is branding?
Let’s start at the beginning: what is branding. Branding isn’t something that happens organically or by itself; it is the result of a conscious effort by the business to create a perception and an experience that leads to differentiation from competitors and loyalty with a preselected audience of potential buyers or users.
When I ask you how Samsung is different from Apple, at least five things should flash through your mind; from the presentation to how it makes you feel to use it. This is all a by-product of a successful brand strategy. Mediocre branding leads to a mediocre product perception.
Branding is filled with terms like ‘brand equity’, ‘brand assets’, ‘brand value’, ‘brand promise’, ‘brand pillars’ and so on. In order to be as productive as possible, let’s avoid terms that smack of jargon and just focus on the key things.
1. Get a plan of attack together
Why do you think rock stars have managers? These people know what they’re trying to achieve, which types of songs are right or wrong for their image, where they should sing and what their public image is.
Sit down with a brand strategist who understands what you’re trying to achieve and figure out the roadmap together.
Without a strategy, you’re not going to know whether you’re on the right path or not. You need to know where you are at the moment in order to effect change. Your roadmap should cover the key points below. Remember the goal is to be memorable!
2. How are you different?
Every brand needs an element that will make it stand out from competitors. Is it your location or know-how or your wide product range? It might be your cool brand or the quality of the product or experience.
Just another country singer producing cowboy songs? Do a Dolly Parton and differentiate yourself using assets other than just your voice.
Remember that using price as a key differentiator is fine when you first launch your service but isn’t a sustainable strategy when meeting the potential pricing war it will spark between you and your competitors, where ultimately nobody wins.
3. Who are you competing against?
Sun Tzu, the famous military general, said ‘Know Thy Enemy’ and as in war, it is imperative you have an understanding of the competitive landscape in order to find a gap in the market and position yourself therein.
Know who is closest to you in product offering and what they’re offering that might win your customers over to them.
Competitors make you better at what you do; they’re not to be hated or feared but competed against in order to raise your game and make you better at what you do.
Remember, this is all about standing out, so find that gap and take advantage of it.
4. What do your customers think?
Research is powerful and highly underestimated by many businesses.
Find out what your customers think of your company and service before deciding on your new brand roadmap.
- Why do they buy from you?
- Why are they loyal?
This might just be the essence of your brand and a reason for differentiating. You might find that your brand is just fine, and nothing needs to change, or you might realise that you’re about to be overtaken by a competitor.
Research will colour in the landscape you operate in and tell you objectively how you are performing against others.
The other day I walked into a shop and asked the sales rep about their prices, only to have another customer start telling me how great they are and why I should use them. Now that was impressive! You know you’re doing something right when your customers start convincing potential customers to buy from you.
5. Is your staff living the brand?
Your staff is the most important part of your brand because they are the ones who interact with your customers. If they don’t have the right values and personality you will find your customers shopping elsewhere.
Now that you know what you stand for, the key question is whether your staff has the right personality to match your brand.
Put the right people in the right roles; administrators to deal with tasks and people-oriented staff to deal with humans.
The team at Hirsch’s Home Appliances in Milnerton Cape Town, stand out to me time and time again for their exceptional ‘go-the-extra-mile’ service. Nardo, the head of PR has personally hand-delivered items to me at my offices when they weren’t in stock. This smacks of staff that live the brand.
Ann, the brand manager at Woolworths, Sunset Beach, also drove to my house to drop off items that the checkout clerk failed to pack into my bag, with a bunch of flowers. No wonder she’s won top awards year after year.
6. Barriers to entry
The trick is to make it difficult for competitors to enter the market. Service, friendly staff, product range, brand, all of these things are ways you can wrap up the market so your customers refuse to shop elsewhere.
7. Touchpoint analysis
Assess each point of contact between your company and the client.
- Does your staff greet customers when they walk in, or are they heads-down, working?
- Does your cashier thank the shopper for each purchase?
- Do they go the extra mile to satisfy the customer?
- How long does it take to answer the phone, reply to emails or get work down?
Certain elements are ‘non-negotiables’. Typing errors, mistakes on invoices, pricing mistakes, wrong deliveries, breakages, poor quality; if you don’t have these ‘hygiene factors’ in place it won’t matter how funky your brand or brand strategy are, and it won’t matter how amazing your service or staff are, your business won’t stand out and might not even succeed.
Those who excel at every point win the war for a share of wallet. Good luck!