Powerfully Positioning Your Brand

Brand building is not simple, but it is powerful.

A brand is actually a living, complex organism. Brands must stand for something. They must be built on a foundation and idea that supports the product or service in various ways. In order to properly position a brand, you must reject sameness and conformity. When positioning is planned and executed successfully, it elevates a brand above others in ways in which people can’t help but notice and be attracted to it.

And also…affiliated with it.

The human mind looks for things that are different. It looks for things that are unexpected. So, building a brand that stands in abundant contrast to others in it’s competitive space will attract attention and create a competitive “moat” in the marketplace.

In order powerfully position your brand, three things must be accomplished:

1. Be different

You don’t just need merely differentiation. You need radical differentiation that makes sense.
You can’t attract a loyal following if you are not noticed. Of course, there is more to a powerful brand than being different, but if you blend into the background, what’s the point? Typically in most product categories, there are more choices than ever before.

Your differentiation must be something that makes you meaningfully different from others in your product category.

You must take care not to take this too far in the extreme. Just because you do doesn’t mean people will want to do business with you. It may actually have the opposite effect.

2. Be focused

In order to keep your brand in a powerful position, you must be zen-like in focus. The complex and intricate your goals list is, the harder it will be for you to actually achieve those objectives. Complexity sends mixed signals that will end up damaging your focus.To have powerful focus, you ail need to gather all your energy and concentrate it on just a few brand-related goals.

When we have a problem we can’t fix ourselves, we reach out to a specialist. Specialists cost more than generalists, because they demand a premium for their elevated expertise. Many businesses take the opposite path. They want to be generalists. All things to all people. They do this out of fear and a scarcity mentality. They are more worried about the business they aren’t getting rather than the business they could get by being focused. This approach further pushes you into the commodity sector, meaning your offering is no better more or less than any other.

3. Be relevant

One of the things business leaders have to constantly be diligently watching is where the marketplace is going. If the marketplace is going in a divergent direction from your brand, major trouble is brewing.

If you aren’t relevant, you really aren’t in business.

Executing a powerful brand strategy is not about merely surviving, it’s about abundantly thriving. Many business owners are so unfocused themselves on what business they are actually in, they fail to clerkly articulate it in brand building terms. Clarity is power, especially in brand strategy and building a brand-driven business.

3 Sides Of A Great Brand

Top quality brands are based on the time, work and sweat put into developing them.
Side 1: The Brand Promise. This is the focused answer to the customer-based question, “if I engage in a relationship with you, what can I expect?” This answer is the essence of your brand and of your relationship to the customer.
Side 2: The Brand Attributes. These are the tangible features that customer experience. It is the essence of how the company delivers the brand promise.
Side 3: The Brand Personality. This is expressed by the human characteristics that the brand takes on, and represents the emotional connection between the client and the brand. These can be: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication or perhaps ruggedness.
The synergistic interaction of these three sides working together to help companies deliver a powerful, focused, consistently brand-aligned experience to all audiences. The key is to align every significant point of customer contact with the Brand Promise. All points of contact should reinforce the promise and the desired experience.

Distinctive Impact Or Utility?

If the lights in your home come on when you flip the switch, do you really care where the electricity comes from? If the water comes out when you turn the faucet, do you really care where the water comes from? These are questions designed to illustrate how much people care about generic utility brands of products and services.

If those providers went away tomorrow and someone else provided the same electricity than before, would you care?

A truly great brand makes such a unique contribution to the communities it touches, and does its work with such unadulterated excellence that, if it were to disappear, it would leave a gaping hole that could not be easily filled by any other product or service on the planet. If your brand went away, who would miss it, and why?

This does not require being big; think of a small but fabulous local restaurant that would be terribly missed if it disappeared. Big does not equal great, and great does not equal big.

Great brands make a distinctive impact not just fulfill a utilitarian function.

Great Customer Service Equals Success

Everyone should be an expert in customer service.

Customer Service skills are used in just about every job and career. Sometimes, people fall into the trap of feeling as if they don’t have to learn customer service skills because they don’t deal directly with “customers”. While they may not deal with a specific group called “customers” externally, there are always your internal customers internally. Those that do a great job internally with co-workers, typically get promoted. They same is likewise with external customers, also.

People are people in any industry and should be treated as valuable customers.

Some skills and options that could be sharpened to develop customer service:

  • Product Knowledge
  • Active & Effective Listening
  • Anticipation of Needs
  • Empathy, make customers feel important and appreciated
  • Appreciate the power of “yes”
  • Know the boundries and give more than is expected
  • Give regular feedback

Clean the House Before the Party

You’re planning a summer BBQ for friends. The invitations have been sent and now it is time to prepare for the party. Most people take a little extra care cleaning the house. You may want to put up some decorations. You’re certainly going to purchase the food and probably do some preparation prior to the first guest’s arrival. Perhaps you have built a particular play list, and maybe you even have some fun, outdoor games to set up. Whatever your plans, you have a pretty good idea of how the party will go, and likely so do your guests. Their level of enjoyment of your event rests largely on how well you met their expectations, and this will also weigh into their decision when you invite them back.

It’s the same with your company brand and the brand experience. Your brand sets clients’ expectations of the experience they will have doing business with you. And every single touch they have with you formulates that experience.

You wouldn’t tell your guests to join you for burgers and then serve them fish, would you? So why would you promise exceptional customer service to your clients (or anything else), but not put the training and metrics in place to make sure that your associates are delivering? Every. Single. Time.

Many business owners don’t want to make the time and/or investment in a good branding process. And yet we all have weekly, if not daily, experiences where our expectations of doing business are not met. It’s time to ask yourself these questions:

1) What is the customer experience with my business, product or service?
2) Is that experience unique or is it the same things my competitors deliver?
3) How have I communicated that experience to my associates?
4) How will I continue to reinforce it?
5) When was the last time I measured the delivery of our promises?
6) What sort of feedback do I regularly solicit from my customers?
7) Have I taken the time to insure that every touch point with my company is in alignment with my brand?
8) What do we do better than any other competitor in the market, and how do I know?
9) Where are the opportunities to do better?

And there are many, many more.

If your business isn’t where you want it to be, there are likely some elements of your brand and brand experience that could be improved. And if your business is doing really well, this is the best possible time to make the investment in a branding process, in order to position yourself for continued, long-term success.

You wouldn’t invite your friends over to a dirty house. It’s time to clean the house.

Do Not Toast My Bagel

This morning I treated myself to a bagel with lox from one of my favorite places in town. When I got to work an unwrapped my breakfast, the bagel was toasted. Now this may seem like a small thing, but I happen to hate hard bread. Not to mention that now the cream cheese, lox and tomato squirm all over with each bite and make a complete mess.

The establishment likely does not have any idea how much this toasted bagel messed up my breakfast. It’s not like getting my order wrong or giving me sub-quality food. But to me, that’s exactly what it was.

So I started to wonder how many of these “minor” inconveniences we impose unknowingly on our customers every day? For instance, have you ever been in a hurry and waiting in line only to feel there is no sense of urgency on the part of the associate? Or perhaps the person helping you has a rotten personality?

If we have not contemplated what we want our customer’s ideal experience to be, we are often oblivious to the experience we are actually delivering. And even if we have meticulously mapped out the ideal experience, but failed to train our associate to master the delivery, we still fail miserably.

Remember that your brand is whatever your customer says it is. What are you doing to make sure you take every opportunity to influence their perception positively?

Developing A Leadership Culture

Noted management guru Peter Drucker said “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes…but no plans and no actions.”

Your culture is the most powerful factor in your organization, and at most places, the least understood, least discussed and least planned for factor. Culture is the determining factor on how people in the organization respond to new ideas, creativity and enthusiasm. Culture embodies the sense of pride or discouragement in the environment of the organization.

Groups of management can not figure out why all their highly developed strategies and plans always seem to fall flat or fail. The fact is, if you don’t have a good culture and enabling systems in place to embrace and support those strategies, the culture will devour them every time.

Healthy culture is like oxygen, it keeps everything alive, vibrant and breathing. Toxic culture is like carbon monoxide, you don’t see it or smell it, but it will kill you.

Extremely healthy cultures are pipelines of leadership development. These environments have been created with the thought that the organization is as healthy as the rising pool of leaders, so they look to discover them, employ resources to develop them and then put them in positions and roles in which they are passionate. They challenge them to grow and excel, and by this, they help push and propel the organization. All organizations reach the height of their potential based on the leadership talent and ability of all leaders, not just the top tier.

Developing people as leaders, not necessarily as managers, is key to developing a strong culture. Developing leaders requires we are developing them as people. Training people typically involves some sort of task-oriented hard skill. Developing people is a more difficult proposition, it requires us to focus on the softer-skill side of leadership. A lot of the toxic-oriented cultures have highly-trained people. They know how to do their jobs very well, but the culture is terrible. In my seminar sessions, I have a segment pointing out the differences of leaders and managers, the contrast of which is very large. Both are important, both are needed, but culture is usually determined by the level of skill in the leader category, not the manager catagory.

You can also partially evaluate a culture by what it rewards. Most organizations reward someone for stepping in a performing a task, but they don’t even think of developing them as a leader. Another common trap is that managers think of sending a person off to a “boot camp” for leaders, which is fine for the individual, but when they come back inside the toxic culture, all they learned will melt like a snow cone in the summer sun, because the environment of the toxic culture will kill it. The reward was not in getting to go to a seminar, the reward would have been in how they could contribute once they returned, but the toxic culture inside the organization is not there to sustain life and new ideas, only to kill it.

Some thoughts to consider:

  • Does your organization have a leadership pipeline?
  • What does it look like in the context of your organization?
  • How do you identify and develop rising leaders?
  • What kinds of resources such as money, time, systems are devoted and assigned to develop people?
  • When times are tough and budgets are tight, what happens to your leadership development plans? (This is a real revealing element of what may exist as a culture inside the organization)

In rememberance of Steve Jobs 1955-2011, founder of Apple Computer

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify and vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Fear Forward

“What motivated me towards success? I was afraid failure would mean I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent.”

Last month I had the pleasure of seeing Duff Goldman speak at the University of MIssouri. Now most would not imagine the Food Network celeb as an eloquent or profound speaker, but I was quite impressed with what Chef Duff had to say.

He spoke about how his career was never limited by, but instead motivate by, fear. How every time he needed to make a big leap, he focused on what would happen if he didn’t try, as opposed to what would happen if he tried and failed. I found this approach both enlightening and invigorating.

I once heard another speaker say that what allowed him the courage to make leaps in his career was that he was never afraid to go back to eating peanut butter and jelly. This logic helped me greatly when I had to make the decision of whether to leave my position at an established company, or take a chance with a brand new company which would allow me to be one of the “architects”. Five years later, I’m glad I was not afraid to lose.

When is the last time you let your fear hold you back? How can you reassess that fear to allow it to power you forward instead? Within all of us it the power to control our own destiny. Those who succeed have foud a way t overcome fear and take that control. What will your rewards look like on the other side?