Friday, 30 January 2015

How to Grow Your Brand in Uncertain Times

Grow your brand

The Perfect Time to Analyze Your Brand in Tough Economic Times

Written by Robyn T. Braley

When economies are threatened by international trade uncertainty, unexpected natural disasters, pandemics, domestic unrest or the threat of war, it's time to reassess and realign your brand. 

Canada's economy has been impacted by a decline in our petroleum industry. Government, industry and climate change interest groups can't seem to find a compromise that will allow all parties to move forward for the common good.

That has drastically impacted the economies of Canada's prairie provinces in particular. The Alberta government was forced to regulate production in order to protect market prices.  

Government interference in any market at any time is heresy to the entrepreneurs.  In a free enterprise driven province, that speaks to the severity of the situation.  

Many companies will make it through this time. They will adapt, adjust and carefully manage their operations as they find ways to survive by finding new markets. 

Others will not be so lucky. One of my clients which manufactured $5,000,000 products for the petroleum industry couldn't realign themselves to find new products to make and markets to sell them in. 

The bottom line is that small business can do little to influence such uncontrollable forces. It is what it is and will be what it will be for the foreseeable future. 

Threats or Opportunities

As a leader, it is difficult to stay positive when your company is faced with a potential crisis. How you approach the challenge is a personal choice. You either shrink back and let the market forces prevail or you fight back, adjust your focus and find new opportunities. 

If the latter, you must be prepared to do whatever it takes to survive. Plain and simple.  

While the economy is a threat to some, it provides opportunity for others.Thinking 'We can' rather than 'We can't' will cause you see possibilities where you thought none existed. 

I spoke at a recent Real Estate Conference where I met two Rental Property Owners who had traveled from a neighboring province to look for rental properties. They had cash in hand ready to buy rental properties at distressed prices.

I know hat you're thinking! That is a positive for the buyers but a negative for the sellers. Not necessarily. 

The sellers may be eager to be free of the obligations associated with operating in a depressed economy. They may welcome the opportunity to pursue new avenues of business.  

Revisit Your Vision

When was the last time you thought about your vision for the company? Is it as vivid today as it was when you started it? 

When I begin working with new clients, I take them through a discovery process to help me learn about them and to clearly identify their needs. One of the last questions I ask is, 

What will your company look like in 5 years?

Some clients were taken off guard. They could not describe their company 5 years out. I'm sure they had an idea, but when I asked the question most drew a blank. 

If you can't verbalize your vision in a few short sentences, ask yourself the question! Then, write down your answers. 

Expand and refine it until your vision statement becomes laser focused. It should be crystal clear, relevant, authentic and future looking. Most of all, it should be easy to communicate to others. 

What’s My Brand

Once you have clarified your vision it is time to analyze your brand. Ask these questions!. 

What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? 

You've often heard me say or post my definition of a brand. "Your brand is what others think it is." Ask yourself these questions. 

  • What do clients, employees and collaborative partners think your brand is?
  • Is your brand as relevant today as yesterday?
  • How can it be adjusted to meet current conditions?
The process of analyzing your brand doesn't have to be hard. Just ask your customers and other stakeholders.

I have created and manged many surveys on behalf of large and small businesses. 

All involved person-to-person telephone calls or meeting one-on-one with people we had never met. Some included cold calls to a control list. 

Some required nation-wide research while others were localized. Each looked for solutions to a problem. 

In each project, we asked hard questions. With some, we identified problems our client didn't know about. That resulted in some difficult discussions when reporting back. 

Each provided information that led to solving my client's problem. 

Just Talk to Your Customers

When you ask the right questions, you get the right answers. I craft 8-10 questions that included open and closed questions. I lead from those requiring simple answers to more complex. The last question I ask is this. 

If our roles were reversed, what question would you ask?  

This always produces gold. I've prompted highly sensitive information based on the high-trust relationships built with complete strangers (to me) through the first questions. 

In most situations, the clients 

Who Ya Gonna' Call!

While I'd welcome the opportunity to work with you, it may be beneficial for you to undertake the project on your own. Contact 10-15 key customers and go through the telephone or by phone. 

Listen carefully to their answers.What exactly are they saying? What are the key word phrases? Are they skirting around issues by giving non answers. Be prepared to dig down asking additional questions. 

Select a cross section of employees and ask the same questions

Trapped in Your Head

You’d be amazed at how many small business owners have never gone through even a simple branding exercise. Don't get me wrong! They usually have their own definition of what their brand is in their minds. 

Simply put, 'need to know' thinking is old school thinking in today's business world. Real growth happens when others employees, customers, potential customers, suppliers - have a clear idea of what your passion and purpose is. 

To be honest, some of these business people have enjoyed early success in living out their big idea. But, they seldom get around to putting their brand descriptions on paper in a way that can be explained to others. 

As the company grows, that eventually leads to conflicts, misunderstandings and lost customers. 

Brand affinity strengthens resulting on customer and employee loyalty. Quality products and exceptional after sales service is the outward evidence of living out your brand. 

What Does It Mean?

The word brand is thrown around in different ways and contexts. Marketers offer complicated explanations that often clouds the real meaning. This is my more complex definition.

Your brand is what others think it is. It reflects the soul of an organization. It communicates vision, values and principles. It works from the inside out to connect with customers at an emotional level.

A brand defines the characteristics that set your company apart from the competition. It makes a promise that customers can believe in. It tells the story of who you are, what you stand for, and the unique selling proposition you deliver on.

When you think about it, successful brands are built around a central idea that is compelling. They offer real as well as perceived value to all stakeholders. A distinctive brand positions a company and gives it a competitive advantage.

A brand is your story. Whether you a small business, a fortune 500 company, a not-for-profit or a lone wolf entrepreneur Bootstrapping your company into existence, the success of your brand strategy will be measured by how well it tells your story. It must engage customers and compel them to buy what you are selling. 

More Than a Logo

A brand is much more than a logo. To torment our designers at Unimark Creative, I love looking over their shoulder when they are creating a new logo.

After a moment of feigned reflection I’ll say, “WOW, that is amazing art. But, does it have meaning?” Then I walk away having ruined their day.

Logos, corporate colors, websites, social media, sales strategies, customer service programs and every other brand delivery method “puts a face” on the inner meaning of your company. That's all. 

It Must Mean Something

Putting lipstick on a pig or a mask on a cow doesn't make apork chop into steak or vice versa. Neither the lipstick nor the mask will cover up the truth of what is on the inside. The pig will still be the pig and the cow will still be the cow.

I often tell the story about the dog food company that invested millions into a national marketing campaign. They hired the best research firm, the biggest advertising agency, a world class PR company and social media gurus. They rolled out an amazing marketing program.

The weeks passed. Sales continued to slump. Panic set in! 

The company increased the budget. Sales slumped further, so they increased it again.

Taking Action

To the upper management and their army of consultants the reason was obvious. The company sales force didn't understand how to leverage the brilliant marketing ideas. 

In desperation the company flew their regional managers and sales champions back to head office. Their was an air of tension in the presentation theater as the President took the stage. 

He launched into his presentation with an air of confidence as he shared motivational sales quotes and stories. Then he launched into his presentation using engaging PowerPoints and videos. He explained the brilliance of the campaign and how each part had been carefully crafted to integrate with the other.  

Throughout the presentation he dropped observations and insight that made it obvious to all in the room that he felt the root problem was the sales team. They just weren’t doing their jobs! They weren't meeting their quotas in spite of all the help they'd been given. 

At the end of his talk, he threw out a rhetorical question with a threatening tone, “So, why isn’t this working?”

The room was silent. Noone wanted to be the one to go on record by stating what each sales pro knew from the reality they had found by being on the ground in the front lines. 

Finally, an older gristled salesman at the back of the room sprang to his feet. His voice echoed through the hall as he shouted his opinion of what the root of the problem was. 

“Sir, the dogs won’t eat the dammed dog food!”

To state the obvious, the core of your brand must be the quality of your product.

What’s in a Name

The essence of the brand – its quality, relevance, and value must be at the core. The ideal name will reflect the meaning of your brand.

When I mention Nike, Fedex, Starbucks, Disney, NHL, Sony, Walmart or IBM, most reading this will have an immediate image of what those brands represent.

Finding Truth

To determine where you want to go, you must know where you’ve come from. Analyzing your brand requires honesty and transparency. 

Leaders of successful brands clearly understand what their brand is, who their customers are and why it matters. They know their brands strengths and weaknesses. 
When analyzing your brand, warts and blemishes are often revealed along with those moments of extreme brilliance that moved your company to a new level. 

In the search for truth, it is important to recognize corporate failures so that the lessons learned can be instructive when shaping the future. Most often, careful analysis will also reveal many things your company has and is doing well in building its brand. 

Your Opinion Matters

Please share your comments below. What have I missed? What caused you to think differently?  

Robyn T. Braley is a writer, speaker and occasional media guest. He is the President of UniMark Creative which does website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. He speaks at business conferences and also blogs about branding. 


Related Articles by Robyn T. Braley

Why Your Personal Brand Matters! What You Need to Know
For Rotarians and other service club leaders – Explaining My Rotary Club’s Brand


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