Those who know me or have heard me during a speaking event may know that I did not “grow up” in this industry. My marketing career is actually a mosaic of 17 industry segments highlighted by work with some notable companies and some not-so-notable companies. My experience spans brands such as Heineken, No Nonsense Pantyhose (not in combination), Exxon, Time Warner Cable, Advantage Flea & Tick, Michelin Tires and even the comedian Tim Allen.
All of these entities have one thing in common: Whether large or small, they need to grow their sales, manage their brand wisely, gain market share and make a profit.
From your e-mail signature to your business attire to the way your staff answers the phone, your brand should permeate everything
In writing this article, I was reminded about a meeting during one of my past marketing lives where I was working with Volvo (enough with the name dropping now). The topic was the Volvo “brand.” As most U.S. consumers know, Volvo has a very clear and focused brand and the company pours a lot of money into it; they take brand management very seriously. During the meeting, the highest-ranking Swedish executive in the room asked me about the term “brand” and what I thought it really meant.
I was just barely 30 years old at the time and clearly the junior person in the room. This realization was not lost on me, as I quickly envisioned the person across the table being irreparably injured when the pulsing artery in my neck inevitably burst the buttons from my too-tight oxford shirt. I began …
“Your brand is not only what you have said but it is also everything you didn’t say. It’s what your competitors say about you, and what your customers and prospects say and think about you.”
(Taking a breath)…”So if that is true, most companies have a brand whether they know it or not, and whether they choose to manage it or not.”
The perspicacious answer was apparently sufficient, as I was not fired. And, I’m happy to report the pulsing carotid artery didn’t send my shirt button across the table to poke someone’s eye out. This on-the-spot answer led us into a good and thought-provoking marketing conversation about the Volvo branding efforts.
So back to the question – Do you have a brand? Of course you do. Although YOUR BRAND alone will not put signatures on the “dotted line,” it is a critical part of your success equation. I’m a big fan of the idea that YOU are your brand. This is not a new idea. In fact, if I were to mention the name of any company, product or celebrity, immediately thoughts, images and perceptions would start forming in your head and VOILÀ! That’s the brand.
Did you know that when athletic shoe company Converse was going out of business, Nike came shopping? No, they didn’t buy the manufacturing facilities; they actually paid millions for the rights to the near-dead Converse brand – the rights and the brand alone. Why? Because the value of Converse was in the brand and not in the actual shoe. Today the Converse brand is alive and well.
Branding is the art of creating a distinct place in the mind of the prospect and using that to expand the awareness of your business, thereby better ensuring future growth. The strongest and most positive branding provides an immediate and unquestionable familiarity. It conveys a particular promise or intangible quality to your clients and, most certainly, your prospects. It is undoubtedly intertwined with your reputation. (Remember to carefully consider how your business is being perceived by clients, as you can just as easily build a negative brand image.)
Reputable branding helps you stand out from your competition and serves as the foundation on which you develop relationships. Done correctly, it will surely build your business. Without a clear message that is different, consistent and repeated across marketing channels, your clients and prospects may not remember you from “the other guy.” And, if your brand experience stands out – guess what? You become referable!
Crafting Your Brand
Will the fact that you don’t have a logo keep you from being a success? Of course not. However, a cohesive, attractive and unique visual identity that you can use to promote your brand can be another arrow in your quiver. After all, Nike does a lot of other marketing despite having a distinctive swoosh.
Is it time to sharpen your outer brand image for yourself and your company? A consultation with a marketing professional may be in order to ensure that you have the basics of your brand solidified. Here are two good questions to ask yourself:
“Why are you DIFFERENT from anyone else that does what you do?” and “Why should prospects want to work with you?”
If the answers to these questions sound just like everyone else’s answers, you should go back to the drawing board and try again until you can come up with better answers.
From a strategic point of view, you’ll want to consider your core target market and what they expect from an agent or financial advisor. Who is your typical client? Do you want others to perceive you as friendly and knowledgeable, or would you prefer your brand emanate a more formal tone to clients? There are reasons for both.
Developing Your Persona
If your target audience doesn’t connect with your message, the creativity and appeal of your brand won’t be enough to sustain you. Setting yourself apart from the competition requires you to truly understand what your clients want or need from you and then to deliver an “experience” that supports your desired prospect perceptions. To do this well, you’ll want to reinforce the difference your brand offers through every facet of your business.
Time for some additional thought-provoking questions: “What is the experience that your brand delivers to your clients and prospects?” “Is this the kind of client experience that creates referrals?”
From your e-mail signature to your business attire to the way your staff answers the phone, your brand should permeate everything. If you have employees who work for you, their attitudes and client interactions further depict your brand. Be sure that your brand focus and principles are clearly communicated to those working for you and that they are thoroughly integrated into every aspect of your business. This allows your clients to experience your brand as you intend. Have you ever walked into a business and interacted with a really cold receptionist who led you to feel zero connection? We can’t afford that in our business. How about the opposite? Have you ever walked into a business where you were greeted warmly and you felt like you mattered? This type of experience becomes part of your brand, too.
Brand building won’t happen overnight, but once your brand becomes distinctive, continue to work and tweak it as you grow and evolve. Defend it at all costs. Your brand is like the fingerprint of your business – one-of-a-kind and something that will stay with you as long as you’re around. Build a strong, reputable brand and it will serve you for years to come.
FOR PRODUCER USE ONLY. NOT FOR USE WITH THE GENERAL PUBLIC. 13301 – 2014/3/27