If Your Company Could Speak, What Would It Say?

Today, we have a guest post from Jeff Guritza on the importance of brand identity.

The market wants to know: who are you and what does your business stand for? Said differently, what is your brand promise, and how is your business perceived in the marketplace?

Go ahead and think for a minute about your organization. Take a moment and really ask yourself:

  • “Who the heck are we?!”
  • “How different is our company than the competition?”
  • “What makes working with us unique and compelling?”

All strong brands take a well-defined position, one cemented in a foundation of consistency and sincerity. It is from this position that market alliances are formed, customer relationships are fortified and market share is defended or expanded.

Does your company speak to the market in a clear, consistent manner?

This isn’t just about messaging. This isn’t about a value proposition or pithy mission statement. This is about being real. Proper branding is about having a long-standing, consistent, predictable and definable presence in the market.

“This Is How We Do Things Here”

I believe branding matters today more than ever. Your brand identity will exist whether you’re actively participating in its development or not. You’ve got to clearly define what you stand for, or you will end up standing for nothing at all.

No brand, yours included, will ever hold universal appeal, but that’s the beauty of it. As a successful business selling similar solutions as your competitors, it’s valuable to be able to say to a customer, “If you want to do business this way, then do business with us.” It’s up to you and your brand to define what this way means.

A strong brand opens doors to new customers while protecting the customers you already have. There’s an opportunity for brand building each and every time you engage a customer or potential customer.

It’s human nature to find comfort in the known. If both your brand and your behavior are consistent and predictable, you’re on to something. If you hire or fire with no process, randomly price products in a vacuum or acquire new lines or businesses without a clearly defined assimilation strategy, it’s a recipe for brand insignificance. The devil’s in the details of a finely crafted plan.

The Power Online

Today, customers can be more fickle as they have more options, more opinions and more channels from which to arrive at their buying decision. Years ago, you took someone’s word as to who was the best source for the products needed. Today, everything can be validated or refuted via an immediate, online search.

Buying a new car? Jump online and you’ll instantly compare makes, models, trim levels, dealerships, reliability reports, reviews, recall notices and prices. After an hour’s effort, you’ll become a quasi-expert on virtually every aspect of the planned purchase: what you need, where to buy and what to pay.

When was the last time you talked to an Amazon representative or outside sales person? How about never? Amazon’s face-to-the-customer is devoid of humanity: no names, emails, etc. When you think about it, their “brand” is basically a logo, web address and your online account.

The information superhighway has forced leaders to reassess how they go to market (externally) and how they run their business (internally.) The transparency today leaves little place to hide; employees and customers alike have phones with broadband connections to instantly share their opinions with the planet. Your best defense? A strong brand that’s clearly defined and omnipresent.

Brand Building Isn’t For Sissies

Brand building isn’t like building a house. When building a house, you can delegate some of the work. And as needed, you can make quick executive decisions that cut costs or save time.

Brand building is more like training for a marathon. With true brand building, there are no shortcuts or steps to skip. Either you commit to it fully, or you don’t. Everything matters.

Like marathon running, brand building requires relentless and sustainable dedication, focus, vision and patience. Skipping a few runs and eating poorly has a negative impact on your training. Similarly, neglecting your brand via undisciplined communications, mediocre account management, and misaligned strategies produces poor results.

Here’s a five-step exercise to help get you more refined in your branding discipline:

1. Assess your brand situation/status. Take time to understand the current state of your brand. Are you as committed to your organization’s brand as you can be? Remember: you must always behave/operate in accordance with your brand’s promise. If you’re known for speedy service, you can’t slow-pay vendors.

2. Latch on to a story, and tell it. Every company has a history and a story. This story is the foundation of your brand. Be sure you have that story established, mastered, and shared by every customer-facing associate. Be direct and avoid ambiguity.

3. Think broadly. A brand’s impact and influence is far-reaching. Do not limit your thinking to any existing, narrow-cast set of parameters. Expand your vision beyond the present and explore unchartered markets, pricing models, corporate structures, and product groups.

4. Think digitally. In this era of online everything, at a bare minimum you can’t forget the digital user interface (UI) and the overall digital user experience (UX.) Know that e-mail footers, web sites, invoice templates, etc. are all branding opportunities. Social media has us all interconnected; your brand must tap into this.

5. Be consistently present in the marketplace. Attend industry events. Walk around at trade shows. Hire new associates with fresh ideas.  Blog about your vision for your business or industry. Sponsor community events.  Bottom line: make sure you become a master of brand continuity in the minds of your customers.

Branding Is The W-H-Y

Which leads me to my point: why do customers do business with you? Why do folks choose you over your competition? Why do people pay the prices you charge?

It’s because of your brand. It’s having your people, your processes and your products all strategically wrapped into a compelling, original and authentic package. Proper branding gives an organization its soul. Without a soul, companies tend to behave in awkward and uninspired ways. And this ultimately leads to irrelevance.

Branding requires relentless customer centricity, unwavering internal controls, leadership accountability, laser-focus on corporate metrics and a steady, positive attitude. Your brand is why you matter to your customers. Therefore your brand matters.

Don’t become irrelevant.

Now with The M. K. Morse Company, Jeff Guritza has successfully led sales, marketing and product management initiatives within global organizations and markets for more than 20 years. His work involves creative branding strategies tied to product launches, channel development, structured training programs, corporate acquisitions, and executive long-range planning.

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Does Blogging Fit Into Your Overall Marketing Strategy?

Not all companies should be blogging. How do you determine if you’re one of them? Most manufacturers, unless they are making commodity items, should fit into the “do” column. If you sell through a distribution channel, there should be another check, and if you ultimately want to reach your targeted end user, put a bunch of checks!!!

Blogs are becoming more popular all the time, and according to eMarketer, blogs have increased from 16-39 percent in companies blogging for marketing purposes.

US Companies Using Blogs for Marketing Purposes, 2007-2012 (% of total)

Our blog is the hub of all activity for us generating several times the number of page views than our web site. By utilizing other social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to drive more eyes to our blog by posting links on these sites, it insures that people keep coming back to the blog.

Why should you blog?

  • Position yourself as an expert in your field
  • Build your brand
  • Use SEO to build readership

Why is a stategy is important. The main reason is you don’t want the ready-fire-aim approach to be your guidepost. Consider these points:

  • Develop a policy and guidelines – This is new to everyone so someone has to set the ground rules.
  • Identify topic categories and resources – Don’t think you have to be responsible for creating all the posts. Get sales customer service, engineering and of course marketing into the mix.
  • Define frequency – You can start a blog and then do one post a month. That’s like trying to date and only calling the girl once a month. In order to build relationships, it takes time to get to know, like and trust people. I suggest at least once a week for a post; more if time permits.
  • Define the audience – This is key so you can write to the interests and issues (content).
  • Choosing the right voice – Remember, social is like having a conversation. Save the features and benefits for the sell sheets.

The key when considering blogging is that IT IS A COMMITMENT. But the upside is you can position your brand very favorably and generate lots of traffic, some of which will turn into relationships and maybe even business.

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Customer Service: Does Yours Deliver Happiness?

Customer service in most companies can make or break you. How you are treated can define whether you will continue to do business with that company. You can spend millions on brand building and still fall short if customer service is the weak link in the chain.

I was at a trade association meeting listening to one of the speakers talking on this subject, and he kept referring to this company called Zappos in Las Vegas and what kind of brand they built around customer service. I had never heard of them (a billion dollar company that was recently purchased by Amazon), but my wife had. She sang the praises of this online company that sold shoes. Not their own branded ones, but everybody elses.

I wondered how they could make money selling “me too”-type things, but soon found out that it’s the way they sell them that makes the difference. They offered free shipping both ways so if you didn’t like them or they didn’t fit, it wouldn’t cost you anything. My wife has a narrow foot and has a hard time finding shoes. Zappos carries a better selection on not only the standard, but the hard-to-find narrow and wide sizes.

So what I did was get Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, that told his story of the Zappos adventure over the last 10 years. It was a good read of the ups and downs of trying to grow a company. What do selling shoes have to do with selling stuff to the professional tradesmen? I’d say plenty if you follow  Zappos ‘ 10 core values. Here they are:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

Many companies have core values but fail to follow them. Maybe it’s time for all of us to relook at our core values and see if we’re actually working towards them. Next time you’re in Vegas, give them a call and take the tour. They’ll come and pick you up at your hotel. My youngest son who is a business coach took the tour the last time he was out there and said it was worth seeing the culture at a billion-dollar company. All you have to do is call and set up an appointment.

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2010 Highlights of the State of Social Media for Business

Social media is beginning to make an impact on businesses, and a friend of mine, Michael Gass, shared with me a recent study by SmartBrief that recently surveyed 6,000 of their readers on how they use social media in a business environment.

To effectively use social media for business development,  it is important to know who is using social media, how they are using it, what social media channels are being used, what goals are being pursued and tactics deployed that are providing measurable results. The State of Social Media for Business 2010 report, released at the beginning of 2011, provides information on the biggest trends and challenges.  

Here are eight select themes and data points from the survey (purchase the full brief for more in-depth details):

  1. Most companies surveyed have adopted social media in the past 18 months. About half of the companies in the sample have been using social media for only the past year, with nearly 20% starting in the past 13 to 18 months.
  2. Companies are focusing their energies on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs. The concentration on “the big 5” hints at companies being able to find their customers on these sites. With lower awareness and/or usage of other sites, including platforms such as Flickr with large numbers of users, companies might be missing out on more niche groups.
  3. It takes time for companies to incorporate social media effectively. More than 25% of companies with two-plus years of social media activity state that those tools and platforms have been fully integrated into their companies’ business models. In addition, more than 50% have a well-developed or fully developed social- media strategy, which is further evidenced by the use of multiple platforms.
  4. Brand building is currently the primary purpose for business social-media usage. Despite the primary goals of increasing brand awareness and building communities for customers and fans, the majority of companies surveyed use social media to broadcast information instead of creating two-way conversations.
  5. Communications, advertising and marketing agencies are the leading adopters of social media. Communications and PR agencies recognized the potential behind social media earlier than most industries. Likewise, advertising and marketing firms have realized the potential of identifying and reaching target audiences relatively early as compared with other industries. Despite their early presence in social media, communications and PR firms are not the chosen source of advice or consultation on social media for companies.
  6. Lack of management support and confidentiality concerns are atop the list of obstacles to social-media adoption. One-third of the respondents note they are not decision makers. Combined with the 14.7% citing management resistance, this indicates an overall lack of management support. In addition, 33.1% cite confidentiality issues as a primary obstacle. Taken together with the prohibition of social-network use at work, the data show that many companies are concerned about how their staff would use these sites.
  7. Less than 15% of the businesses using social media are measuring return-on-investment. Connecting social media efforts to bottom-line results is a skill that escapes most businesses that are using social media. Over 33% of the businesses in the sample are not measuring return on investment at all. Among those innovators who are measuring social media, most focus on usage and incoming traffic but not traditional business metrics.
  8. While 60% of respondents say their companies are using social media, there is low confidence in their social-media strategies. Companies are critical of their social-media strategies, with only 14.2% describing their strategies as “very effective” and only 7.3% describing them as “very revenue generating” on average.

These are a few of the report highlights of where businesses are in their social-media usage, confidence and measurement. The full State of Social Media for Business 2010 is available for sale from SmartBrief: http://www.smartbrief.com/research/ and  includes:

  • 145 pages
  • 213 charts and graphs
  • 6 data cuts
  • Key indicators of social-media integration
  • Comparative data based on company size and industry focus
  • Benchmarks to assess where your company is on the social-media adoption curve
  • An introduction by social-media expert and SmartBrief on Social Media Advisory Board member, Olivier Blanchard



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