When you hear the word “brand,” what do you think of? Most people think of logos, colors, fonts… the graphical representation of a brand. But that’s not it at all.
Your brand is determined by your buyers and prospective buyers. Your brand if what they think of when they see or hear your company’s name. You don’t get to determine what your brand is. Your brand is what the marketplace says it is. Period.
Case in point… did you see the recent story about Coca-Cola (read it here)? As part of their in-house diversity training, their employees are being asked to participate in a workshop where they could learn to “be less white.” Clearly, that’s an internal HR issue, not a marketing or sales issue – which are the kinds of things we usually associate with branding. And whether you like the idea of that training – or not – it is impacting the perception of Coke by people in the marketplace. That is, it is impacting their brand.
Note: if you read social media comments about Coke’s program, some people love it and some have said they’ll never by Coke products again.
And that’s the point… everything you do can impact your brand. And while you can’t tell buyers what to think, you can be very purposeful in how you try to influence that thinking. Consider the following:
- Think about your client-facing personnel (PMs, Account Managers, Sales Reps, etc.). How are they representing your firm? Are they professional, smart, friendly and proactive? How do you know? Nothing will impact buyers & prospective buyers more than the employees they meet from your firm.
- Every firm is easy to work with when things are going well… what’s your firm like to work with when things don’t go so well?
- What’s your website look like? Is it sharply designed, well-written, easy-to-navigate and full of resources… or is it a remnant of the 90s? An old, tired website gives a perception of your firm that is not flattering.
- What’s your social media presence look like? What’s the mix of business and personal comments? Are you a thought leader? Are you a contrarian? Do you have a lot of followers and connections?
- Your messaging needs to be consistent with your brand. For example, if you want to be known as an expert in a certain research methodology, but your blog posts don’t reflect that expertise or your online ads are about your low price… those mixed messages will negatively impact your brand.
- What about your ‘physical’ materials… sales collateral, proposals, project reports, etc.? Like your website, the more professional they are, the more they help to bolster your brand.
- Do your employees ‘live the brand?’ For example, if you’re trying to build your brand around a high level of customer service – but it takes your project manager two days to respond to a client email – then they are not living the brand… they’re killin’ it!
- Does your firm support a cause or nonprofit organization? Doing that – or not – has an impact. And what cause or organization is it?
- Who’s the face of your firm… and what’s his/her brand in the marketplace? Usually, we’re talking about the Founder or President/CEO. Are they well-known or do they fly under the radar? Do they attend and engage in industry events? Are they invited to speak? Their reputation impacts your firm’s reputation?
- What sorts of policies does your firm operate under? For example, the types of Agreements you use, your payment/late payment terms, hours of operation, operational ‘rules,’ etc.
- How easy is it for someone to get in touch with you… by phone, email or online? And when someone gets through, how responsive are you? And if it’s by phone, do they talk to a machine or a human?
- What do your offices look like when a potential buyer comes to visit? Are they nice or a little shabby? Are you in a nice building or a crummy one? Good part of town or bad?
Working on your brand is challenging for two reasons:
- Everything impacts brand, so there is simply a lot to think about and plan for.
- It forces you look at your business through the eyes of your clients (or former clients, in some cases). And that’s a difficult thing to do.
Most business owners will say they know how their business is perceived in the marketplace. That they understand their clients. And they do… a little. But not completely.
To really understand your firm’s brand, you need to talk with your clients – and maybe more importantly – your former clients. You need to learn from them what you do right, what you do wrong, what makes you unique, why they hired you, why they keep coming back (or not), what sort of things you could do better and so on and so on.
The old adage that was true 50 years ago is just as relevant today, “The buyer’s perception is the seller’s reality.” Go find your reality. Go find your true brand.