Figuring Out Your Brand

Recently, I presented a branding workshop for an SBA-affiliated business development organization that primarily assists women entrepreneurs to launch and build companies (of any size) that are groomed to succeed.  Identifying and communicating a company’s brand, that is reputation, is of critical importance because that is how customers current and potential connect with the company and its products and services.

But really, how do company founders figure out the brand? How much is determined by the company founder and how much by the customers? Consider the case of Timberland.

Timberland is the originator of those ubiquitous mustard pyellow boots that have been worn by men in the construction industry since about 1970.  But 20 years later, New York City hip-hop style icons became obsessed with the boots.

Well known rap music stars regularly appeared on stage and in videos  wearing a pair of humble, utilitarian Timberlands. The boots are the antithesis of chic and so they became chic.  A hip-hop performer named himself “Timbaland” and became one of the biggest names of the art form. Timberland boots now symbolized authentic urban cool.  Its brand identity changed forever.  The company recently launched a “Brooklyn Collection.”

I am writing this post just a week after the branding workshop that I presented and I regret that I didn’t have access to the information I share with you today.  Stephen Greyser, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and Matts Urde, Associate Professor at Lund University School of Economics and Management in Sweden, created what they named a Corporate Brand Identity Matrix, shown here, to help us identify and communicate our brand:

VALUE PROPOSITION
What are our key offerings, and how do we want them to appeal to customers and other stakeholders?
RELATIONSHIPS
What should be the nature of our relationships with key customers and other stakeholders?
POSITION
What is our intended position in the market and in the hearts and minds of key customers and other stakeholders?
EXPRESSION
What is distinctive about the way we communicate and express ourselves and makes it possible to recognize us at a distance?
BRAND CORE
What do we promise, and what are the core values that sum up what our brand stands for?
PERSONALITY
What combination of human characteristics or qualities forms our corporate character?
MISSION AND VISION
What engages us (mission)? What is our direction and inspiration (vision)?
CULTURE
What are our attitudes, and how do we work and behave?
COMPETENCES
What are we particularly good at, and what makes us better than the competition?

In addition, Greyser and Urde recommend five (5) guidelines as you conduct your brand identity process:

  1. Be concise

Use short phrases in your answers that can become headings, where you will later write more detailed descriptions that flesh out your brand identity and narrative.

2.  Be straightforward

Keep your answers clear and uncomplicated. Avoid jargon and industry-speak. Adopt a down-to-earth style that tells the story in just a few simple, well-chosen, words.

3.  Seek what is representative or characteristic

Use language or concepts that say “this is us.” Describe the essence of you, your products/ services, your company.

4.  Stay authentic

Be honest in your ownership and expression of the aspects of your company, products and/or services that are already firmly rooted in the minds of your customers and community in which your company operates.  In other words, if the company has always been known for traditional values and a conservative approach, don’t try to appear cutting edge.

5.  Seek what is timeless

Brand identity should be long-lasting. Despite validation by the hip-hop crowd, Timberland boots are still humble, practical footwear that can be worn in any weather.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Hip-hop legend Biggie Smalls (1972 – 1997) circa 1995

Advertisements

Starting A Business? Consider Your Marketing Strategy Part II

The marketing plan integrates all activities that are required to reach the customer,  from defining the position,  image and promise of  value that form the brand identity, to the style of  product packaging, to where and how the product or service is sold.  It can be argued successfully that the marketing portion of your business plan is the most important.  Investors and lenders will surely take an in-depth look.  Let’s float some ideas on how to create some buzz for what you’re selling.

THE ADVERTISING AND PROMOTIONAL STRATEGY

The time tested way to get the word out to broad swaths of potential customers about the debut of your business and the advantages and benefits offered by your products and services is through advertising. The advertising methods that you choose will depend upon the customer, the business you will enter and your budget.  Think carefully about how you can reach customers in cost-effective ways.

Be prepared to do an advertising roll-out, step by step, to introduce your business to potential customers.  You’ll start with business cards and a brochure or contact sheet (for Freelancers). You may also have a website, or you may wait a few months until you can budget that project.  Depending on your business, you may do a leafleting campaign to announce your opening and place promotional fliers in selected locales.

You might do an open house. You might offer discount coupons. You might give away an inexpensive branded promotional item to your first 50 customers. You may take out a small ad in a local newspaper or in a business group newsletter, or place a banner ad on a website that is popular with your target customers. You could start a blog! Brand identity will guide your advertising and promotional activities.

If you have some money to work with, you may decide to hire a PR firm.  If you can find a PR person who 1). has contacts in your industry and 2). will actually produce the results they promise, then by all means sign on.  Getting articles written about you in print and online publications or even a coveted guest spot on local TV is a wonderful way to spread the word, establish credibility and expertise and bring in clients.

But be advised that PR people often oversell.  In all likelihood, if you sign up for the economy plan, they’ll do nothing for you except take your money.

So create your own PR.  Networking will be a big part of your promotional activities, so read the article in this blog and work on your Expert Elevator Pitch. You would be wise to join a few professional and business organizations like the chamber of commerce and at least one or two others. You need to get the word out about your business and start filling your sales pipeline with clients.

You need info on happenings in your industry and business environment. You need to meet colleagues and yes, competitors. This latter group can be very helpful. They can tell you pitfalls to avoid. They can tell you the backstory about suppliers and vendors.  They know your customers better than you do.  If they’re nice, don’t be too proud or too shy!

Social networking will also be an important part of your promotional strategy.  Depending on your business  MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Facebook will give you an online presence in addition to your website.  See the article Your Personal Brand Part II for tips on creating the right online presence.

Finally,  developing an advertising calendar will be very helpful.  It looks good in the plan and is a practical way to budget advertising dollars and ensure that you include all advertising options that both reach your target customers and make sense for you.  It will remind you to place seasonal ads when appropriate and meet advertising deadlines.

I’ll be back next week with Part III of Marketing, the final segment.

Kim

Your Personal Brand Part II

Here we are, back to continue talking about how to increase your perceived value in the marketplace by building a strong brand identity.

Maybe you created a SWOT matrix and listed attributes that make clients hire you and also weak areas that may give some clients pause? Perhaps you’ve taken stock of some major challenges that you face, but have also uncovered some opportunities to pursue?

I hope you’ve made a serious examination of services your clients actually need or think they need (not necessarily the same thing, as you know). You must be able to address their objectives in the story– the brand narrative–you’ll create to establish yourself as the go-to guy or gal who is an expert, a trusted adviser who can get the job done.

PACKAGE and PRESENT

You provide an excellent product (I know you do. That’s why you read this blog!). You owe it to yourself to showcase your talents by packaging your value proposition with care and flair.  Communicate your unique competencies in ways that decision makers will perceive as conferring benefits to them.  Express your professional credentials to differentiate yourself from the competition in ways that clients value.

In other words, don’t tout the fact that yours is the only store that offers bubblegum flavored ice cream if no one really wants it.  Of course, if customers suddenly decide they love the stuff, then you’re golden!

When you’ve crafted a brand narrative that works for you, because it appropriately grabs the attention of your target audiences, spread the good news in a variety of ways that are consistent with your brand.

Showcase your accomplishments and get yourself some speaking engagements, get on a panel or two, propose and lead workshops. You are a well respected expert in your field and you must help the right people get to know and trust you.

Familiarity will work to build trust in your abilities. Trust in your abilities will bring requests for your expert advice and referrals.  Referrals are yours to convert into loyal customers.

Take pains to develop a strong and consistent brand narrative and communicate this message to whomever can help you further your business interests.

ON LINE BRAND  STRATEGY

Type your name and your company name into a couple of search engines.  Are you there? What information is listed? Does it present an accurate impression of you?

Make sure that your brand identity on line is in synch with how you verbally package yourself.  If there is a disconnect, work to fix it.  Create a visible and flattering on line presence.

Create good profiles in the 2.0 media that support your brand identity and strategy.  Be careful posting aspects of your personal life if using the more social media. You wouldn’t want anything to be misinterpreted by clients and prospects.

SYSTEM UPDATES

Finally, remember that your personal brand, like your life, will continue to evolve and will never be static (at least not if you’re doing it right!). Branding is an ongoing endeavor.

As your professional achievements expand and become more sophisticated or specialized and as changing business environments impact your clients’ needs, your brand narrative will change with the times.  Freelancer, I know you’ve got what it takes to roll with the punches!

More later,
Kim

Kim presented the workshop “Your Personal Brand” at the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston on July 14, 2009  http://www.cweonline.org

Your Personal Brand Part I

Billable hours are tanking.  Once dependable revenue streams have slowed to a trickle. Clients are postponing, or even canceling, projects you were depending on.  Jobs that are scheduled to go forward are taking longer to get off the launching pad and cost containment is the phrase du jour.  You are worried.  How can you make clients realize that your contributions add real value to their organizations and should not be passed up?

Freelancing friend, I may be able to offer you some ammunition for this one.  Respectfully, I suggest that it may be time for you to take a good honest look at your position in the marketplace and assess the value that clients place on your services.  I submit to you that it may be time to analyze, clarify, strengthen and  re-launch your brand identity.

Breathe, Focus, List

I recommend that you begin this process by cataloguing your strengths: years of experience, sought-after skills, client list, resourcefulness, positive attitude, work ethic, decision making ability, strategic thinking.  List the reasons that clients hire you.

Catalog also a few key weaknesses.  Remember that you are selling yourself and will benefit from being able to anticipate objections so you can formulate and practice responses to neutralize them.

So if you’re often late for meetings, slow to respond to emails, lack the advanced degree that many of your peers have obtained or freeze up when called to speak in public, it’s best if you acknowledge all that, if only to yourself (knowledge is power, lovey!).

In fact, you may even want to make a plan to remedy a few negatives.  Maybe you can take a course or attend a seminar and deepen a particular skill set? Or perhaps you can  join Toastmasters and learn to become a more confident and effective public speaker? What negatives do clients consider to be the deal breakers? If at all possible, that’s what you work on.

You might find that placing your lists in a SWOT matrix will help you to better analyze your situation.  Remember that Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors and are therefore  yours to impact.  Opportunities (e.g. lucrative projects you might obtain) and Threats (e.g. the weak economy) are external factors and less within our control.  Nevertheless, examining all factors allows us to better position ourselves for successful outcomes.

Oh yes, you’ll also need to be very clear about who your best clients are, or could be, and why that is so.  It will not be possible to effectively develop a brand identity and a good brand strategy without an accurate understanding of your target markets (i.e. clients and prospects).

Your Story, the Brand Narrative

Yes, this is all very similar to corporate branding. You are both brand manager and branded product. Your personal brand is your corporate identity.  It is a very potent marketing tool and you are advised to consider it carefully and construct it wisely.

Your brand identity will be reflected in all aspects of how you do business and in major business decisions: where and how you choose to advertise; speaking engagements sought and accepted; professional associations joined; clients to pursue. Your professional choices must be consistent with your brand identity and strategy, so be smart about where you’re seen, how you may be perceived and the company you keep.

Your objective here is to enhance your perceived value in the marketplace. You must effectively communicate what you bring to the table– your professional chops, your value proposition–in a clear and concise fashion.  Highlight the attributes and benefits that clients, prospects and referral sources value most and use language and terminology that is meaningful to them.

Get busy!

I’ll pause here and let you go to work on your self assessment and client analysis.  Make your lists, maybe enter them into the SWOT matrix and make a first draft of your brand narrative.  We’ll pick up the thread on this subject next week.

More later,

Kim