By Graham Garrison
Using your brand to make an impactful first impression with potential customers
Too often, the cart comes before the horse. When creating a brand, a company spends all of its creative energy on a visual, rather than what will make it viable to a customer.
"People are tempted to start with something like a sexy tagline," says Lisa Earle McLeod, a sales leadership expert who works with organizations such as Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer to help create passionate, purpose driven sales forces. "We need to think a little more earnestly, and factually, about how we really make a difference in the lives of our customers."
Here are branding experts' takes on creating and delivering a brand that will make a lasting impression on customers and potential clients.
'Noble Sales Purpose'
In order to effectively communicate one's brand, McLeod encourages customers to develop a "Noble Sales Purpose". "It is a declarative statement in how you make a difference to your customers," she says. "That is the linchpin of your brand, as well as all of your sales activity.
People think they must have this sexy brand with a great tagline, but that doesn't mean anything. Customers are going to be a lot more interested if you have something simple that says, 'We help our customers become more effective and successful, here is how we do it.' Especially in a B2B sale, you're not buying an 'aspirational' quality, you're buying results."
There are three steps to help customers identify their Noble Sales Purpose. The first step is to identify how you make a difference to your customers, McLeod says. Do you help them be more efficient? Do you help them be faster? Do you help them reduce costs? Do you help them bring service to their customers?
The second piece involves identifying how you are different from your competitors. "How you're different from your competition might be that your products last longer or you give better service," McLeod says. "It might be that you care more and you're more fun to work with."
The final piece is a more personal question. "On your best day, what do you love about your job?" McLeod says.
"Those three things speak very factually and emotionally to your brand," she adds. "You identify how you impact your customers, it speaks to differentiators and it also has this inspirational quality to it. We use those three areas with clients and brainstorm around those, and that helps us establish their Noble Sales Purpose."
The Noble Sales Purpose will look different for each industry and each company. For example, one of McLeod's clients is a manufacturer of component parts for railroads, and their Noble Sales Purpose is, "We make transportation safer, faster and more reliable." "It's not the sexiest thing in the world, but if you think about their industry, it's huge," McLeod says. "If you want your transportation safer, faster and more reliable, well, you better buy your stuff from them."
Another one of her clients does project management software, with the Noble Sales Purpose: "We help people build a better world."
Finding the audience, setting the hook?
Jenna Lebel, VP of global marketing for Likeable Media, believes that researching who you're delivering the message to, is just as important as the message itself. Likeable Media leverages social media and word of mouth marketing to create more transparent, responsive and likeable companies, organizations and governments. It has consulted and helped develop plans for brands such as 1800-Flowers.com, Verizon FiOS, Neutrogena and Stride Rite.
"Know your audience," Lebel says. "If you want to grab someone's attention, you really need to know the audience you're trying to attract and really understand them, not just a profile of them, but insight into their behaviour and psychographics not just demographics."
Lebel recommends companies figure out their core message, and then how best to adapt that to certain audiences. Coca-Cola is a great example, she says. The Coca-Cola brand has a long history across many demographics, but the core remains intact. "They've never really gone too far from that core message they've always had. Once you have the core, you can just adapt it to different audiences, but the core values are still prominent in that message."
Brand messaging needs to disrupt schemas. Schemas are mental models that we use to make the world work, assumptions we make based on the "norm". (There is a great article written by marketing guru Steve Knox on schema disruption in word of mouth marketing, if you want to read more on this topic.)
"Basically, we all have a prewired way of thinking about things," Lebel says. "We can predict certain outcomes. An effective brand can come in and completely disrupt that with something outside of what we would normally think to grab attention. Anything that will connect with people on an emotional level, or motivate them, can be powerful in grabbing someone's attention. There always needs to be that hook. Whether it's an emotional hook, or motivational hook, it needs to be the right message to reach that audience."
With the rise of the digital and social media world, mistakes are discussed more than brands would like them to be, Lebel says. Mistakes are inevitable. Luggage is lost. Cars break down. Restaurants don't deliver service on par with customer expectations. And print solution providers will find product quality or service slips through the cracks on a project.
"If that brand can just be human – if it's a mistake, own up to it," Lebel says. "If it's coming into the spotlight for business reasons (i.e., Chapter 11), disclose. Keep everybody informed. People always think of a brand as so far from an actual human being, but if you can illicit some of those human characteristics and values into a brand, you'll connect more deeply with consumers."
"People think they're having a brand problem, when in fact they're having a customer problem, and the customer problem is causing you the brand problem," McLeod says. "You don't fix the brand problem until you fix the customer problem. In a lot of situations, when a company does have a problem with a customer, it is a huge opportunity for the brand. The way you respond to that will distinguish you. Every airline loses luggage, everybody misses a ship date, but it's your response, and the way you articulate that response."
With branding, whether it's the creation stage, implementation or damage control, customers – not gimmicks – come first. "The companies that do it well have two things going for them," McLeod says. "They really do focus on how to make a difference with their customers. They are very clear on how they affect people's lives. The second piece is they're creative in how they communicate that. One of the mistakes we make is that we assume their success lies in the hocus pocus art form. When really, that's step two."