Building a strong brand is tricky, particularly in B2B marketing. But get it right and the rewards are clear, writes copywriter Damien Seaman. Here’s one very powerful way you can do it.
As the UK Design Council says, “If a brand results from a set of associations and perceptions in people’s minds, then branding is an attempt to harness, generate, influence and control these associations to help the business perform better.”
The trick is to move beyond the overly-simplistic and often futile search for the Unique Selling Proposition and look instead at what resonates with the people who pay your salary.
I’m talking, of course, about your customers.
To stand out as a brand, you need to stand for something – something your customers care about. We’ll explore how you can do that in a moment. First, here’s one company that did this brilliantly.
Back in the early 1960s, car rental firm Avis was the David to Hertz’s Goliath. With just a fraction of its bigger rival’s market share, Avis turned to advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach for help.
Agency copywriter Paula Green didn’t try to fake uniqueness. Instead, she made a virtue of the reality, coming up with a slogan you probably recognise:
“We try harder”
The company treated it as a manifesto and overhauled its customer service standards to match. Within four years, market share rocketed from 11% to 34%. The slogan is still being used today.
This is the first secret to making sure you stand for something. It’s more than just throwing words at a wall to see what sticks. “We try harder” is specific and makes a promise to the customer – try us out and you’ll get better service.
It’s something a company can believe in and put into action. It’s also one, simple, big idea, easily grasped.
So, how do you achieve this?
Step 1: Work out what you’d like to stand for
Try this exercise.
Gather your key stakeholders together. Show them some famous brands. Ask for their impressions of each, and then ask how they think you compare to them.
This is something I went through recently with a client. Not only did we discuss other brands in their industry, but also the likes of Starbucks, Apple, Microsoft and others.
This is a great way to work out where you’d like to position yourself in the market.
But this is just the first step.
If this is all you do, you end up with the Echo Chamber effect. You’ll only get back what you put in. And usually that’s not enough.
Thankfully, there’s one very powerful – even obvious – way out of this conundrum: to work out where you really do stand in the market.
Step 2: Ask your customers what they think
Sounds so simple. But so easy to get wrong.
What do you do for your customers that they really value? Why did they choose you? What do they think of your service? Your prices? The answers to these questions should give you the raw material you need to present your brand more powerfully.
You might be tempted to use a survey. But tread carefully, because research – and experience – shows that surveys often don’t work.
The one big pitfall of customer surveys…
If you don’t ask the right questions, you can easily end up leading your respondents to give you the answers you want – another variation on the Echo Chamber.
The only sure fire way to avoid this is to hire a good research firm, tell them what you want to know, and leave them to get on with the details.
A cheaper, more practical alternative is to listen in on customer service calls or review call notes. Review the feedback you get in emails, letters and social media. Google your company, look on industry forums and read relevant blogs to see what people are saying about you online. Phone up some clients that like you – and some who’ve made complaints. This has a double benefit. Not only can you see what you’re doing right, you’ll also see where you need to improve.
And, with a little luck, that last point will give you a clue as to how you can stand out – I mean really stand out – from your competitors. Because if you’re falling down on something then maybe they are too. Improve in this area and you’ll have yourself a genuine point of differentiation.
Step 3: Put it all together on paper
Having worked out where you’d like to be and where you actually are, draft a positioning statement.
You do this by listing out all the benefits you offer. Start with what your customers say, then throw in what the stakeholders have said and see how it matches up.
Step 4: Work out where you can really add value
The result of all this is that you have a list of both existing benefits and ones you aspire to.
Now you need to take a good, hard look at whether you can achieve your aspirational benefits. How long will it take to get there? How much will it cost? Can you get the budget?
If so, then you can use this as the basis of what you stand for. Because if you’ve done your information gathering right, your aspirational benefits will both match what your customers want and need and also be things your competitors don’t do yet. Like Avis – not only did they improve their service, by doing so they offered better service than their rivals, and customers responded by switching to them.
Step 5: Find the big idea
At this point, you’ll be able to put what your brand stands for into words. Don’t try to be all things to all men, because that just leads to weak branding. Instead, look for the big idea that underpins everything in your positioning statement and try to bring it out. Boil it down to its simplest form. That way it won’t just resonate with your audience. It will resonate with your employees too.
Step 6: Don’t just say it – live it
A big idea is a powerful thing. But it can’t just stay an idea on paper. Get the whole company’s buy in to turn this idea into reality. Customer service staff, sales reps, managers, marketing – everyone needs to get behind it.
If they don’t then all the fancy marketing in the world won’t cover up the fact that you don’t really stand for what you say you do.
The benefits of standing for something
So, in summary:
- Work out what you’d like to stand for
- Ask your customers what they think
- Put it down on paper
- Work out where you already add value – and where you could add more
- Find the big idea the underpins what you offer
- Turn the idea into reality
The fact is, you can’t really control how people perceive your brand or your company. But if you can work out a set of values or a big idea that everyone in your organisation can get behind – and that resonates with your customers – then at least you can be consistent and customer-focused.
And that alone will set you apart from most of your competitors.