Most companies believe that a solid product with good service, delivered on time, is enough to create a competitive edge in most markets. Yet, research indicates that most buyers do not believe there's much difference among competitors' products. Predictably in that situation, most buyers defer to price.
But, there is hope. In order to differentiate yourself, you must focus on the concept of brand identity - that which sets you apart. The goal of brand identity is to have your end user believe that your product or service is different from, or more valuable than, the other products in your market sector. And your customers will have to be willing to pay more for it.
Look at the products and services your company provides, and then ask yourself - what do your customers receive? "On time delivery," "customer service," "quality," Give me a break! How many companies do you know that would sell against you and say they didn't have quality products, on time delivery, great customer service, and superior sales people? Get real. Everybody's saying the same thing. So what is your advantage?
Brand identity is the business that your customers and prospects think you are in, not the business that you think you are in. There are three ways customers and prospects can brand you. They can brand you by virtue of the product that you sell, which is the simplest form of brand identity. They can brand you by virtue of your process, the extras that you wrap around your product - or they can brand you by virtue of the outcomes - what your product or service does for the customer. This is the most sophisticated form of brand identity.
Look around you at great companies that have followed the outcomes lead:
- Xerox went from the copier company to the document company.
- Kinko's went from your copy center to your branch office.
- Harley-Davidson was told it was extinct many years ago. It fought itself back to prominence by shifting from selling motorcycles to selling a lifestyle. It's an experience, a sense of belonging, and like owning a nostalgic slice of Americana.
If these fine companies can do it, you can do it.
These four questions will help you evaluate your brand identity:
- 1 - Do your customers understand your product and service well enough to be able to describe what you do clearly to others?
- 2 - Do your customers know what makes your company special and can they articulate that within their own company?
- 3 - Do your customers value your brand so much that they are willing to pay more for whatever it is that makes it so special?
- 4 - Do your customers feel so strongly about your brand that they will defend it - even at a higher price - when it comes under attack?
If you answered No" to any of these questions, then we need to go to work on your brand identity right now.
What Business Are You In
There are two ways that your customers learn what business you're in: design and behavior. Design is the business you tell them you're in. Behavior is the business you show them you're in.
Answering three very simple questions enables you to announce your brand:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Whom do you do it for?
How do you answer those questions today? When you describe your business, do you sound just like your competition? Consequently, are your products and services - your brand - perceived as generic and undifferentiated?
The Brand Trilogy
The Brand Trilogy involves three steps:
- 1 - Creating the Brand - deciding the function of the business and how to describe it to your prospects and customers.
- 2 - Selling the Brand - how you have to alter the nature of your sale to sell this enhanced offering to the customer.
- 3 - Living the Brand. - the procedures you need to create within your company to ensure that you fulfill this brand promise to the end user.
Creating the brand must be approached from the outcomes perspective. Remember the three questions: Who are you, what do you do, and whom do you do it for? Creating the brand is the most important step in the branding process.
Selling the brand involves altering the sales process to communicate effectively your brand's value proposition to the client. Not only must your sales process communicate this, but also your sales force must be able to articulate these outcomes in the context of the prospect's company in terms they can understand.
Living the brand begins after the sale is made. You have made a promise. What internal dynamics must you now mobilize to fulfill this enhanced and expanded business promise?
Be honest about your positioning in the marketplace. Look at the brand trilogy - creating, selling, and living the brand - and see how it applies to your business. Have the courage to ask the four questions about how your clients currently embrace your product or service line. Be willing to take a design look as well as a behavior look at your company. If you do these things and are ever vigilant and diligent to the marketplace, you will lay a blueprint for phenomenal and continued success.
Remember the quote from the great hockey player, Wayne Gretsky, when he was asked how he managed to be the greatest hockey player of all time. He said, "You know, I'm a little surprised you haven't picked it out on your own. But since you haven't, I'll be happy to tell you. I always go where the puck is going to be."
That is my wish for you today. That you take your business not where it is, but where it can be, where it should be, and where the customer really wants it to be.
W.R. Max Carey Founder, Chairman, and CEO Corporate Resource Development, Inc.