While the debate continues regarding the impact of the iPad, Apple does many things right.
Today when I was purchasing a new case for my iPhone, the sales person noticed my company name on my credit card. She asked me about the business and if I was interested in joining their business loyalty program where I could earn benefits, discounts, etc.
This simple act made me appreciate that she was focused on my needs as a customer, and not just focused on the sale.
We do this all the time in our personal lives. You may notice a tree growing too close to a neighbor’s house and offer to recommend an arborist. Your friend’s car may leak antifreeze on your driveway and so you recommend a mechanic. The benefit to you? Helping a friend. Keeping a strong relationship.
When I meet with clients, I listen to what they need and often recommend services or companies that can help, regardless of whether it benefits my bottom line. I recommend a business coach if I see organizational challenges; CFO consultants if their revenue model is flawed; or an M&A consultant if my client needs a better understanding of what their end-game needs to be.
The same thing should be done with your brand.
What are you doing to take the extra step to help your customers out? Are you a resource that your customers trust because you are looking out for them? How can you train your employees to recognize the opportunity to become that trusted resource?
When the hard drive on my Powerbook was dying, I took it to the Genius Bar at Apple for support. To my surprise, they recommended I take it to someone else who could put in a faster drive and increase my memory at a lower cost. They even gave me a card for the place.
I bet you can guess what my next computer will be.
Two years ago, who would have thought Coke and Energizer could ever be cast aside by retailers?
Well – it’s happening.
Costco recently announced it was no longer selling Coca-Cola products as a result of a price battle. CVS is dropping most Energizer products and will only carry Duracell and its private label. Following this trend, Wal-Mart continues to move towards its product mix goal of one top brand, one value brand and its private label.
Costco is betting people will continue to come to Costco and buy alternatives to Coke. CVS has used its customer shopping data to predict a minimal sales drop if they no longer sell Energizer.
What should all businesses take away from this?
Few brands are indispensable to the customer. In fact, you know your customers could find a pretty good alternative if you were no longer in business.
So what can you do to become as close to indispensable as possible?
Know your customers
- Why do they choose to buy your product/service?
- What do you offer them that they can’t get anywhere else?
- Why do they buy from your competitors if you aren’t available?
- What do your competitors offer that you don’t?
- How are they using your product or service?
- How do they use your competitor’s product or service?
(These questions can be easily answered through one-on-one interviews and quantified through online research.)
Know your competition
- What are they offering that you don’t?
- What makes them unique in the market?
- Do they partner with other companies?
Upon learning about your customers, develop service offerings that they can only get from your company. Some ideas could be:
- Special hours
- Rewards programs
- Loyal customer specials
- Packaged service offering
- Something extra every time they do business with you (for example, a local Chinese restaurant gives you an extra appetizer as their way of saying thank you)
Why no mention of lowering prices on these lists? Making your brand indispensable is not about price; it is about creating value that your audience can not receive anywhere else.
How are you creating value to make your brand indispensable?
Post your comments so others can learn from what you are doing.
Employees are always representing your brand as long as they have on your uniform or are at your place of work. They play the most important role in creating a brand experience that is consistent with how you want your brand to be perceived.
One company that works hard to manage its brand is Starbucks. One key element of the Starbucks brand is creating an environment in which its patrons can enjoy coffee.
Imagine my surprise when two Starbucks employees took their break to have a cigarette, and instead of sitting on the side of the patio in which no one was sitting – and smoking was allowed – they decided to sit near myself and other patrons.
I am not sure what offended me more – the smoke or the ignorance of these employees about the message they were sending to customers at a time when Starbucks is struggling to keep its customers.
Being a marketer and brand advocate, I decided it was the latter.
When your employees interact with the public, they are your brand. If your truck cuts someone off the road, the person you cut off will remember. If an employee spits gum on the ground before walking in for their shift – the customer will remember.
Branding starts at home so make sure your employees understand their role in making your brand and your business a success.
What role does your brand play in making decisions about your business?
Using your brand to help make decisions is critical to keeping your brand relevant and consistent.
Bonnie Hammer, USA Network’s CEO, uses her “brand filter” to help her determine which shows to greenlight. USA Network’s tagline is “characters welcome” so every show must have strong characters that will connect with their audience.
According to a recent Newsweek article, “when considering scripts, Hammer and her team ask a routinized series of questions: Does the show have a fun sensibility? Does it have a “blue sky” tone of hopefulness? Does it revolve around an “aspirational,” if quirky, lead character with a moral and ethical center? Potential shows are scored based on how closely they match these dictates; only high scorers make it on air.”
So how do you create your own “brand filter”?
- Have a strong understanding of your brand promise (that expectation you set whenever someone comes in contact with your brand).
- Create and manage your brand personality. For example, Burger King created a subservient chicken website that reflects their edgy and cool image; in contrast, Chick-Fil-A, known for family values, hosts “dress like a cow” day instead.
- Review all of your marketing touchpoints to ensure they fulfill the brand promise and are delivered in a way that expresses your brand personality.
- Analyze any marketing opportunities (remember, everything is a marketing opportunity) against your brand promise and brand personality. For example, you aren’t going to find USA airing I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here any time soon.
Following these four steps will make it easier to make marketing decisions, enhance your brand and ultimately your business.
If your brand promise and personality are in order, you are ahead of the game. If not, what are you waiting for? Doing so will pay dividends.
Discounted prices have become synonymous with this economic downturn and the damage it is doing to business can be seen in the bottom line.
Worse, business is now telling consumers that “if you wait long enough, we’ll continue to lower our prices” giving the consumer little incentive to purchase early and pay full price. Not to mention the impact discounting has on your brand.
Instead of discounting, innovate.
Quizno’s created new products – the $4 Torpedo and $3 Bullet – that they could sell for less money yet maintain profitable margins. Second week sales of the Torpedo increased 26%.
In contrast, Yum Brands (Taco Bell & Pizza Hut) reported a 1% decline in second quarter same store earnings, due in part to offering deals on their existing menu items with shrinking margins.
On a different scale, companies like Dell and HP have introduced NetBooks, wireless devices geared for email and social networking without many of the features of more expensive desktop or laptop computers. These too were developed with both price point and margin in mind.
Before this week is over, think about what you can do in your business to meet the budgetary needs of your audience while maintaining the margins you need to be successful. This winning combination can help restore faith in your brand – and your bottom line.
“Dear Mr. Abend, It is my pleasure to invite you to apply for the exclusive [Visa] Black Card. Limited to only 1% of U.S. residents, Black Card members are ensured the highest caliber of personal service.”
So after reading more and more about personal service, helping me with my “business, travel and leisure needs” and being someone who “demands only the best of what life has to offer”, I was disappointed that they sent me a blank application.
I guess Visa doesn’t know me well enough to personalize the application for the $495 card, yet my free (insert generic bank) credit card does.
I have written about making sure your brand experience is consistent from seeing an ad to receiving an invoice. This is a lesson Visa could certainly use.
It is 2009. A new year. It is the perfect time to make sure everyone in your company is on the same page in regards to how they present what your company does.
I am often amazed that even in the smallest companies discrepancies exist. And if you can’t get your story straight, you can’t expect customers to truly understand what you do.
So what to do.
Have all your employees memorize your mission statement? I have seen it done and it doesn’t work.
Create the perfect elevator pitch* and print it on the back of their business cards? The elevator pitch is a good start, but if it feels rote, it won’t be believable.
The answer – create that elevator pitch, but help your employees make it their own. Help them internalize the idea you set forth for your brand and let them express it in their own way. That way it is delivered with conviction.
*Your elevator pitch is the 10 – 15 second description of why someone should hire your company. If you don’t have one, creating one should be your 2009 resolution.
To see where you stand, conduct a simple exercise.
- Write down what you think is your elevator pitch.
- Have everyone write down what they think is your elevator pitch.
- Analyze the findings to see if everyone is on the same page. Be honest and do not infer what people mean to say.
- If everyone is on the same page, great. If not, you have a starting point to see what needs to be fixed.
- If the differences are significant try to identify trends. Do the customer-facing people describe your company one way, and the back office another? Do your long-time employees have a different perspective than your newer employees?
- Honestly assess the findings and determine if your elevator pitch is the best one or does a better solution exist.
- Present the final elevator pitch to your employees and have them write down what it means to them. Doing so will help them internalize the pitch so they can it with conviction.
With any branding activity, it does require monitoring.
Every six months ask your employees if they think the elevator pitch is still relevant to your audience. This is a non-threatening way to get their input and to ensure they know how important it is to you.
If things begin to stray repeat the exercise outlined above.
2009 is going to be a tough year, but those who take the steps to keep their brand relevant and communicate it properly will succeed.
Starting with a consistent elevator pitch is definitely the way to market smarter.
Marketing is not finite. An ad campaign may end. A PR blitz can come to conclusion.
Marketing never ends. In fact, marketing should build upon itself.
A client wanted to use speaking engagements as a tactic to establish themselves as industry experts. While the partners of this company had significant industry experience, the company was relatively new and unknown.
They were frustrated at being rejected by a leading industry trade show. I told them they needed to build their portfolio by speaking at smaller events and writing articles in smaller industry publications. Those activities would provide credibility and establish them as an industry expert. Doing so provided a strong base for them to speak at the larger industry events and they are frequently quoted in industry news.
Getting the most out of your marketing dollar goes beyond integrated marketing. It is making sure you use your marketing elements as frequently as appropriate. Here are two simple, low-cost examples.
Example #1: You are featured in an magazine article. Post the article on your web site. Mail a copy of it to your prospect base. Use an excerpt in a sales presentation. Reference the magazine feature in your PR boilerplate copy.
Example #2: You write a white paper. Send the white paper out to all clients and prospects. Use the white paper in your press kit. Use it as a promotional tool in an email to collect new prospects. Promote it on your site.
Regardless of economics, the point is don’t just execute one tactic, see how your tactics can be used in many ways to build upon each other and thus build your brand, differentiate your company and help you achieve your sales goals.
Keeping this in mind will help you Market Smarter.
P.S. Remember to vote.