A business creates its position in the market place by developing a Brand. The brand is its identity, based on its core competencies. It is how customers recognise it. Brand recognition comes through familiarity with the company logo, the livery on its vans, the style of its retail premises and its promotional literature.
But most of all, a brand is recognised by the experience it delivers. And that has to be consistent. Every experience of the company has to deliver the same kind of experience. Customers develop an expectation of the business, and the business must ensure that it regularly meets that expectation.
The paradox of branding is that you want to become generic (like Hoover, Sellotape or Coke) and you also need to identify the One Defining Element that distinguishes your company from all others. If you can achieve that, all competitors will be seen as followers or, at best, lookalikes.
The brand has value, just like a Google ranking. It determines where the company stands in the list of choices made by customers.
Innocent Drinks went from a standing start in 1999 to handing over to Coca Cola in 2010 for £100 million, selling their versions of a product (fruit smoothies) that they did not invent. However, they began with a cheeky tone of voice in communicating with their customers, who thought, “Good product, fun people.” That is now their trademark style, their brand.
A good marketing strategy is to create a strong brand, make it recognisable and then make it very well known. Customers believe that a well known brand is better than a less well known brand. That’s what is meant by brand equity.
Now let make a very important distinction between brand value and brand values. Brand value is the same as brand equity – the financial benefit of being better known than other alternatives, which may allow you to charge a premium for what you do or sell.
Brand values, however, are about why you are in business, and how you do your business. For example, the retailer Marks and Spencer has always made it their policy to accept the return of merchandise without question. That is their style and it reflects their values.
When your brand has a clear set of values, you attract customers and staff who share those values, and they form your tribe. Their reason for doing business with you goes beyond the transaction’s value. Doing business with you becomes an expression of themselves, and they become your advocates. That should be your main purpose in marketing – to cultivate advocates.
- Reward your customers with a gift for a lead for new business
- Buy or use their products or services. Loyalty works both ways.
- Be accessible and return phone calls or emails promptly.
- Keep your word. Deliver what you promised – on time.
- Under promise, and over deliver.
- Be flexible. Be open for business outside normal hours, even on holidays.
- Thank your customers for their business. Send handwritten notes.
- Always look professional. Your customers should feel proud to do business with you.
- Have integrity. Trust is hard to build, almost impossible to recover.
- Be supportive of your customers – like a good friend.
- Remember their birthdays and anniversaries. Send cards and small gifts.
- Promote their business to others. Believe in them.
- Be friendly. Aim to make it a pleasant experience to deal with you.
- Eliminate hassle. Make it easy to buy from you.
- Be a problem solver, not a hardware store.
- Have real people dealing with customer queries, not a multiple choice answering machine.
- Treat existing customers like pure gold.
- Occasionally, cancel an invoice, just for goodwill.
- Help customers get what they need, even if you don’t supply it yourself.
- Keep customers informed of all your new developments and products, and offer them the same special deals you offer new customers.
- Train your staff to have a welcoming, helpful and respectful attitude.
- Use Mystery Shoppers to check how customers are treated.
- Who speaks for your company? Call your business yourself to learn what callers hear.
- Never be indifferent to customers or prospective customers.
- Treat your staff well. They are your partners in business.
We live in an Experience Economy. Customers judge us according to the experience of dealing with us, just as we do when we are customers.
Those who have not understood the concept of the Experience Economy often resort to the “commoditization” of their offerings. They have lost sight of anything that makes their offerings different or distinctive, and the only way they can compete is on price. That’s just about the lowest level of marketing.
What do I mean by commodization?
Commodities are the things we get from the natural world – minerals dug from under the ground, the vegetables and fruit we grow from the ground, the animals who feed on the ground. Coal and copper are what they are no matter where they come from. Apples and pears likewise. Beef, pork and chicken meat do not carry passports.
True, there are different levels of quality, but within each level, the product is what it is, wherever it may have originated. Its price is determined by the basic law of demand and supply.
When a business sells its products or services with no added value, it is behaving as though it sells commodities. Imagine having a business directory such as Yellow Pages, in which there are no advertisements, only basic entries, just like a directory of domestic telephone numbers.
If you were looking for a builder, a plumber or a florist, how would you know which one to choose?
That’s the effect of commoditization. It gives customers no reason to choose you, except price. So remember why you are in business, and why people should spend money with you rather than elsewhere. And put that across in every contact with customers and those who should be your customers.
He worked alone, from home, like so many solo-preneurs. But he missed the companionship of workmates. So an invitation to a networking event seemed attractive.
He put on a suit and pocketed a quantity of business cards. For good measure he also took along half a dozen trifold leaflets about his business. Just in case. But his social skills were rusty and no one seemed willing to engage him in a lengthy conversation.
Before long he was stranded alone on the middle of the floor, while clusters of twos, threes and fours chatted freely around him, But not with him. Just then the iPhone in his pocket vibrated with a message to check his UK Lottery account.
It told him, “Congratulations! You are a winner!” He grinned.
“Good news?” asked someone. In a steady, loud voice he replied, “It seems I have just won the jackpot on the Lottery.
Suddenly he was no longer alone.