May 24 2017
Think of the most successful brands you know. Coca-Cola. Disney. FedEx. Shell.
They make an impact on you. They survive cultural shifts and changes in the market. They consistently tell a story that resonates with customers. The time and work that went into developing these long-lasting brands cannot be underestimated.
It’s well understood that customers embrace brands that connect with them on a deeper level. They also turn away from brands that appear flat, stagnant, or disorganized. In a competitive market, you can’t risk being overlooked by a customer who chooses your competitor’s brand instead of yours.
Bottom line considerations and quick turnarounds are top of mind concerns for every client. We strongly advise you reconsider the urge to rush the branding process or (even worse) use any service that claims to give you “high quality logos” for a fraction of the cost. Even if your company engages in quick transactions of low price widgets, your company’s brand is not a commodity. So don’t cheapen it. The long-term risk of getting it wrong will always exceed the upfront investment of doing it right.
The best process for branding involves a series of steps that fully defines your company. It is a discovery for a strategy to build brand equity. In subsequent blog posts we’ll dig deeper into the topics of messaging, positioning, and strategy. But with some exception, the process for designing a powerful brand follows these six steps.
1. Why, How, What & Who
In 2009 Simon Sinek challenged the business community to rethink the way they inspire their customers and companies to take action. His book Start With Why flipped the conventional approach to defining a company’s purpose. Instead of leading with the obvious exercise of what a company does, Sinek proposed that it’s more important to tell people why you do what you do.
People don’t buy what you do or even how you do it. In a crowded marketplace where competitors quickly adopt all of your company’s unique features and benefits, your Why inspires greater loyalty from everyone that comes in contact with your brand. The process of building an effective brand begins with a discovery process that starts with Why.
The team you enlist to help define your brand will continue to dig into questions about process (How), products and services (What), and the clients your serve (Who). Research into these critical components will give you a solid foundation to develop your positioning, messaging, brand identity, and business strategies.
To use a straightforward analogy, your company won’t successfully attract others until it has a strong understanding of self.
2. Survey the Terrain
Every client is unique. Every brand is distinct. But the market in which you do business is a cohesive tapestry of competing brands, messages, and standards that cumulatively define your industry. Customers have expectations, and so do your vendors and suppliers. In this case, even your own employees have a voice in what passes as “acceptable”. [nbsp_tc]
Whether or not your brand seeks to stand out as an incomparable innovator, it’s still important to understand the space in which it will perform. Your brand strategy team must get to know your company and how it relates to the rest of the market. They should take time to decipher where your company fits into the overall business ecosystem.
On a more granular level, this part of the process questions the finer details. For example:
How does our color palette and shapes affect our customers?
If everyone is using blue, why are we using red?
How does our mission statement inspire the employees of the company to deliver the service our customers deserve?
If the branding process is analogous to a journey, this step is the Exploration Phase.
3. Where Will The Brand Be On Display?
As we dive further into the process of developing a brand, questions arise about how to consolidate the company vision across the various channels. Specifically, where will consumers witness the brand in action? As a logo on a shoe? On a can? On a piece of heavy machinery? Furthermore, how does it translate to your promotional products? Can it be easily embroidered?
Your advertising and marketing collateral are also important considerations at this juncture. Since each industry – and even each business – operates differently across traditional and digital mediums, it is strategically important to have an understanding of these display opportunities. If your product requires packaging, will the brand perform as well on plastic wrappers as it does in online imagery?
The design team takes into account not only static representation of the brand but also how the brand performs in motion. Whether it’s an animated trade show display or graphics in commercials, the team will consider the strategies for branding the company as they dig into the hard work of imagining your new mark and messaging.
4. Take Time For Concepting
In the show Mad Men the world witnessed a glamorized view of the creative process. We watched the protagonist, Don Draper, seek inspiration in the arms of women and countless bottles of booze while juggling the stresses of a dispiriting suburban existence. Was it an accurate representation of the design process? Not exactly. But it effectively conveyed the truth that “Creativity is an art form, not a science”.
One memorable and heavily discussed quote from Draper states:
“Just think about it, deeply, and then forget it. An idea will…jump up in your face.”
Clients have deadlines and demands. Companies are eager to make sales. Even the operations team wants to turn the wheels of production and push forward to meet demand. Everyone is excited to use the new brand to get back to work. Unfortunately, creativity doesn’t work like that. Big ideas are not simply created by mixing together all of the elements of the creative brief.[nbsp_tc] All too often it requires time to explore… and yes, sometimes that exploration doesn’t look like work.
This is the point when everyone involved needs to calibrate their expectations. The time and effort that goes into developing a powerful brand cannot be underestimated.
5. Present & Iterate
Everyone loves it when they hit a homerun on the first bat, but games are won in innings. Your design team may prefer to skip the revision process and give you a final product (what we call “The One”). Other teams are more collaborative and prefer to iterate towards a final conclusion. Whatever the model, the presentation process is a serious affair.
Everyone is busy, and synching up the schedules of multiple decision makers is difficult. However, we urge you to make time to meet (in person or via video) to review each presentation from your branding team. They are the storytellers that narrate the tale of your brand. Without the opportunity to share their perception of your brand, you may come away feeling disconnected and unsatisfied. Additionally, you will lose the opportunity to provide real time feedback.
But wait; shouldn’t the mark be able to stand on its own? Absolutely. And it will. Your customers experience the brand differently than you do. No one is quite as critical and no one will overthink the final product quite like the people that oversee the company on a daily basis. You as the business owner are too close to the brand to witness it objectively. It’s best to work closely with your branding team at every step so that a concordant vision can be achieved.
We’ve added this component purely as a reminder of the things you should expect from this process. If you’ve invested in “just a logo”, then perhaps that’s all you’ll get. Brands are bigger than the icons that represent them. Mission statements, taglines, typeface, and colors are just a few of the other deliverables in which you should invest.
A style guide is a worthwhile endeavor (and precious deliverable) to which you should devote money and time. It is a document that defines all the standards for communicating and displaying your brand. This file is easily transferred to anyone who seeks to use, share, or transmit your brand in any possible way. It also keeps everyone within your company in alignment. Anytime a question arises about how to properly market the brand, the style guide steps in to keep everyone focused.
Shortcuts Are Not Always Easier
The stages described above are only a snapshot of a potentially larger process. Some companies simply need a logo and a tagline. Others require a complete overhaul of their company’s direction, messaging, and identity. The more you define your brand the greater the likelihood it will be welcomed by your customers.
Think big. There are very few rewards for cutting corners and taking shortcuts. To use backpacking parlance, bushwhacking across switchbacks in search of a shortcut is a guaranteed way to get scratched up, step on snakes, and fall backwards into the canyon. Don’t do it.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
Apr 06 2017
The Internet is full of articles from seemingly successful entrepreneurs dispensing valuable lessons from their first year in business. I recommend that you read them. Leaving the security of a job to start your own business requires confidence, determination, and all the free advice you can get. Hopefully what follows here are more useful kernels of wisdom to get you past the hard times as an entrepreneur.
A little backstory is in order. Divining Point is not my first rodeo. My first business was an unfocused mess of a company that helped me pay my way through college, taught me invaluable life lessons, and pushed me into a career path that inevitably brought me here today. In that regard, the first business was a success. But truthfully it resulted in me having to get a job and reconsidering whether I had the mettle to be an independent business owner.
Fast-forward to four years ago, Divining Point started off as a consultancy, like so many other companies do. I juggled roles. I took full time contracts and after hours freelance projects in order to keep pushing forward with the vision of doing my own thing. I delivered as much value as possible within each 24-hour day, and I did my best to do right by my clients. In April of 2016 I decided to refocus 100% of my efforts on the company and formally give it a name. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way that might be useful to you.
Nearly four years ago I left the stability of a good-paying job working with a team of professionals who challenged me, made me laugh, and treated me as an integral part of the organization. To complicate matters, just months before I left my job, I learned that my wife and I were expecting a child. Two weeks later my wife was laid off from a position as a chemical engineer that she’d held for 16 years. I had very little capital and almost no financial safety net. Most people in my shoes would have immediately postponed their plans. And yet, I still left.
Having been in sales and marketing for over 20 years, I knew I could hustle. I also knew I could help clients get on track with their companies and provide them with valuable strategies for sales and marketing. All I needed to do was push forward and get over the fear of failure. Really, the worst thing that could happen would be having to get another job.
Embrace the possibility of failure. Accept the risk of financial setbacks. Stay organized and don’t get distracted by the worries in your stomach. Running your own business is an exercise in taming your fear while continuing to work nonstop at peak performance. If you’re not brave and if you’re not focused you’ll get off course and your business will die.
Redefine Yourself… Often
If you’re like most people your business will change frequently over many years. The opportunities to service clients and deliver useful products will inevitably evolve. Your company will pivot. Your focus will shift. Technology will change. You will suddenly find yourself making money in ways that didn’t seem possible before. That’s a good thing. In fact, we believe transformation and growth are critical components of success.
While this change is healthy, what is absolutely disastrous is the failure to redefine your company IN CONJUNCTION with the shifts in your operations. You may identify new opportunities and develop a plan to capitalize on new revenue, but your long-term success will be capped without a roadmap that guides your decision-making.
To use a more personal analogy, the person you are today is uniquely different than who you were ten years ago. Your core values may be constant, but the way you manifest and embody those values isn’t. What you do, who you speak to, who you service, these are all fluid. As your company grows you should redefine your brand strategy, identity, messaging, and positioning… even your website. Do it often and stay ahead of the changes in the market.
Be Passionate About Your Business
Love what you do and whom you do it for. It seems simple enough, but it’s much harder in practice. New entrepreneurs do things they really don’t want to do in order to make money in the early stages of their company. These mistakes are easy to shrug off if you see them for what they are: short term sacrifices.
The trap comes from repeating these “mistakes” over and over in the pursuit of consistent revenue. You take on too many projects that don’t fall in line with your core competencies. You work with difficult clients in segments outside of your area of expertise. You work long hours in pursuit of poorly fitted “money makers”, and before long the once bright vision of your company is now cloudy and grim. You may as well be working for someone else.
Don’t take the bait. At some point you need to say No. Do it as a commitment to your company. Be crazy in love with your business in ways that prevent you from cheating on yourself. Find those things you enjoy doing the most that bring the greatest value to your ideal clients – and then stick with it. Be faithful to this vision.
Don’t Pretend To Have All The Answers
One of the best lessons I ever learned happened on accident. About 12 years ago I met with a GM of a local auto dealership, and he stumped me with a question I couldn’t answer. I froze for a moment and then gave him the truth: “I don’t know”.
He nodded and said, “I respect a man who isn’t afraid to say he doesn’t have all the answers.”
Truth of the matter is no one has all the answers. Having the humility to accept this fact can actually lead a person to greater success. In most cases it’s better to ask questions in pursuit of the truth[nbsp_tc]instead of coming to the table with a ton of preconceived ideas or solutions.
To extend this even further, not having all the answers can lead to greater collaboration within your organization, better connections with your clients, and more meaningful discoveries. Surround yourself with smart employees, contractors, partners, and clients. Be the conduit that guides all of these energies towards great things instead of being a controller that eventually burns out and turns everyone off.
A very wise friend by the name of Steve Reilly once told me, “Every new opportunity is a bridge to the next stage in your business. Early in your business the bridges will be small, but they’ll become bigger and bigger over time.”
As I mentioned above, short-term sacrifices make sense early in your company’s genesis. They are bridges to take you to your next destination, but eventually you’ll need to build bigger bridges in order to go further and reach the places you want to take your company. That means saying No to bad deals and saying Yes to deals that challenge you to stretch outside of your comfort zone – but still within the industries, services, and client types you’ve identified as ideal fits for your company.
Building bridges also means partnering and networking with people and companies who share your ideals and visions for success. These personal bridges become channel partnerships, referral sources, and cool collaborations that bring about wonderful case studies. Be generous in sharing opportunities with these key allies… and pretty much with everyone you meet. Life rewards people who operate from a position of abundance.
Building bridges includes managing client engagements with the intention of establishing long-term relationships instead of short transactions. No matter if you sell a commodity or a complex solution, the customer experience should always increase brand loyalty. The client’s needs should always be in mind as you conduct with your daily business.
If you think you have what it takes to start your own business, do it. Get out, get hustling, and start building those bridges that will take you to where you want to go. The upside is huge. You work for yourself. You work with great employees and contractors. You establish good relationships with clients, and you make money. The worst thing that can happen is you have to go get a job. As a person on his second go round as an entrepreneur I can tell you that’s a perfectly okay outcome, too.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
Mar 11 2017
If you own a business or have built a company from the ground up you’ve been told you need a logo and messaging. After that came a color palette, typeface, a slogan, a style guide, and more, and more, and more. It’s dizzying.
You’ve been told that your brand should make an indelible mark in the minds of your customers and speak to them on an intimate level. Your brand is the personality, identity, and voice of your company. It conveys the values and perceived benefits of your products and services. When done correctly your brand will build a bond with a customer that produces long-term loyalty.
Sounds really exciting, right? Maybe not. Unless you have a background in psychology and human behavior, which we do, this probably sounds like psychobabble.
Most business owners are so intensely focused on operations, delivery, and customer service they have no time to dig into the “touchy feely” world of branding. They know they want a logo. They may even have an idea about company values. But for many business owners, brand identity and strategy seems like a difficult task without a clear, immediate ROI.
Frankly, that’s true.
Your Brand Is Everywhere
An investment in branding doesn’t translate to revenue the way that, perhaps, two additional delivery trucks do. It doesn’t bring in new sales opportunities like an outside sales team or automated lead generation. It doesn’t process orders, it doesn’t make widgets, and it doesn’t answer customer service calls.
Instead, branding is the first impression your business makes when a customer discovers your products or services. It’s also the second impression, the third impression, and the fourth, and so on in perpetuity. Every time your customer engages your product your brand makes an impact. Every phone call, every visit to your website, and every packaged good conveys your company’s value to the client.
Branding builds the trust your client feels when they see your product on the shelf versus your competitors’.
Branding is the difference between printed brochures that actually engage the customer versus ones that gets tossed in the trash.
Instead of seeing a mysterious white van outside of a customer’s house, they see a professional service vehicle with your brand on it and suddenly feel at ease.
The customer’s decision-making process begins with your brand. For companies that don’t invest wisely, it’s also your brand that pushes customers away.
Branding Is Insurance
In essence, branding is a tactical method to reach and retain customers. Think of it as a sophisticated net that keeps the customer engaged. Your company’s brand identity, messaging, and underlying strategy have as much of an effect on keeping customers as it does on why, when, and how they buy.
Your brand also affects employees and company stakeholders on a deep emotional level. Your company’s mission and values should permeate throughout the organization as much as it radiates away from it. As executors of the company’s service, your brand must motivate and resonate with your employees. It is the glue that binds them together as well as to your company and to the customer. History is full of legendary companies whose brands lost their soul and in turn lost their employees. Equally, there are companies who changed the world by staying true to their brand.
Our advice is to think beyond the logo and the slogan. Don’t get hung up on the cost. The cost of developing your brand is relative to the magnitude of the losses from getting it wrong. The risk of losing your customers to a swift competitor should be reason alone to invest wisely. If your brand could sink the ship why would you try to cut corners? It’s also your brand that keeps it afloat.
Want to move your business forward?[nbsp_tc]Let’s talk.
Jan 12 2017
Prior to a decade ago, impersonal advertising ruled the world.
At the time, wizards of promotion reached massive audiences to tout brand authority or product reliability as the key benefits for the buyer. With a relatively captive audience, marketers achieved tremendous success using well-produced advertising to generate demand for their goods. Then came the fragmentation of the market, and nothing has been quite the same since.
As a proponent of Advertising, I’m happy to say that broad messaging still delivers results when executed with the right strategy on the right mediums at the right time. Expansive campaigns still move the needle very quickly. Otherwise, major brands wouldn’t invest their money in general market advertising.
The same can be said for Sales.
A massive outreach campaign using cold calling, promotional events, and outside sales teams can quickly increase revenue when executed correctly and for the right reasons. That’s why telemarketing and door-to-door sales still exist today.
Given the above information, it will seem odd to hear us recommend that you should think twice (or three times) before taking a “one size fits all” approach to your sales and marketing. Whereas cold techniques can still generate measurable results, they also fail to produce a long-lasting, loyal connection to the buyer. They lack warmth. They lack empathy.
Empathy is the biggest missing ingredient of most Sales & Marketing campaigns.
Empathy is defined as:
“Understanding and being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another person.”
In a marketing context, lack of empathy manifests itself in campaigns that manipulate the buyer using misleading information, assumptions, and crass persuasion.
“9 Out of 10 Doctors Recommend…”
“Best Pizza in Town”
Without truth in advertising or any oversight, companies can say just about anything without immediate recourse. As a result, today’s buyers are shrewd and highly cynical of the classic push model of advertising that employs catchy slogans and a litany of broad benefits. They want to be understood, spoken to directly, and (dare I say it) informed and entertained.
For a good example of a company that understands empathy in marketing see Chubbies shorts.
While Chubbies’ marketing still features a list of qualities one might expect from their products, the models aren’t showing off six-pack abs in exotic locations that are financially out of reach for their target buyer.[nbsp_tc] As the name implies, Chubbies models are just as likely to have a beer gut or dad-bod as they would a fit and trim physique. Chubbies understands that everybody is different, but everyone needs comfortable and durable shorts when it’s hot outside. Warmth. Empathy.
Let’s apply this to Sales.
How often have you received a phone call from a stranger asking you to buy something you either didn’t know about or don’t really need? How frequently did you buy from that person? We bet it’s far less than 10%… maybe even 1%. Those are still good numbers for companies who live and die on sales volume, but selling a widget over the phone for less than $100 requires a completely different sales process than selling someone $100,000 worth of intangible services.
As with everything, the need to cold call or use telemarketing largely depends on your product, your goal, and the needs of your buyer.
Start by empathizing with your buyer. Who are they? What do they want? What do they need? What value does your product provide? How does your brand connect with them? How does your sales team bond with the buyer to build trust? How is your product priced relative to the needs, values, benefits, and competition? If your buyer doesn’t feel compelled by your offering, it’s going to be a tough sale. And when the sale is done, will your buyer stay loyal?
A good example of a company that uses empathy in sales is Sparefoot.
Self-storage is a purely transactional purchase determined by some basic criteria, like price and proximity to the buyer. Sparefoot understands that researching self-storage options is a huge hassle. More importantly, they know that people who rent storage are either moving, running out of space in the home, or in some kind of emergency to store personal and professional belongings. Their first step is to recognize the emotional state of the buyer and guide them to rent the storage unit that meets their most urgent needs. Warmth. Empathy.
What happens when a company ignores empathy in their sales and marketing strategies?
The first sign of problems usually occurs in response to advertising or online media. You may have a problem with messaging and content if your brand isn’t attracting bees to the garden. It’s also possible you’ve selected a media mix or program schedule that doesn’t reach your audience at all. You may be missing the mark entirely. These are easy mistakes to make if you don’t understand your buyer.
Beyond that, lack of empathy typically results in slower sales, shorter engagements, or, even worse, disloyal customers. As soon as another company comes along that connects with your customer you’ll see sales start to drop.
Think it can’t happen to your company? See what happened when Coca-Cola rolled out New Coke in 1985. The company thought their consumers demanded a sweeter cola like Pepsi, so they attempted to regain market share by changing their core formula. The result was disastrous. They cut off their most loyal customers who were emotionally connected to Coke’s classic taste and style.
You may think your product is transactional or too technical for all the touchy-feely science of Empathy, but when buyers are faced with so many cold options you can bet they will gravitate to warmth. Build a fire, friends!
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.