What Does Your Company’s Brand Say To Prospects?

Second in a five-part series

The first article in this series spoke to the ways business owners can prepare for success. For example, every morning we must take steps to proactively recommit to our business. Every day we must do things that work on our business, not just in our business. Every day we must focus on moving people along a customer continuum that gets them one step closer to saying, “Yes!”

So what happens next?

Most business owners start selling. Pushing. Convincing. Educating. Hoping. And praying for business. It doesn't matter what industry you’re in, business owners notoriously want to go from concept to selling because that’s where the action is. It’s where the money is. And, if you’re a promotional products distributor like me, it’s where we feel successful.

The problem is that when you skip steps you miss critical pieces of the business success puzzle. You may be able to skip them initially but trust me, you cannot eliminate them. Without these essential steps, chances are your business will fail.

The truth is that getting sales is easy. Most business owners can get immediate sales. They can get transactional business. But building a thriving and enduring business, while simple, is not that easy.

What are these missing pieces to the success puzzle? What are the steps you can skip, but not eliminate? The first is marketing. Marketing is everything. It’s the people mover of your business. Take a look at any successful business and you will find that they understand and practice marketing. Good marketing. Savvy marketing. Marketing that builds a community. Marketing that creates a movement.

And, how do they develop marketing that works? They start by creating a strong brand.

What is a brand? So many business owners think it’s a logo or graphic identity, but it’s so much more. Your brand is what your business represents. It’s who you are, who you serve and the solution you provide within your competitive marketplace. It’s the essence of your company.

What does your brand stand for? Low cost? Customer service? Innovation? First to market? A one-stop solution?

Do you know what your brand stands for? Does your customer know? Does your marketplace know?

Your brand is the foundational element of your business. It is the piece that gives you a reason to have a business, market that business and sell your products. Every business has a brand. The question is, “Who created it?” The bigger question is, “Who controls it?” If the answer to either question is, “Not me,” then you are not in control of your business because your brand is where it all starts. A brand is that important.

Without a clearly defined brand it is hard to build a business that thrives and endures. Without a clearly defined brand it is difficult to position your business for success. And, without a clearly defined brand it is impossible for your marketing to be effective—and without effective marketing your dollars, time and effort are wasted.

What are the key elements of a good brand? First and foremost, a good brand is clearly defined and focused. You cannot be all things to all people. It simply doesn't work that way. How does a good brand get created? It starts when a business owner decides that creating a strong brand image is a priority. It starts when a business owner wants to understand their competitive marketplace so they can identify how they're different and can solve a customer’s problem in a unique and comprehensive way. And, it starts when a business owner decides to be customer-centric and understand his customer’s specific challenges so the business owner can offer truly unique solutions.

In the promotional products marketplace, knowing how you’re different can be your secret to success. Let's be real, most of the bigger promotional products buyers use multiple suppliers. They do it to keep pricing competitive. They do it so they have access to greater creativity and innovation. They even do it because they know that not all promotional products distributors, or suppliers, are created equal.

I learned this lesson a long time ago. I worked with a big corporation that purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars of promotional items each year. Some items were quoted for best price. Others were put out to quote to see how and what types of innovative solutions could be presented. And other projects were quoted from a certain source because they knew the company could deliver on time and on budget. I understood why the purchasing agent had her three preferred suppliers, and I understood where I fit into the equation. The reason I worked with that client for as many years as I did was because I continued being the best at what I did and didn’t try to be something else. In the end, it was knowing what my brand stood for that helped me with this customer, as well as other customers I picked up along the way.

If the purpose of marketing is to get a prospect to go down their own decision-making path to choose you, it’s important that you show up unique and different. Your uniqueness and difference are your best brand elements. Branding is crucial to helping you create a positioning that clearly sets your business apart from the other businesses in your competitive space. And with promotional products, the competitive marketplace is pretty fierce. But, how do you find your uniqueness and difference? You investigate these points during a company branding exercise.

A good branding exercise considers the following areas:

  1. You. This part of a branding exercise addresses your vision, mission, values and goals. During a branding exercise you address your backstory and reason for starting your business. Then, you look at your process and structure to understand how you do what you do. These elements get to the “you” in the brand story and answer the questions: Who are you? Why did you start your business? What do you want to be known for? What do you really love to do?
  2. Your customer. This part of the branding exercise identifies the character traits of your ideal client. In addition to demographics, a good branding expert will work with you on the psychographics of your ideal client as well. Not every client is a good client for your business, but understanding the type of client that is can make all the difference. Then, it’s important to understand what your customer’s problem actually is so you can see how you can best solve it. This way you start looking at your solutions through the lens of your ideal client. You answer questions such as: What is your customer’s problem and how can you solve it? What does the customer want? What does the customer need? Why does the customer need help? How much information does that customer need to make a decision?
  3. Your marketplace. It’s really important to understand what’s going on in your marketplace now, and why it’s happening. The best way to understand your marketplace is to do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis or a Market Mapping exercise. Both of these methods can help you identify the gaps in the marketplace as they stand now. It can also show you what voids are potential market opportunities. Questions you ask now include: Why does your marketplace need you specifically? What solutions exist already? How can you position yourself in a way that is unique and targets the greatest group of potential buyers?

Spending time answering these questions gets you thinking about your business and what you want. What your customer needs. And, why your marketplace is ready for your solution. These pieces of information are critical to positioning your brand for success.

Most people think their brand is the graphic representation of their business such as the Nike Swoosh, the McDonald’s golden arches or some identifying icon such as Tiffany’s iconic blue box. But getting a brand to where these examples are today took years of perfecting the brand and working on what the ideal customer needs. It also took a lot of work to understand what their ideal clients were willing to do to get it. What does your graphic identity say about your business?

Your brand is your best business asset because if you spend time answering the important questions in the three areas of You, Your Customer and Your Marketplace, you will find that when it’s time to hire a qualified graphic artist to create your logo and graphic approach, the process should go more smoothly. And as anyone who has worked with a graphic artist or designer already knows, the more information you provide upfront, the better the result.

Now, what do you think your company’s brand says about you? What would your client say your brand says about you? It’s never too late to take control of your brand and make it represent the promotional products business you really want to have.

Read Part 3 of this series in the January issue on marketing your business.

Abigail Tiefenthaler is the founder of Aiken, South Carolina-based distributor Sweetspot Strategies, Inc. She is passionate about helping entrepreneurs run the business they really want to run. With 30-plus years of business experience, including 15 years in corporate America working in a variety of marketing capacities, and 19 years running an award-winning promotional products business that put her in the top five percent of the industry, Tiefenthaler understands how critical it is to play full out, and use marketing for the heavy lifting it is designed to do. Her goal is simple: simplify the marketing process and eliminate confusion. Reach her at spmi@mindspring.com.