Branding Demystified

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Much of N2growth’s activities evolve around branding, one of my greatest business passions is the art and science of branding and about half of my personal practice is built around creating dominant corporate and personal brands. Because I eat, sleep and live branding I am always amazed at how many savvy executives and entrepreneurs don’t understand the importance of building significant brand equity. More to the point it amazes me how many people can’t even describe what a brand is. In today’s post I will demystify branding by breaking it down and making the complex simple.  

Most business people just pay lip service to branding. They don’t treat their personal or corporate brand as one of their most important assets rather they just let them evolve…The reason for this as I mentioned above is that most people really just don’t understand branding.

So, Let’s start with what a brand is not: A brand is not a name, a logo, a product or a service…These are examples brand assets, associations and extensions that should be considered in the creation of your brand architecture and the development of your brand components, but are not brands in and of themselves.

So what is a brand? A brand quite simply is a collection of perceptions in the mind of your stakeholders. It is the image that your employees, shareholders, customers, partners, vendors, the media etc. have when they think, touch, feel or otherwise interact with your company. It is the mixture of attributes, tangible and intangible, which if managed properly creates value and influence.

Now that we’ve defined what a brand is, let’s turn our attention to how you properly conceive and build a brand? The following items are individual brand components which when put together in a coordinated fashion are the brand:

Brand Vision:  If you don’t know who you are how can you tell anyone how you want them to think you are? Your brand vision is the nucleus of your brand. It supports, authenticates and validates why you are in business and where your business is headed. It defines your brand graphics, brand language and brand voice. It serves as the guidepost for all decisioning related to brand.

Brand Positioning: This is the specific niche in which the brand defines itself as occupying in the competitive environment. Positioning addresses differentiating brand attributes, benefits and segments. Brand positioning is what establishes emotive connections. It creates reasons to buy, engenders loyalty and causes internal and external stakeholders to advocate for you.

Brand Target: This is an assessment of who you want your brand to influence. Your brand target should be comprised of all industries, sectors, verticals, micro-verticals, groups, associations, constituencies, companies and individuals that you want your brand to reach.

Brand Identity: Your brand identity should be developed based upon your brand vision, positioning and target. Your brand identity is the outward expression or manifestation of the brand. The brand’s identity is its fundamental means of consumer recognition. This would include your naming, logo, taglines, graphics, voice, collateral packaging, advertising content and language.

Brand Promise: This is the brand’s essence expressed in the simplest, most single-minded terms. For example, Volvo = Safety or Disney = Entertainment…The most powerful brand promises are rooted in a fundamental customer need.

Brand Experience: These are the feelings and emotions tied to an interaction with the brand. It could come from a display in a retail environment, the purchase or use of products and services, the impression created by advertising, journalistic commentary or public opinion. A positive brand experience will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty whereas a negative brand experience will have the inverse affect.

Brand Personality: This is the attribution of human personality traits (trust, warmth, humor, imagination, etc.) to a brand as a method for achieving differentiation. This is usually accomplished by consistent, long-term, advertising, marketing and public relations.

Brand Continuity: Ensuring that all products/services in a particular brand range have a consistent name, visual identity and ideally positioning across geographies, mediums and markets.

Brand Protection: This is the implementation of strategies and tactics to reduce the risk and liability from the effects attributable to counterfeiting, diversion, tampering and theft so that differentiating thoughts and feelings about the brand are maintained. 

How do people view your brand? Do you have a brand in stealth mode, it is innocuous or ambiguous, is it a brand in decline or is it a strong, recognized, credible, sustainable or dominant brand?  Use the information contained in this post to conduct a brand audit to determine whether or not your brand is growing by design or evolving by default.  

Dancing with my Writer’s Block

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I don’t normally fall prey to writer’s block, but last night I was really struggling. I decided to take a break and clear the cobwebs by watching “Dancing With The Stars” with my wife. As I watched Jerry Springer, Emmitt Smith, Joey Lawrence, Mario Lopez and the rest of the celebrity cast sashay across the dance floor my writer’s block vaporized and I found myself back at the keyboard. OK, the show is about celebrity ballroom dancing which is admittedly good, clean, family entertainment, but what does it have to do with business? Directly, not too much….but on an indirect basis much more than one might think. When you peel back the layers and look beyond the dancing the show is about packaging personal style, talent, focus, attention to detail, salesmanship, popularity and work ethic to create a competitive advantage. In today’s post I’ll share the things that we should all learn from watching “Dancing With The Stars.”

Imagine having only a few weeks to learn a new skill set and at the end of those few weeks being expected to perform up to a professional level by demonstrating your newly acquired talent on national television. Talk about stepping outside the proverbial comfort zone…Most of us spend years honing our craft. We often go through decades of rigorous academic and professional training as well as having the benefit of numerous real world applicational experiences to develop our expertise. In the text that follows I’ll share my perspective on why the “Dancing With The Stars” celebrities can step out of their comfort zone and make huge gains over short periods of time and why many in the workforce fail to be able to do so.

One of the celebrity contestants is former Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. He is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and the same traits that made Emmitt successful on the gridiron are the same things that are making him successful on the dance floor. While having no formal dance training his coordination, strength, rhythm and agility are quite obvious. His confidence, charm and charisma radiate from his constant smile and a friendly yet professional demeanor. However it is his work ethic, focus, attention to detail, commitment to excellence and his desire to win that form the foundation of his approach to learning a new skill and make him one of the favorites to win the competition.

Most of the celebrities on the show are similar to Emmitt Smith in that they understand what it takes to be successful. They have confidence in their ability and possess a competitive spirit. They are willing to take the risks and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their goals. The show also provides an environment which creates a singular purpose. The dancers have the luxury of clarity of vision in knowing why they are there, what their objective is and what the corresponding payday is. Contrast this with many corporate environments that exhibit a lack of vision, ambiguous objectives, moving goal posts in terms of compensation and employees that in turn have a lack of focus.  

The show also pairs the celebrity participants with professional dance partners who serve as their coach. By nature of their backgrounds the celebrity dancers understand the value of leveraging professional mentors, coaches, trainers, agents etc. and they take full advantage of those resources to accomplish great things over short periods of time. To be the best they understand that they must learn from the best. Contrast this picture with corporate environments not offering strong leadership development, talent management, training, and mentoring and it is no wonder that poorly led and trained workforces have correspondingly poor performance.  

The show makes it is easy to see why professional singers, dancers, athletes and actors can accomplish great things in short periods of time. They have talent, focus, desire, clarity of vision and work ethic. They are also afforded significant resources in terms of training and coaching. Bottom line…If you want to perform like a pro at the top of their game then you need to adopt many of the traits and habits mentioned above.   

Customer Relationship Management

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a core business practice that most everyone reading this post will be familiar with at some level. It is likely that you’ve read about CRM, have attended workshops and seminars on the subject and perhaps you even believe you’ve implemented what you feel is a CRM initiative. While customer relationship management is certainly not a new business practice it is also not a practice that most executives understand or leverage to its maximum capabilities. In today’s post I’ll provide an overview of CRM and how you can apply it to your business.  

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an executive and entrepreneur tell me how wonderful their CRM system is only to have me ask them a few questions and find out that what they thought was a CRM system wasn’t. Customer Relationship Management is an integrated process for managing customer interactions at every stage of the customer lifecycle. It means offering the right product or service to the right customer at the right time and price via the right contact point. CRM is much more than a product or service; it is an integration framework, or business strategy. A customer focused business has consistent, dependable, convenient, and value-added interaction with customers in every encounter.

An effective CRM implementation aids in the acquisition of new customers, improves customer satisfaction and retention rates and adds to the lifecycle value of customer relationships.  Current market forces and new technologies are dramatically changing the dynamics of the customer relationship. Market power is shifting from sellers to buyers, and competition for customer loyalty is rising. The bottom line is that customers are “raising the chinning bar”. Customers increasingly expect instant, 24×7 access to information and resources (product data, company information, pricing, project management, technical support, etc). They want rich, value-added information that is easy to find. Customers are beginning to expect a personalized experience – a personalized welcome message, individual relationship knowledge, the ability to review their status in real-time, and so on.

Customers/partners/investors/suppliers/venders simply will no longer stand for repeating the same information again and again to differentiate your company, its products and services and its value propositions from the competition.  Adding an additional layer of complexity to the current marketplace, today’s customers randomly traverse communication channels – from the Web to the phone system, to a fax, to email, to instant messages etc. Regardless of the channel, your customer will expect to be recognized. Companies need to do business the way that customers are demanding: at anyplace and anytime. An end-to-end CRM solution helps solve this multi-channel challenge. 

The implementation of CRM will help you evolve into a €˜customer-centric’ business. As a customer-centric organization, you will be able to more effectively share information, analyze the overall health of your business, build greater customer loyalty, and gain a competitive edge. Relevant customer and/or product information will be accessible anytime, anywhere to employees, customers, and partners. Your organization should evolve to include a minimum of the following traits of a customer-centric business:   

  • Online Customer Interaction 
  • E-commerce
  • Lead Management
  • Experience Management 
  • Task Management
  • Surveys and Data Mining
  • Literature Fulfillment
  • Knowledgebase 
  • Analytics
  • Campaign Management 
  • List Management 
  • Online encyclopedia/glossary 
  • Sales Process Automation 
  • Forecasting/Funnel Management  
  • Service Automation
  • Support Automation 
  • Client History 
  • Quality Assurance 
  • Online lead capture 
  • E-Mail Management and Support  

Your CRM system should empower your organization with tools to manage all aspects of the sales process: prospecting, lead tracking, opportunity management, reporting, etc. It should provide a single, real-time view of the customer allowing you to instantly determine: account status, pending deals, service request, history, profitability, etc. A CRM implementation should allow you to become much more effective in the management and allocation of your time.  A customer-centric CRM system will also provide many benefits to your marketing infrastructure. CRM will allow you to develop and execute campaigns based on powerful, real-time data. You will be able to mine for data, and tailor marketing campaigns to different market segments and customer profiles.

The CRM tool-set will provide comprehensive tracking capabilities so marketing results can be captured in real time allowing for any necessary adjustments to be made.  CRM will allow you to more effectively manage your extended enterprise relationships. A CRM application will allow you to route leads, opportunities, and service requests to the appropriate party, and then track the performance. Partners/customers will be able to browse products and pricing information.

A CRM based infrastructure will enable you to manage channel partners as an extended virtual sales and service organization should you desire to expand your indirect marketing efforts.  The proper CRM application will have a single, complete view of the customer, with instant access to all relevant customer data. Equipped with real-time access to specific customer account information, this customer service infrastructure will deliver a high quality experience to the end-user. Web-based self-service will also enable you to provide world class service, providing customers, partners, and/or investors with 24×7 access to appropriate information. 

The implementation of a CRM solution specifically tailored to your unique requirements will provide the ability for personnel to bring the definition of excellent customer service to an entirely new level. A CRM system is designed to be used by employees who interact with your entire value chain. It is an enterprise relationship management system from customer to employee to supplier. A specifically tailored CRM solution will provide you with a central, single source of information with a complete history of the relationship’s activities to date. The ability to present a complete and consistent view to a relationship is invaluable. A specifically tailored CRM will allow you to:     

  • Maximize customer acquisition efforts
  • Retain profitable customers for the long term
  • Foster customer loyalty 
  • Enhance profitability by leveraging every role, channel, and customer touch point within your company.  

If your business has not adopted Customer Relationship Management as a key business driver then you are missing out on a substantial opportunity.