Capture the Mindshare and the Market Share Will Follow
The Art and Science of Building Brands
By Libby Gill
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2013 Libby Gill
All rights reserved.
Discovering Your Emotional Assignment
I want to make a dent in the universe.
— Steve Jobs
FOR NEARLY 100 YEARS, ALL SOULS COLLEGE AT OXFORD GAVE applicants what was considered to be one of the most arduous entrance exams in academia: three hours to write an essay based on a single noun. The purpose of the assignment was clear: to showcase one's knowledge and mental agility using a word like water or harmony as a linguistic springboard. Yet the seemingly simple assignment left plenty to the imagination of the aspirants. It was up to them to creatively connect the dots between the word itself and their value as graduate candidates. More specifically, it was their ability to capture the mindshare — that is, the heads and hearts — of the judging panel that would deem them worthy (or not) of admission.
For some, this essay-as-application presented an unbelievably daunting challenge in how to sum up the history and significance of just one word while qualifying them for admission. For others, it provided an opportunity to highlight their strategic thinking and communication skills, delivering a thoughtful brief based on a specific, and often narrow, topic. For all, it demanded crystal clear strategy and language that were compelling enough to smoke the competition.
Your brand deserves no less. In this chapter, we'll explore why clarity — of purpose, value, and promise — is the foundation of all great brands, and why the failure to clearly articulate that message, for yourself as well as others, can spell disaster for entrepreneurs and executives, for-profit and non-profit organizations.
DO I REALLY NEED A BRAND?
That's a question that, even in this era of shameless hype, I still get asked on a regular basis. Why, if I consistently offer great value to customers and clients, do I need to think about having a brand, let alone actually taking the time to craft one? Why, indeed.
First, it seems only fair for me to give you my definition of branding, which I don't believe needs to be as overcomplicated or oversimplified as it often is. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, reportedly once said, "Your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room." Not a bad definition, actually. Your brand is what people say, think, and feel about you and your company. But more than that, your brand is, or should be, a promise of value artfully articulated across multiple platforms. It's obvious, particularly in today's world, where we are bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands, of daily branding messages, that your brand is much more than a logo, name, billboard, marketing campaign, sales sheet, or website. All of those things are, in fact, expressions of your brand and a critical means of connecting and communicating with your customers, but they are only part of the brand story.
Above all, your brand is a promise of value, and the most successful brands — the ones I call Mindshare brands — are those that consistently deliver or over-deliver on that value promise over time. Think Coca-Cola. Think Mercedes. Think Apple. Think any brand about which you feel an emotional connection and that you count on to deliver what you want every single time — or pretty darn close to that. Even the big guys slip up occasionally, though well-handled mistakes can actually be terrific branding opportunities.
So why do you have to define your brand? Isn't what you do obvious from the actual doing or delivering of it? Won't your ideal clients and customers find you if you're doing a good job? And doesn't your team inherently understand your internal culture and external brand just by working alongside you? You'd think so, wouldn't you? But we've all known that great neighborhood cafe or web designer or even airline that simply couldn't attract enough, or the right, customers to stay in business without an easily recognizable set of attributes.
If you don't define your brand, the world will simply assign one to you. Even if you are fortunate enough to get "discovered" by your ideal customers, letting them define your brand limits you to their perceptions. And which would you rather have: A brand that is carefully, thoughtfully, strategically crafted and carried out based on your core beliefs and authentic value? Or a brand that the world has deemed is who you are and what you are capable of providing to others? Your brand is your destiny, and if you fail to define, refine, and manage it, you do so at your peril.
PURPOSE, PREMISE, AND PROMISE
It's important first to drill down to the core purpose of your business. Some marketers call this statement of purpose your "value proposition." I prefer to go a little deeper. Ask yourself: Why are you in business in the first place? What is it you actually do? What have you accomplished so far? Even if your business is complex and layered, it still has a core purpose. Amazon.com, so named by Bezos because he wanted a company as vast as the Amazon River, delivers a huge array of items ordered online. The company used to be known for books, especially those that your local bookstore never seemed to have in stock and Amazon always did. Now, its expanded core purpose is to provide the customer with a wide-ranging selection of products, from flat-screen TVs to natural foods to camera equipment, all of which can be researched, ordered, and paid for on their user-friendly website.
The premise takes the idea of core purpose a step further. What pain or problem do you solve in the marketplace? In Amazon's case, the company makes one-stop shopping easy, no matter where you live or what stores you have access to. Maybe you save people's lives by inventing drugs that treat hereditary diseases, like pharmaceutical company Regeneron. Or maybe you help busy people get fit and healthy through time-efficient training and nutrition regimens, like my client (and personal trainer) MonicaNelsonFitness.com.
Finally, and this may be the most important factor of all, what is the promise of change that you give your end user? This applies to internal customers, like your staff or management, as well as external consumers. What is the outcome that they can expect from their relationship with you, your services, or your products? What specific results can you promise them because of your expertise and skill? Take Monica Nelson, for example. Her purpose is to help people look and feel healthier. Her premise is that she can provide exercise efficiency and easy nutrition for busy professional people who can't (or won't) spend a lot of time working out or making healthy meals. And her promise — your anticipated outcome — is that you will lose weight, gain muscle mass, look more toned, and feel more energetic.
How you prove that three-pronged hypothesis to your potential customers is a critical part of building your credibility story. For now, let's stay focused on your purpose, premise, and promise.
As part of my work, I've helped name products, book titles, service packages, and a couple of companies. But I'd never been involved in naming an online dating service until I was asked to join the advisory board of the then-titled start-up TheComplete.me, still in the early throes of the branding process. CEO Brian Bowman, a Match.com pioneer who met his wife through the service and considers Match an integral part of both his personal and professional success, was passionate about bringing an updated model to consumers. A believer in what he calls "radical transparency," Bowman was open about sharing the challenges involved in the branding process, which most start-ups keep to themselves, preferring to have their company names, taglines, and mission statements magically spring from the ether onto their home pages.
Despite their obvious success, Bowman believed that Match.com, like many companies, had fallen victim to an outdated model. Make that outdated models plural, since Match.com owns more than two dozen dating sites, and many customers are actually on multiple Match sites without even knowing it. Match.com, as well as most of the dating sites that followed in their online footsteps, was based on a premise of anonymity, not just because people were embarrassed to be discovered dating online, but because their revenue model required that they keep identities secret, since they only received payment when someone was willing to pony up for an online introduction.
Given that dating is a "high-need activity," Bowman says that most people, especially the newly divorced and late bloomers, were willing to pay to play. The problem? Once you met someone, you were through with the service. A successful interaction meant that the company lost the customer and would constantly have to be on the hunt for new prospects and/or wait around until their customers became single again. Undaunted by the challenge and still a fan of the industry, Bowman realized that dating had changed but the industry hadn't kept up — and he set out to solve that problem (remember the idea of market pain?). He created an online service based on "truth and transparency" that extended beyond dating to allow users to set up their single friends and meet new people and business prospects. The purpose of the business — to create a better way for people to meet — was backed by a core premise of transparency in a heretofore-secretive process. Add to these a distinctive customer promise — that meeting people would be fun and easy — and you've got an entirely new take on an existing model. Suggests Bowman, "People shouldn't have to create a dating profile from scratch when who they really are already exists online through their social media." Not only would the new model make it easier for the user to draw from existing sources, it would be inherently more authentic, since there would be no artificial profile constructed merely for the purpose of snagging a date.
Not surprisingly, given his community-building background, Bowman is a big believer in leveraging existing pools of people. With the robustness of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other platforms, this new service would promote authenticity (assuming that people are more authentic on social media sites than they are on dating sites) and maximize growth by piggybacking on these mega-communities.
Although Bowman considers clarity of customer value proposition extremely important, he cautions other businesses not to get overly hung up on the name. Sure, it's important, he agrees, but even more important is the user experience. Is it what was promised? Is it satisfying? Does it deliver? Has it been described properly? As he says, the process is iterative and ongoing. Fortunately, great low-cost tools like UserTesting.com (there's a name that says what it is!) will test your website and/or business premise for you. And SurveyMonkey.com not only runs surveys online, as the catchy name suggests, but will also collect basic research data for you.
VICE PRESIDENT OF FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Now that you've nailed down the value proposition (purpose + premise + promise) and possibly even the name of your company, you're halfway home, right? Hardly. Now the real work begins ... right at the beginning. Because once you've gotten your customers' attention, that very first interaction you have with them can often be the make-or-break impression that determines whether they want to continue the relationship. One glance at your website, one direct mail marketing piece, or even one phone call creates a lasting impression.
A web designer I know refers to his receptionist as Vice President of First Impressions, since even her mood when she answers the phone can set the tone for how the customer feels about the entire company, justified or not. Successful branders know that it's not only the big-picture vision but also the smallest of details that create the sum total of the customer experience and determine whether you create a fanatic tribe of brand evangelists or a lukewarm pool of prospects that find you, well, forgettable.
I'll give you an example of how one company's thoughtless handling of their brand turned off a potential customer right from the get-go. My colleague Marcy is a devotee of high-end skincare and spa products. When the company from which she regularly buys her fancy skincare items asked whether she would participate in a consumer research study by giving them feedback on a new line of bath soaps, she eagerly jumped at the chance. But when Marcy received their package of soaps, each enclosed in a separate plastic bag with an ID number for a label, she took one look and threw the whole batch under her bathroom sink, never to be retrieved.
Marcy told me this story during a discussion about "repackaging" her own brand as a human resources specialist, drawing a connection between her efforts to remake herself as a professionally relevant consultant and the skincare company's complete neglect of its image. As she said, "The soaps looked so boring in their uninspired little plastic bags, I had no desire to try them. I just thought, if they don't care enough about their product to make them enticing, why should I care?" Good question. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Capture the Mindshare and the Market Share Will Follow by Libby Gill. Copyright © 2013 Libby Gill. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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