When you think of “brands,” do you picture companies like Nike, BMW, Nordstrom, or Wal-Mart? Certainly, these companies have built a name synonymous with a value proposition their customers seek out and rely on.
By definition, a brand is the expectation of an experience a company sets with its target audience. Brands make us feel something—safe, valued, important, responsible, or respected. Successful brands create a promise in the mind of the target audience: If I shop at your store, I will feel X; if I buy your product, I will receive X (benefits); or if I hire you, I will experience X (value).
That feeling, or brand, directly affects the expectation we have when choosing to work with a company.
Starbucks customers expect a certain product quality and experience when choosing to pay for a beverage at Starbucks instead of DazBog Coffee, for instance. The Starbucks customer is disappointed if the drink isn’t made the same as last time, the barista isn’t friendly, or the store is messy. This is not what that customer expects (and believes there is value in) when choosing Starbucks over its competitors.
Regardless of the size of your business, your goal is to ensure you deliver on the promise you make to your customers or clients. Here are 8 tips for building a strong and scalable brand:
- Be clear about your values and offer. What does your company stand for? What is your vision for the customer experience? When you have a clear picture of the way you want your customers to feel about your company, ensure that every touch point – from the online experience, to the sales floor, to the person who answers the phone, delivers against that promise.
Sir Richard Branson, founder and leader of Virgin America, constantly reinforce to his team, customers, online networks, and shareholders his vision for the company, and how customers and employees are to be treated. He does not vary from his vision. Ever.
- Set goals and metrics to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. How will you know if your brand value is working? Will you measure foot traffic, referrals, testimonials, or hits to the website? Branding is a key business function and should be measured just like any advertising campaign. Set clear goals and outcomes for your branding, training, outreach, and customer experience.
- Enlist your entire team in delivering on the brand. The brand starts with the first place the customer interacts with your company. Sometimes that first experience is online (your website, online review site, online referral sites, etc.), other times it’s in your store,or via a friend who does business with you. Everyone involved with interacting with customers should be considered a critical part of the brand experience.
Consider how Zappos, the online shoe store, trains its team in the unique brand experience. No matter where a Zappos staff member is in the world — on the phone with a customer, on vacation in Italy, or at a family barbecue — they can confidently and authentically share the customer experience of Zappos.
- Know that your logo and website are not your brand, just extensions of it. Your marketing materials—logo, website, brochures, forms, flyers, advertisements, etc.—extend and communicate your brand; they do not define your brand.
Look at the last ad you placed in a circular.
Did it represent the values and passion your team has for its clients?
Does it show how much experience and expertise your team has for its work?
Does that ad show that the customer is important to your company?
Focus less on the “what” (a discount on a product), and highlight the “why” (we care about our customers’ success) in your branding.
- Check in with your customers—not to sell or promote your services but just to see how they are feeling.
Surveys andfeedback are critical to ensuring you stay on track in delivering against the expectations of your target audience.
Periodically survey your customers (through email or in person) about their experience with your brand and evaluate how they perceive your company against what you thought their perception was. This gap can oftentimes reveal great opportunity to improve before you lose market share and a customer base.
- Thank your customers for their loyalty. In today’s world of loyalty cards, perks, and incentive programs, customers are accustomed to being rewarded for their loyalty and patronage.
How are you showing gratitude for the customers you’ve kept?
Consider loyalty programs, an open house reception, or donations to community charities as ways to thank your current customers.
My client,Jaime Anton, a personal trainer and running coach in Denver, Colorado, offers weekend workouts for clients and non-clients, encouraging donations to a charity in lieu of her fee. Not only is this a way of thanking her clients by offering something at no cost, but she reinforces her brand position as “community-focused” by linking her offer to a charitable cause.
- Be clear about your brand and offer to new customers. What can the prospective customer expect to get in value (benefits – costs = value) from shopping with you or hiring you?
Make it clear how you deliver on that value, and, if necessary, point out where your competitor falls short.
Nordstrom knows that charging $100 for a white cotton t-shirt will appeal to clients who expect exceptional quality and customer service. That same customer can find a white cotton t-shirt for less money at a less luxurious store, but the customer seeks a specific experience and therefore shops at Nordstrom.
- Thank your customers for referrals. Referrals are the least expensive form of marketing. In essence, someone else has pre-qualified the prospect, initiated the marketing, and pre-sold your services to a customer. This deserves a high-touch show of appreciation!
Successful businesses put a premium value on their brand. When they evaluate risk and opportunity, they consider brick and mortar, intellectual property, human capital, and reputation in their assessment. The cost to re-gain one customer is very high. Instead, focus on delivering an exceptional customer experience, and reap the benefits of a strong brand!