I recently had a conversation with a young salesman. “Explain to me why your services are worth a higher price in comparison to your competitors, ” I asked. “We’re a family owned and operated company,” he began. “We only hire the best people. We train them. We’re a drug-free company. Our company offers 24/7 service and a 100% satisfaction guarantee.” He meant every word of it. He didn’t say anything I hadn’t heard hundreds of times before. Without knowing it the young man illustrated both the problem and the opportunity: Brand messages–the “Why Us”– in the service industry have reached a level of mega-boring parity.
A brand is a company’s best asset. Amazing brands, fascinating and magical, transform the ordinary in to the extraordinary. A phone becomes a friend. A car becomes your ideal You. Shoes might turn me in to Messi. That’s the genius of an amazing brand: it’s simultaneously magnetic and aspirational. Notably, companies with amazing brands are usually the most profitable as well.
A small business owner doesn’t need a monstrous budget to begin defining a unique and influential brand. A small business, however, can start building a brand (and thereby distancing himself from the also-ran competition) by seriously asking and answering a few challenging questions and then using the answers to guide the brand strategy. By “seriously” I mean to say: “Don’t bullshit yourself. Be honest. From the customer’s perspective you may not be as special or unique as your think you are. That’s cool. Time to change. It’s time to hold yourself accountable to your pride.” Here are 10 questions to help focus a small business brand:
- Consider the point-of-view of the ordinary consumer. What trends or influences are shaping their lives? How does your brand reflect these trends or influences?
- What processes or procedures are unique to your company? Which services or products do you provide that cannot be found elsewhere? How do you share this scarcity with your customers?
- What promises do you make to your customers (ex. 24/7 service)? When and why have these promises been broken? What steps has your company taken to ensure they don’t happen again?
- What is your Founder’s Story?
- What is the popularly accepted direction that the service industry is headed in terms of brand, advertising, and marketing? Now go in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.
- How do you want your customers to feel when they work with you? How does your entire team, from a positional and holistic perspective, ensure that this feeling is attained?
- What is the greatest fear that your customers have in common regarding your service? How does your company mitigate this fear?
- How will you make the invisible benefits of working with your company visible to the consumer?
- Who is your ideal customer? How do you connect, communicate, and captivate them?
- How will you scale your brand message consistently across media platforms?
A brand is a company’s best asset. As companies in a variety of industries have proven (Warby Parker, Tom’s, Best Made, Filson, Apple, Zappos, Whole Foods, Les Schwab, AirBnB, Uber), a business can create a groundswell of supporters and buyers by aligning a brand strategy with the contemporary consumer expectations and aspirations..then delivering on this alignment.
To my friends, salespeople and owners and managers, don’t settle for the old “30 years in business” talking points. They only reduce your value to a commodity. Worse, If the customer views your company as a commodity you can only command commodity pricing. Sharpen your brand. Leverage the brand to differentiate yourself. Capitalize on differentiation in order to create scarcity. Become a price leader because of this scarcity. Start focusing your brand.