For many business owners, marketing is a necessary evil, a confounding mystery, and something they tend to only when business is slow. This kind of relationship to marketing, and the stressful procrastination that accompanies it, leaves your brand exposed to the vulnerabilities of chance.
Now, it’s true that a robust approach to marketing — strategy, branding, tools, campaigns, design — all take valuable time, money, and expertise. It’s also true that most small businesses don’t have a full-time marketing departments with big budgets to create and drive a brand. I contend you can create and maintain a compelling brand by cultivating it from the inside-out.
Years ago, I was working with a business owner to shape her company’s brand. We were writing case studies to showcase their good work. As I interviewed her for project details, she replied, “You know what our clients want to hear Karen. Do your spin and make us sound good!”. She’s right that I understood what mattered to her clients. The mistake, however, would be to craft a brand based on what your clients want versus who you actually are. Ultimately, your clients are going to believe the experience they have over any “brand” presented.
The driving force behind your brand is your culture. Your culture is shaped by the decisions you make, the way you treat each other, how empowered your employees feel, how responsive you are, how well you keep your agreements, the levels of accountability demonstrated when obstacles arise, etc.
A trusted brand is built on consistency. A good brand is genuine, it connects and resonates, and it extends an invitation to be a part of the community you’re building. In other words, a solid brand equates to solid, long-term relationships. Your marketing must be anchored in and congruent with a culture that perpetuates the brand promise or experience.
How to start building an authentic brand:
• Walk the talk of your core values. Employee alignment behind the core values creates a more consistent brand experience. When they understand how to use the core values in making decisions, treating others, and delivering services, you have engaged employees that can confidently serve as reliable brand ambassadors. Your core values are ineffective if they are merely posted on your website, office walls, or employee handbook. They need to be embedded in the hearts, minds and actions of every company ambassador.
• Employee and client perception studies. Existing employees and clients are a wealth of information about the state of your brand. Conducting a perception study shows you value their opinions. Acting on their feedback demonstrates respect. It affords you the opportunity to see how your brand is perceived and to shore up your brand in areas you might be falling short. And, it gives you direction in making continuous improvements in areas that matter to your most treasured relationships — your employees and clients. It fosters a robust culture of growth and learning from critical feedback. It also means your brand is anchored in operations and customer satisfaction. The study can help you define your company’s unique strengths — your value proposition that can help differentiate you.
• Employee engagement. Every conversation you have with your employees is a potential opportunity to articulate your expectations for the brand and give them clarity for how to show up. Your daily positive and constructive feedback helps them understand what it means to be a valued member of the team. When you empower your team to make decisions, take initiative, tackle challenges, etc., you will have a more robust brand, and a more cohesive and focused team. Find creative ways to appreciate, recognize and reward when you observe an employee serving in ways that are how you want the brand portrayed.
While the look and feel of a brand is important, don’t let it be the only attention to your brand. It’s an inside-out job: nurturing relationships, keeping your agreements, getting clear on who you are, and the unique value you bring. Build a brand from the inside out and not only will your brand be compelling, it will penetrate your operations, impacting everything you do. How will you build a brand that inspires and resonates?
Karen Natzel of K Communications serves as a business therapist to leaders who want to create healthy, vibrant and high performing organizations. She helps her clients navigate change and growth by serving as a confidential sounding board; as facilitator, trainer, accountability partner, conflict-resolver, relationship-builder, awareness-raiser, communicator, coach and workplace strategist. Her passion is inspiring leaders to cultivate their — and their teams’ — potential.
Contact her at Rx@BizTherapy.biz.