Creating a brand experience that gets noticed takes guts. It means standing apart from your competition by makingand then keepinga relevant and engaging promise.
In the beginning, being different is going to make you nervous. For most of our lives, we've been told to get along by going along. Organizations that follow that advice when building their brands, however, risk getting lost in a sea of sameness where price becomes the most meaningful differentiator. By standing out in the crowd, it's easy to get noticed. Once you get noticed, you can tell your story and begin making a case to your customer that your product or service is relevant to your customer.
But how do you get there? Where do you start?
Start with introspection. Decide who you are. Get the conversation out of the boardroom and onto the front lines. Talk to all your employees, especially those who are in contact with your customers consistently. Talk to your customers and vendors. Ask all: what one word comes to mind when describing your company? What do they like best? What don't they like about your organization? How would they describe your organization to a friend?
Really want some insight? Secret shop your competition. Find out how they describe you. What scares them most? What are your weaknesses?
Look for Your Best
Pretty soon, your best attribute will emerge. Whatever you identify, make sure it's accurate, and it doesn't just feed the corporate ego. Get beyond "great customer service" or "our people make the difference." Seek ways to get noticed and make people interested in what you have to say.
For some brands, being different comes naturally, and they build upon that difference from the beginning. Chick-Fil-A made national news this summer because the brand rests comfortably on its Christian values. Yes, a portion of the market disagreed vehemently with that brand position, but the restaurant chain proved that as long as it has critical mass to be successfuland a tasty chicken sandwichit can survive its detractors.
Hooters is a brand that has found success in most of its locations with its wings, women and beer, in spite of the protestations of a portion of the community. At last count, however, more than 430 Hooters restaurants are in 27 countries, employing more than 17,000 women. Hooters is comfortable in its own brand skin, and willing to show a lot of it.
Extreme examples? Absolutely. Both brands live on the spectrum where the most successful ones are loved and hated by consumers. Think Apple, the New York Yankees or the aforementioned Chick-fil-A or Hooters. The brands that try to be all things to all people live in the mushy middle of mediocrity. Think Sears/Kmart or General Motors.
Advertising great Bill Bernbach said it best: "If you stand for something, you will always have some people for you and others against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you and nobody for you."
Those organizations that live on the edge of the love-hate spectrum are quite comfortable there because they know they have enough raving fans to stay in business, and are always seeking ways to grow that base, not just sell more products or services. These brands purposefully and consistently engage their fans more deeply, with amazing and highly relevant experiences at every point of brand contacton the phone, in the store, in the package, on the website, in social media, etc.
Make it authentic
Once you've decided what you stand forand you've transcended the fearit's time to make it truthful. Where is your "est" most apparent? Where can you show off what makes you different? In the packaging (Apple or Pringles)? In your return policy (Nordstrom's or Zappos.com)? In cause marketing and charitable giving (Newman's Own or Ben & Jerry's)? In the way your team interacts with customers (Les Schwab Tires or Dick's Last Resort)? In each of these situations, the brand owners have chosen a unique and relevant manner to capture and sustain the public's attention.
Be prepared to live the difference constantly. It takes eight to 13 times before a message is understood by consumers, and even more for them to identify its relevance and embrace the promise.
Once you've identified your "est" and the place to show it off, train your team. Explain the thought process and the purpose behind the effort. Demonstrate the behavior. Reward those who repeat the behavior with purpose and passion. And communicate the results to reinforce the behavior.
Warning: not everybody inside your organization will be able to shed their fear and embrace the organizational "est." Employee indifference or apathy creates fan confusion. You can't afford to send mixed messages in today's flash-paced market.
Now is the time to stand up and step out. Know who you are and begin to live that way every day.
Mark True, the Brand Warrior, has earned a reputation as a disciplined brand strategist. He is a brand consultant and writes occasionally at brandhappens.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter, @thebrandwarrior.