By Sue Kirchner
In my last article I explained why it was so essential for entrepreneurs to brand themselves. Not only to create relationships with customers but also to provide strategic focus to you, the business owner. If you have been in business for a few years, you have a brand. Even if you feel you haven’t done any marketing, you stand for something in the minds of your customers and others who interact with you.
Every interaction you have with someone helps to cement an image in their mind of what you stand for, your strengths and weaknesses. You need to get a handle on what your brand is, what you want it to be, and how you are going to bridge the brand gap in perceptions, if there is one. So, we’ll focus on what your brand is and start with a little research.
If you are just launching your company, you’re lucky. You have a clean slate and you can stake your claim in the marketplace with a strong message. However, for many entrepreneurs, the brand of the business is very tangled with the brand of the business owner. You do have a personal reputation which will most likely carry over to your new business. Especially in service businesses, customers are hiring you. I would recommend doing this same research process on “Brand You” to understand what characteristics you have that you can build on for the company.
Here’s how you can start the process of researching or identifying your brand promise:
1. An objective opinion.
Two heads are better than one when it comes to identifying your brand promise. It is so hard to look at yourself or your company and see it objectively. I have to bring in someone to help me work on my own business. If it is just you, see if you can ask a peer or business associate to help you as an objective opinion. If you have employees, create a brand task force with employees from all levels – front line worker, manager, senior management.
2. Identify your interview targets.
Your brand resides in the minds of your constituents – customers, potential customers, employees, maybe even investors. To find out how they see you, select a sample of each to interview, including you, the owner. (Have someone interview you or fill out the questions yourself as objectively as you can.) Your goal should be to conduct 10–15 interviews (more if you have more constituents), so create a list with a few more people in case they are hard to reach. Can’t come up with 10? Any interviews are better than none. Do what you can.
3. Create brand research questions.
Now put together a list of questions. Make the questions general to specific: what business is “X” company in?” to “Tell me about a time when “X” company helped you out of a jam.” Get to the emotional appeal. Ask: “What were the circumstances? Who helped you? How did it make you feel?” “Why can’t you get that anywhere else?” “What problem does this company solve?” Create a guideline of questions so that if you have more than one person doing the interviews, everyone is collecting the same information. You’ll want to compare answers.
Tip: Focus on the positives. Find out what you or your company does well. That way, you can try to replicate those successful moments more often. Don’t prompt someone to say something negative. If people have strong negative feelings, they will air them anyway.
Be creative with your questions. Sometimes the more surprising the question, the better the information collected. You want the emotions and feelings the person has about you, so keep asking, “Why?” until you get the information you need.
(If you need help with questions, our next article for The Work at Home Woman will include a sample survey.)
4. Conduct Interviews.
Conduct the interviews in a short period of time — one or two weeks. The faster you can conduct the interviews, the fresher the information will be in your mind and you’ll start to recognize patterns. I really like to do these interviews in person or over the phone. You get more interesting information when you are talking. Ask people to coffee or give them a call. Only resort to an email or written survey as a last resort. People are busy and they don’t like to write.
5. Analyze information.
Here’s the fun part. Take a look at what you learned. Try to weed out the unique attributes of the company. Write them on a board – no idea is too silly. You should start to see patterns developing or ideas being repeated. The more repetition of an idea, the stronger the attribute. Look for disconnects. Do your employees think you excel at customer service but your customers never mention it?
6. Write the insights.
Distill the information collected to about 5 – 10 key insights or characteristics that make your company special. Some may not be positive and that’s OK. Once identified, you can work on how to change these perceptions. Remember – Not all insights need to be customer focused. One of your brand attributes could be a creative place to work. These will provide the foundation for articulating your brand promise, which we will focus on in a future article. See if you can collect insights on what makes the company unique, what problem you really solve for people, who would be most attracted to your company, and the “personality” of the company: friendly, creative, edgy, thought leader, etc.
So, now what?
Put your list together of who you might be able to interview and who might help you with the process, and in my next article for The Work at Home Woman, I’ll provide you with sample interview questions to kick start your brand research.
With a 20-year background in marketing and branding consulting, Sue Kirchner is passionate about building brands. She is the founder Brand Strong Marketing. Sue is also the publisher of the Chocolate Cake Moments blog, which shares tips and ideas on how to schedule more family fun and laughter. When she’s not working, she’s home having fun with her husband and two kids.