Guest post from Maria Ross, founder and chief strategist of Red Slice a branding and marketing consultancy based in the US. She is the author of Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget available on Amazon.co.uk
Clients often ask us, “How will we know when we’ve got a winning brand?” Rather than telling them, “You’ll know it when you see it” there are some guideposts along the way to tell you your brand is moving in the right direction.
At first, it starts small: increased website hits, increased referrals, uptick in positive social media chatter – even anecdotal evidence like more positive comments from customers or partners. You can look at metrics like newsletter signups, store visits, or customer phone inquiries. Obviously, it all leads to “more sales” but, let’s get real: the sales cycle is like courtship. You don’t propose on the first date, but there are little steps along the way that you must take to get to marriage.
If you launch a new brand or rebrand an existing one, you can put feedback mechanisms in place to see if you’re going in the right direction: focus groups, email surveys, sales trends, even just good old fashioned talking to your customers and partners. Seek out unbiased feedback but make sure it’s from people that matter to your sales. Asking your 15 year-old nephew or your spouse what they think is fine – if they are your target audience. Believe me, more often than not, they are not the right people to be asking, no matter how much you respect their opinion.
Here are some signs of a power brand to which you can map your progress, at whatever scale your business operates:
- People are proud to say they work, partner or shop with your company: If customer, partners or employees find that they get greater cache when they sport your brand on their website, paycheck or shopping bag, you know you’ve got a winner. Your brand is transcending into a world where people want to identify themselves as part of your tribe and bask in your brand “halo effect” to make themselves or their business look good. Sort of like hanging out with the cool kids at school.
- Your customers are advocates, spreading your story: Word of mouth is key and if customers are going around – unpaid – doing your advertising for you, then that is the holy grail of marketing. Are they chatting you up on social media, sharing unprompted referrals with friends (“You have GOT to shop at Zappos!* They have the best customer service.”) creating “spoof” videos on YouTube, or even inking themselves with your logo (hello, Harley)? Then you’re doing everything right.
- Some people (outside your target) don’t like you: When you are effectively creating a brand, you have a clear ideal customer target and you serve them. This naturally means there will be those who don’t “get” you. And that’s okay. The Justin Bieber craze annoys me to no end, but it doesn’t matter: I’m not the target audience. Having people who don’t like you means you are not trying to be all things to all people.
- You can elegantly recover from occasional mistakes: If your brand has enough “brand good will” built up, it can withstand some gaffes and missteps along the way. It’s like a bank account: the more you put in, the more comfortable you can be withdrawing every now and then. As long as you recover with dignity and transparency, a strong brand can withstand a lot.
- Articles about your company talk about your impact on the industry and/or the world: Rather that just talking about what you sell, the press and other organisations seek you out as a thought leader and innovator – even if it just your local community press. The media often cites Zappos when it comes to innovative online customer service, not just when they are talking about shoes and accessories. Starbucks is often talked about as successfully creating an “experience” brand, having transformed the coffee category by emphasising more than just the high-priced lattes they sell.
(Ed's note: Zappos is a US online retailer of shoes, clothes and accessories.)
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