Lighting the brand fire within.

Originally published in Austin Business District Magazine in Sept./Oct. 2005

Dear Brand Guru, I run a small Austin business and my marketing director says we need to work on our market positioning. How much is this going to cost me?

I will be arriving at your office with a small front-end loader. I prefer my fee in un-marked bills, packed in cellophane bundles of $5,000 each. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Hey, I’m not Michael Dell!

As my son says, “No duh.” Michael has buildings full of brand managers, you don’t. In fact, all of my clients are not Michael Dell. Most are just ordinary folks who sell services, or bend sheet metal for a living.

Bend sheet metal?

Manufacture stuff, primarily stuff that’s not sexy. I could make real money branding sports drinks that sweat out of your body in gushing rainbows, but I like living in Austin so here we are.

I think what our company does is kind of sexy.

It’s funny when you say it like that, with no hint of sarcasm in your voice. Look, I’ve read your annual report. You have a nice respectable business, good profits, and dependable products. You need clarity, not flash.

But our competitors are gaining ground, and my sales manager says our brand is faded around the edges.

I see. When he says “brand” what is he talking about?

Our logo and name?

We’re not messing with your name unless focus groups tell us it makes them think of something dark and depressing, like Texas school finance. Your logo is a bit retro in the wrong kind of way, but we’ll deal with that later. Tell me about your company vision.

Vision? Hmmm. We had a strategy session a couple of years ago. Put the vision statement on a poster in the lobby. Gold frame.

And if I were to ask your employees what makes your company unique and valued by your customers, what would they say?

We have a list of 23 Mighty Motivators, “Quality that Just Won’t Die…Value in Every Spot Weld…Wrap the Customer in a Bear Hug…”

Okay, please stop. Remember, you’re paying me by the hour. I want you to consider for a moment an Austin business that brands itself from the inside out. Coldwell Banker, United REALTORS® is one of the leading Coldwell Banker franchises in the country. Helen Edwards, President and COO, refreshed and revitalized their brand by simplifying their Standard of Practice to three clear points. Every agent is trained to deliver those three sales pledges to every customer. They understand why that is important, and how it builds brand recognition over time.

Three things? Sounds too simple.

It’s hard work to make a sales message simple. That’s why too few companies do it. And many never take the time to inform, train and motivate their staff to deliver on that simple, clear brand promise. Edwards’ sales supervisors provide new ideas on how to deliver the Standard of Practice at every sales training session, but they never dilute the power of those three simple pledges. And by the way, she implemented the new brand program without fiddling with their name, the logo or any of their marketing materials save for one piece.

So why do I need you, Mr. I-Read-A-Brand-Book-And-Now-I’m-An-Expert?

Chances are you have all the tools you need to at least start the process. Ask yourself, “What are the one or two qualities that would be absolutely missing from the marketplace without our company?” Think about the role your employees play in delivering those qualities, and how to get them to understand and appreciate the value of these on-brand behaviors.

And our logo?

You may be so excited about the positive changes in your brand story you’ll want to communicate that newness and vitality to your customers. In other words, a refreshed graphic identity may make sense after you’ve rejuvenated your brand delivery.

I’m actually more excited about this brand business now that I understand it better.

Peace, love and understanding. I’m glad we could share this karmic moment together. There are subtle nuances to branding that make fascinating conversation, but I’ve found that most companies make tremendous progress simply by focusing on better communication and clear thinking within their own organization. Go forth and brand thee .

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