Powerful Brand Leadership

Guest post by Anna Lieber

Q. How do we define a brand today?

A. A brand is a promise to the community. It is an emotional connection which promises a certain level of quality, honesty and integrity whether it applies to a person, a product or service. 

If you have a daycare center, your community is the mothers in your area and you are promising reliability and excellent care for their children. If you are a CPA, your community may be businesses or individuals who need tax consulting, and you are promising honesty, integrity and a high level of competence. If you are a jobseeker, you yourself are the brand and you promise a high level of commitment to anyone who receives your resume. There is a great deal of competition in every area. Today, you can’t even get a date without marketing yourself. 

Some brands seem to grow magically, like Starbucks, for example.

A brand needs to be relevant to the times. There’s a good reason why we drink coffee at Starbucks today and not Chock Full o’ Nuts. Starbucks recognized the need to create a coffeehouse community. They grew their brand quickly, and without advertising, simply by recognizing a need in society so they could be ahead of the curve, and creating a great brand experience. 

Q. How do you create a brand?

A. Too many people think a brand is simply a logo. A brand identity is much more. The brand is a personality expressed by how you look, how your office looks, your letterhead, your web site and promotion or your resume, how you answer the phone, in short, through every means of communication. 

The brand personality will be very different for the daycare center (colorful, fun and energetic) than for the CPA (dignified, businesslike and conservative). A brand must be appropriate and descriptive of the business or individual through its look and feel. Sometimes it helps to start with the key words which describe your business. 

Q. How do you know if you are being strategic? 

A. Strategize who you are, what you’re selling and who your target audience is? Decide exactly what you stand for and develop a set of key messages which answer the questions: What can I offer? What is my core competency? What do I specialize in? What do I believe in? 

It is imperative to strategize by analyzing yourself and then your competition. In marketing we do a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Understand thoroughly who you are. Determine your unique point of difference. What distinguishes you from your competition? And don’t forget, what could you do better? It’s easier today to do competitive research or competitive intelligence than ever before because of the internet. 

Make sure you know what your clients want. Only then can you fashion products and services that are marketable and build an image which is credible, relevant, unique and durable. 

Q. How do you create a corporate identity?

A. So now you are finally ready to create a brand identity, a visual representation. The brand identity becomes a powerful tool in getting your message out. It may be a logo or type treatment which you integrate into every communication whether it’s a letter, a web site, an email, a resume, a product package or a service brochure.

Do not create it yourself unless you are a graphic designer. And don’t let your nephew in high school do it. You wouldn’t let him fix your car or perform surgery on you. Don’t let him experiment with your brand either. It’s far too important. If you can’t afford a designer, hire a design student through one of the design schools. Although they are beginners, they’ve had design training which is essential.

A powerful brand identity creates memorability through repetition. Create a letterhead, business card and envelope which all match. When you develop a web site, integrate the same look here.

Once you have a brand identity, how do you get the word out? 

Start by creating key messages about yourself, your product or your service. Then market these messages every chance you can – to everyone you know. You have a database – even when you start out. It’s your address book. Tell everyone you know what you are doing whether it’s through a letter, a postcard, a web site or verbally via your elevator speech. That’s the basis of networking. We all use our networks to find a doctor, a babysitter, or a job, or to buy a house. And we need to spread the word about our business in the same way because no one knows you are out there until you tell them. 

Q. What is an elevator speech? 

A. Figure you are in an elevator and going up to the 10th floor. You meet someone and you must tell them in two to three sentences what your business is, or what position you are seeking. It should be succinct, compelling and answer the questions, who you are, what you do – and most important, why they should care. The key is there needs to be a benefit. What’s in it for them – or if they can’t use your service, what’s in it for your target audience – because surely they know someone who could use your services. The elevator speech needs to be scripted and to roll off your tongue without thinking.

Q. So an elevator speech is a networking introduction?

A. Networking is essential in marketing our businesses. It’s the key to getting what we need in life because we are all part of a community which shares information. That leads me to the role that content and knowledge management play in creating a brand. 

Q. What do you mean by “content”? 

A. Brands today are required to be brainy and to have a “brand voice”. You have information to share. And you will want to figure out how to share it so that you and your brand look smart to the right people, your target audience, those who have a need and are qualified to buy your product or service. You want to engage them to create interest and credibility. 

With so much information out there, how does creating content help my client?

In our cluttered environment, your role is to simplify the process for the client who has too many choices. You are the “portal of trust,” a term coined by Robert Reich “The Future of Success”. You, the expert, will navigate the waters for a client who is terrified to make a mistake. 

Q. What types of marketing initiatives will prove your credibility?

A. Use your brand to show yourself as an expert. Create content on the web, write an article, run a workshop, send an email newsletter. Even a simple promotional letter outlining your accomplishments of the past year can be instrumental. Your clients may not know what you’ve done for other clients. Start what I call a clipping campaign. Send your clients and prospects articles of interest. Selling today is not really about sales. It’s about starting a dialogue and being a resource. 

And marketing is not about advertising. It’s information sharing in a global community. It’s about creating a brand personality which represents you and your company in a way that creates maximum credibility and visibility. Educate those around you and give them something of added value. In the “New Normal,” a leader in business or in life needs to connect by creating a brand, then make a contribution to the community, and success is sure to follow.