STEP 1-BUILD YOUR BRAND
Branding is largely misunderstood and widely discussed.
Rob Frankel, in his book The Revenge of Brand X (an expensive book by book pricing standards, but well worth your investment for the information contained there) has an interesting quiz about branding that concludes that of all the possible definitions, “A BRAND is that thing they burn into cows.”
We’d certainly agree with Rob’s observation. It is why you’ll see throughout our site an emphasis on STARTING the branding process with a plan … and a visual identity (like the logo or symbol used by old-time cowboys to “mark” their cattle and distinguish them from the rancher next door.)
So, in practicality, how do you Plan your Brand? Well, there are several steps in this process. If you are in the business planning phase, you may have more control over this process than if you’re the CEO of a large and already “successful” business.
FIND A NICHE.
This is where we move away from the theory that a “brand” is just a logo or corporate identity. In the planning process, (whether in a start-your-own business or a seasoned one) it is vital that you determine what market niche you want to OWN.
Even before the internet began to surface as a significant way to link with others and conduct business, “niche” marketing has been a critical principal for successful businesses.
“What is niche marketing?” Well, think about a common phrase, “Carving out a niche.” A niche is a little recess in a wall where you might place a small statue or other keepsake. One of the reasons it may be misunderstood is the various pronunciations. For instance, you’ll hear it pronounced “neesche” like “quiche” or “nitch” like “rich” and in some rare cases “nish” like “squish.”
In a business context, niche marketing suggests that you create a business focus that is narrow enough that you can literally be THE ONLY or THE PRIMARY solution for someone needing what you provide, manufacture, distribute, sell, etc.
The internet produces a double-edged sword for this effort. For instance, if you are a car dealer who sells GM vehicles, you will find many competitors – most of them easily accessible on the web. So, just being a dealer with a web site, BY ITSELF, will not give you a give you a market niche that you can own.
Conversely, if you sell tumbleweeds as Christmas decorations, the web can be a great resource for helping you “carve out your niche.” Before the general availability of the web, finding this specialty item would be nearly impossible unless you live in Kansas or Texas. Even then, metropolitan areas rarely have tumbleweeds blowing down the freeway. In the pre-web era, the tumbleweed specialist probably had few resources to “advertise” his/her services. And, where would you advertise them?
By the same token, if you are interested in this specialty, how would you get linked to THE experts in this area? Even more significant is the fact that BEFORE the internet, NOBODY would have even thought about selling tumbleweeds as Christmas decorations as a for-profit business. Surprisingly, our quick multi-search engine search (try COPERNIC, one of the best we’ve found) yielded over 146 results.
Naturally, some of them were for a Tumbleweed movie or companies with a Tumbleweed name. But, using the word “tumbleweeds” (with an “s” on the end) showed us the results we might have been looking for in the first 5 search results.
Now, this company (www.PrairieTumbleweedFarm.com) has carved out a special niche that wouldn’t probably have existed before the internet as we know it.
Examples of the power of niche marketing are everywhere. For instance, if someone says STARBUCKS, what is your first thought?
Because they determined in advance what niche they wanted to own, STARBUCKS has become synonymous with COFFEE. And not just coffee, but great coffee! Now, will their movement into sandwiches and other items dilute their niche ownership? It’s too early to tell. But, history is replete with stories of companies that have ruined their “brand” or niche ownership by not staying focused.
The important point is this: Plan your Brand by finding a market niche that you can own, even if it’s just in your own company, city, region, or state. Now, you may be wondering why we suggest a niche in your own “company.” Isn’t niche marketing just for companies, not individuals. Absolutely NOT!
BRANDING IS FOR INDIVIDUALS, TOO!
Let me give you a very personal example.
MANY years ago, I was invited to join our city’s largest real estate company (the result of personal positioning strategies). While studying for my real estate license exam, I did exactly what I’m suggesting you do.
I carefully studied the industry and its practitioners in our city. A casual look at the Sunday real estate classifieds revealed that over 1200-1500 real estate agents and brokers were all competing for the same listings, the same buyers, the same builders, and so forth.
I knew that “branding” myself (I called it personal positioning back then) was essential in order to OWN the marketplace. But, how would it be possible for a brand new agent to accomplish this when competing with so many others – many who had been in the business for years?
Let’s not overlook the topic here: “Isn’t branding just for companies, not individuals?” You see, the company that I was going to work for was already well-recognized as being the biggest and best. But, that had little to do with me … with my business … with those out in the marketplace who opened the paper every Sunday to see a sea of “invisible” names of real estate agents wanting readers to choose them.
Even within a successful firm, I had to develop a “market positioning strategy” for ME. The same is true for YOU, whether you are an accounting clerk at a huge company or a sole proprietor. Back to the way I actually accomplished this.
I carefully analyzed the market, those in it, the resources for gaining visibility, and how they “positioned” or “branded” (this was 20+ years before the concept even became mainstream) themselves. To my amazement, NO AGENT OR BROKER OWNED the marketplace.
In fact, no one that I could identify was even making an effort to stand out. They just relied on their broker’s efforts to somehow be their differentiation provider.
Careful scrutiny of the primary media (in those days anyway) for promoting real estate was the daily and Sunday real estate classified ads. But, how would I generate any visibility there if I used my real name, Robert Griffith? If you typeset that name in a single-column ad, it gets so small that it doesn’t jump off the page any more than the others.
What to do?
Focus on one of the primary principles in successful branding:
What’s in a Name? Plenty!
In my case, I needed a shorter name. As a high school teacher for several years (speech, debate, drama), many students in extracurricular events (debaters, dramatic productions, etc.) had nicknamed me “Griff.” This was my answer.
Now what? Just because I’d settled on a short name didn’t mean it would “pop” off the page when printed. The next part of the branding process required a “griff” logo. Even way back then, I understood something that I still teach today:
Look Around. Design Matters.
So, I approached a good friend who was a superb graphic artist. He helped me craft my “griff” logo.
What did all of this have to do with finding a niche?
Well, first, I researched this all with a “market positioning” emphasis. I determined that my niche had to be “ME” rather than “IT.” What do I mean by that? Well, in many cases you might expect a real estate niche to be a focus on “first-time buyers” or “farm and rural properties” or “high-end residential” or “new homes.”
In my case, I decided to create a form of “magnet marketing.” This meant the focus of my niche marketing efforts had to be ME. For example, in our city, an agent couldn’t successfully carve out a niche of selling ONLY first-time buyers and make a successful living.
Well, a great way to generate sales is to have listings. If a person was going to concentrate SOLELY on first-time buyers, they would never have any listings to leverage into meeting prospective buyers. In a city of only 300,000, it was equally difficult to take on the other areas of specialty and earn a good living.
By marketing ME, I could respond to a wide array of buying and selling needs. So, how was I going to accomplish this?
First, I determined where I could start to build a consistent perception about myself with real estate buyers and sellers.
Next, I figured out the limitations of the medium (the newspaper in this case) and how I would need to “position” myself to springboard from those limitations.
I began to use my “griff“ logo everywhere.
So, when someone opened the paper, the “griff” logo jumped out even when used in a single column format (I did this because it was less expensive and I could get more impressions for less money). Now, don’t misunderstand, the cost to run my giant “griff” logo (maybe 6-10 lines) was substantially more expensive than the 1 line cost that most agents spent to put their name in an ad. But, they were more concerned with COST than “branding” or “positioning.” But, my results were dramatic.
There’s an important point to all of this, however. Not only did I consistently use my “griff” identity, in the paper, I constantly linked my logo with the word “SOLD.” While there is a value in repeating your identity with regularity, it is just as important to associate it with something meaningful to your clients or prospective clients/customers.
In residential real estate, if you’re a home seller, the most important thing for you is to acquire the services on a broker or agent who gets RESULTS. This means that the agent can sell homes quickly and at the highest possible price. That’s why I CONSISTENTLY linked my “brand” with SUCCESS (i.e. SOLD). Here’s an example of one such ad that I ran many years ago.
I coupled this all with an ARRAY of other creative market positioning tools and property promotion tools that attracted sellers. And with sellers came buyers. And buyers often had homes to sell, so that meant more buyers.
Do you get the point?
Even with no experience … with no clients or customers … with few contacts … with no listings … I was able to be perceived as OWNING the residential marketplace within 1-2 years of starting my program.
Don’t misunderstand! This didn’t happen JUST because I had a plan for how to “be everywhere simultaneously.” But, it was the start.
The major misconception in the “marketing” arena is that “branding” happens because you have a logo.
No, I can tell you that it is MUCH DEEPER than that; but, it starts with a STRATEGIC PLAN that includes the six components that I’m sharing with you now.
But, here’s the most important thing for you to understand in this entire treatise (and it’s one that Tom Peters and others have identified as being most absent within large and small companies alike):
Most companies don’t have ANY IDEA how to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Your key to success in most cases … especially in a crowded marketplace is to find someone who can help you discover these new products … new services … new marketing approaches … new joint venture opportunities … or whatever.
And, while those ideas may come from those within your own firm, their inspiration OFTEN must have an outside catalyst to “mine” the creative nuggets out of them. All of the major research and experience indicates that we all have creative sparks within us just yearning to be released. Once the creative process is activated and energized, the flow can be almost endless. This, in part, is the power of BRAINeLINK™.
If you are part of an existing company that has established tremendous market “equity” with an existing name, your role here may be limited. On the other hand, you may need to look at this entire issue with a “clean slate” perspective.
An example of this is reflected in my earlier comments about what name to use as a real estate professional:
Rather than just publishing my own name, I looked at the marketing impact of names.
How would the name be used in the predominant media where prominence would or could be gained?
What potential audience would be the target of the marketing effort?
What might be revealed about the nature of the business as reflected by the name used? And so forth.
These are all issues that you should take into consideration. Even though there is a considerable movement toward using meaningless names that are a jumble of letters – especially in the dot.com world, we suggest a different approach … one that is more meaningful to your prospective audience. Additionally, if you can find and secure a name that has been built up in the mindset or language of the culture, then seriously consider that. Let us know if you would like us to assist you with a naming process.
Interestingly, that success has lead to MANY real estate agents and brokers hiring THINK-TANK to help with their positioning strategies and visual branding efforts. Check out our RIGHT BRAIN section to see some of these.
Unfortunately, “branding” is much more than just having a unique visual presence. And in the age of the internet, “branding” in the way that I was able to do years ago is becoming more difficult because the places to establish that unique presence are more scattered. But, challenges present opportunities for those who really understand HOW TO accomplish what might seem impossible.