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If you run a business, you own a brand. Whether done consciously or not, you have positioned your brand in the market — and your customers have positioned your brand in their minds. Your brand has been or will be defined by several factors, including:
- Your best employee and your worst;
- The appearance of your building, your service bays or your waiting room;
- Your superstar manager and your new receptionist;
- Your most effective mailer and the least;
- Your wash greeter and their verbal introduction.
Your brand is defined by comments around the water cooler in your office and in your customer’s office, the bay time on your last oil change or the appearance of their car after their last wash.
Your brand is a psychological and emotional imprint within your customer’s mind. Because of this, you will never fully control your brand. Your task as management, a.k.a. “brand manager,” is to define, support, guide and protect your brand’s message in all that you do. So where should you start?
Defining (or remodeling) your brand
The first step in defining your brand is to set the foundation. The foundation of your brand should mirror the core values and the culture of you, your staff and your business.
- What is the heart and soul of your business?
- What fundamental attributes do you want to be known for? Is it a new, fresh and youthful vibe or maybe you want a reputation for having the utmost integrity? Classy, personalized service or a professional atmosphere?
This foundation is cast in stone and will remain unchanged with strategic adjustments from market conditions, product lines or competition.
The next step in defining your brand is to establish the frame work. Your brand’s frame work is constructed after evaluating and outlining the following criteria:
- Market segment;
- Market differentiation; and
- Brand proposition.
By defining your primary market segment, you are indentifying who your target customers are, their demographics, their needs and the key attributes and benefits they desire. Take current events, hot topics, market conditions and shifts in pop culture into consideration.
You must also define who or what your competition is (example: Detailers, gas station washes, do-it-yourself washers, economic conditions, seasonal weather, etc.). Include all possible factors that cut into your revenue base. Examine how each competitive facet affects your business.
Next, review your products and services. Adjust to ensure they are consistent with your target customers and their needs, today.
Market differentiation is a key to success in today’s crowded marketplace. Why should a customer choose you over a competitor?
It is usually not enough to say, “We do what everyone else does better.” Differentiation is made even more difficult within today’s society with the vast amount of information available at the consumer’s fingertips.
What sets your business apart? Is it the speed of your service, your “no hassle” sales approach, your environmental responsibility and “green” oil change or carwash, your accessible location, your multiple locations or your one-stop shopping?
You must clearly define tangible points of differentiation and benefits when compared to the competition (previously listed in market segment research). While evaluating points of difference, focus on your strengths and the immediate needs of your customer base.
Another essential part of differentiation is emotional. Intangible, sub-conscious benefits connect with the consumer before they have directly experienced your product or service. Emotional connections can be made, again, by staying “in tune” with the current needs and desires of your target audience.
An emotional bond with your customer can be a powerful ally. While an emotional attachment is difficult to realize and develop, it can be done. A morning carwash and cup of fresh-roasted coffee to kick-off their day with a “clean, fresh start,” a high-mileage oil change service and detail to keep “old faithful” running at peak condition and looking young; a “green” oil change to do their part to protect non-renewable resources, use less energy, reduce reliance on foreign crude oil and reduce ground, water and air pollution. Emotional connection…check.
You now have a solid foundation, you know who your customers are and what they want and need, and know what your sets your business apart from the competition. It’s now time to add the finishing touches to your brand, your brand proposition.
Your brand proposition is a clear, concise, unique and relevant message that you consistently send to your customers, prospects and employees. It describes how you meet expressed needs, how you are different, how you connect emotionally and why the consumer should choose your business
This uniform message must be consistent in all that you do; including
- Employee training;
- Uniforms; and
- Press releases, etc.
Once your brand proposition is established, introduce it to your entire team. Explain the importance of a uniform mantra in every aspect of your business. Constantly reinforce your message and make it a vital part of your daily operation.
A brief word of caution; don’t offer a brand proposition that represents attributes the consumer expects you to have. “Good service” or “quick service” is not enough; it’s already expected. “Spot-free finish” is not enough, it’s expected. Focus on your strengths and competitive advantages and dare to be different.
As opposed to your core culture and values, your brand proposition should be flexible and change with the fluctuating landscape of society, market conditions and economic times. You must stay one step ahead of market dynamics and your competition. The strongest brand imaginable will inevitably become out-dated, stale and inefficient without periodical tune-ups and adjustments. A strategic marketing meeting should be on your calendar at least once per year.
The benefits of building your brand
Building a successful brand around your business will lead to long-term brand loyalty (customer loyalty). Brand loyalty improves customer satisfaction and customer retention, stabilizes profit margins and unifies your staff with a common mantra and focus. Indentifying and defining your brand will take some of the guesswork out of future strategic planning. A successful brand will maximize the valuation of your business.
A relevant, unique and consistent brand proposition will put you and your company one step closer to long-term success.
Shane Terry is president of North American Lubricants, Co., a manufacturer of lubricants for the automotive industry. He can be reached by phone at (800) 430-6252 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.