"Born to brand" is an understatement when it comes to Deb Gabor. Tune in for the story on the "Building America" segment of The Morning Blaze with Doc Thompson on how Sol's founder and CEO became an "accidental entrepreneur" with her unique branding philosophy. So, what IS Deb's approach to branding, you might ask? You absolutely, positively MUST understand your customers to establish your brand! And always remember -- Brand or be branded!
The brands of both major US political parties are broken. Both parties crafted brands that have revealed that they're out of alignment with their constituents. The fact that so many pollsters and pundits were wrong reveals that voters hid their true intentions. Democrats made too many assumptions and suffered. Many Republicans disavowed a candidate whose brand eventually won anyhow. My personal observations while on my morning commute this election season reinforced significant branding problems for both parties. Gone were the bumper stickers and magnetic car signs common on my route back in 2008 and 2012. And where were all the yard signs advertising my neighbors’ support for their preferred candidates? I observed a totally different kind of water cooler conversation this time around too, in which my colleagues talked in generalities about campaign shenanigans and the media, but rarely stated strong opinions about any party’s candidate for fear others would judge them harshly. Myself, I was downright embarrassed to admit my political leanings to anyone. I still am.
Let’s dissect some specifics a bit further through the lens of branding. If you’ve been following along at home, you now know that a brand’s role is to answer these three important questions for its customers:
- What does it say about a person that they use/wear/drive/eat/drink/support this brand?
The number of Republicans who went on record saying they wouldn't support Trump was well over 100. It shook many Republican voters' confidence in their party's candidate. After all, the ultimate in brand embarrassment is when the "company" doesn't eat its own dog food.
- What is the singular thing a person gets from this brand they can’t get anywhere else?
Jayson Demers, CEO of AudienceBloom, wrote an article on the Entrepreneur website on this very topic. Trump gave his audience a niche-focused message to white working class males. He was extreme and polarizing, which his audience valued. He was anti-establishment, which played into the general dissatisfaction Americans felt. Trump was also nostalgic. He consistently reminded his audience of a time when they believed America was better. Trump’s Facebook and Twitter numbers certainly proved that he had struck a nerve, doubling Hillary Clinton's followers in both channels.
- How does this brand make a person the hero in his/her own story?
Hillary made her brand about her. This hurt her with minorities. Many couldn’t see the Clinton brand making them the hero. The facts show that her campaign failed to activate the minority coalition that supported Obama in previous elections. According to Pew Research, “Hillary Clinton did not run as strongly among these core Democratic groups as Obama did in 2012. Clinton held an 80-point advantage among blacks (88% to 8%,) compared with Obama’s 87-point edge four years ago (93% to 6%). In 2008, Obama had a 91-point advantage among blacks.” Back in 2012, voters clearly saw how they could be a hero in the Obama narrative.
Bottom line: brands exist to elevate their customers’ self-concepts. Customers align themselves with brands because they like what those brands say about them. The brands they love make them feel proud, give them that feeling they have the world on a string, like they can accomplish anything, like they’ll reach self-actualization and achieve their full potential as humans.
Check out this throwback from February 2014. Well before Deb decided to write her book, Branding Is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell The Hell Out of Anything. Did we see the future?http://blog.solmarketing.com/
Ever wish you could go back in time and tell yourself NOT to post that embarrassing or inappropriate photo? Today, employers are adding social media pages to the screening criteria for jobs. Does Get Suitable have the “secret sauce” to erase negative or inappropriate posts from your past and prevent those type of posts in the future?
Listen to "Erase Your Bad Social Media History" on Surviving the Startup podcast with host Marc Amazon and special guest Sol founder and CEO, Deb Gabor to find out if this startup is merely "selling a better mousetrap to people who don’t realize they have a mice problem."
Be sure to show some love by subscribing and giving a 5 star rating!
As we discussed in Your Brand Comes From Your Customers, Not You, branding isn’t about your color scheme, or the clever tagline you come up with from the confines of your office. Branding is about how your customer actually perceives you.
If your customer perceives you as filling a need (tangible or psychological) they have, that’s the essence of good branding.
With this perspective in mind, it becomes clear that the first step to successful branding is understanding your customers and their needs.
We’ve talked about the three questions, the brand values pyramid, and the ideal customer profile—all great tools to dive into your customer's’ needs and psychology—but the next question most marketers ask is always...
How do I learn about my customers?
So how do you learn everything about your customers?
Three words: talk to them.
There are many different ways to talk to your customers. On the super-low-budget end of the spectrum, you can just hang around in a Starbucks and ask people to try your product or service and then ask them for their opinions.
Be sure to ask open-ended questions, such as “What do you like about this brand?” Or, “How do you see this fitting into your life?” Or, “What would you change about this?” Actually talking to customers face-to-face is one of the most valuable things you can do to understand your brand.
Another easy way for marketing managers and executives to interact with customers is by fielding customer service calls or inbound sales calls. Even at the CEO level, if you take customer service calls for a few hours every month, it might just be the most valuable time you ever spend. The callers won’t have any idea you’re the CEO, so they won’t sugarcoat how they feel about your brand. And you can ask them almost anything you want and they’ll answer honestly.
Another free method is hosting a pizza and beer party (or pizza and wine party, depending upon your target demographic). Invite friends and friends of friends to visit your office or your home and try your product. Tell them you’ll provide take-out food and beverages in exchange for their time. The key here is to make sure you’re getting honest feedback. Friends and family usually will try to tell you they love it, even if they don’t. So offer them the booze in exchange for brutal, unvarnished honesty.
Those three ways of talking to customers are free. Even if you’re an entrepreneur on a shoestring budget, you have no excuse not to do them. As we discussed in When You’re Ready, It’s Too Late, the sooner you can start doing exercises like this to understand your customer, the better.
On the opposite end of the cost spectrum is formal market research, such as in-depth interviews, ethnographies, focus groups, and surveys. Professional focus groups can yield a tremendous amount of data, but they’re costly. Many books discuss techniques in market research. If you’re on a budget, or you have no budget, you may want to check out the book called The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, which suggests many methods for obtaining customer feedback throughout the development and growth process.
Don’t overcomplicate things. If you are having trouble answering the question, “What does it say about a person that they use your brand?”, just go out and ask them.
“What do you think it says about you that you use this brand?”
It’s as basic as that. Start there and then you can expand your customer research to learn other important things about your products, services, and brand.
The bullshit test
Understanding what your customers need and marketing to that isn’t enough. You need to walk the walk.
Once you understand your customers, ask yourself, “Do we have places where it’s an incomplete experience? Are our customer service representatives embodying what we say our brand stands for? Does our product or service really do what we say it does? Do customers experience the essence of our brand in a way that adds value to their lives?”
It’s important to know the answers to these questions so you can assess how well you and the rest of your organization are aligned on delivering a brand experience.
Zappos.com is known for its excellent customer service. That’s their brand promise. But what if a customer called and had a problem with a pair of shoes and wanted some resolution but the customer service rep was snotty to her on the phone?
Their marketing materials wouldn’t matter, because the customer’s experience wouldn’t be living up to the brand promise. They wouldn’t be fulfilling the need that the customer had, and therefore wouldn’t be living their brand.
When to hire outside help
One reason you may need professional help is that sometimes your boss or your team or your CEO is so in love with the brand that they can’t see its flaws. Sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective.
I look at my daughter and I am just in love with her. I think she is amazing, incredibly beautiful, smart, and talented, but I probably overlook a lot of flaws because she is mine. I made her. She came from my genes and my loins. A brand can be like that, too. It’s easy not to see the flaws, especially for founders and long-time team members.
Bringing in an outside brand consultant might make sense for you, but it’s getting ahead of ourselves.
- Speak to your customers. Try to really understand their wants, needs, and motivations.
- Read Branding is Sex. Use the tools discussed earlier in this post to gain clarity on who your customers are and how your brand needs to serve them.
- If you’re still struggling to get your branding right, or if it just isn’t clicking with your customers, think about hiring an outside brand strategist.
Ah, startups. The land where branding is everything, yet most companies ignore it. For a branding geek like me, startups are incredibly fun and rewarding to work with. In addition to Sol Marketing, I also run another business called InvestorPitches.com, where we work with early stage companies to help them tell their stories effectively.
In my work with startups, the same theme comes up over and over again:
- Is it too early to start branding?
- Is branding a worthwhile investment at this phase?
- Can’t we just focus on having a great product?
Of course, having a great product is important. But it’s not a trade-off where you can choose one or the other. For an early stage company nobody has heard of, branding is absolutely essential.
It’s Never Too Early
I always say, “Brand early, often, and always.”
Startups often fall into the trap of thinking they need to grow and be established players before branding matters. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The truth is, whether you work on it or not, you will have a brand. There will be a set of emotions, expectations, and feelings around your brand in the minds of customers. And if you don’t intentionally decide what that brand should be, your customers will decide it for you.
For an unfunded startup, it may be too early to invest significantly in ad spend and building a visual brand. But it’s never too early to understand your brand strategy from your customers’ point of view.
Minimum Viable Brand
Branding doesn’t need to be a big ordeal. New companies without much money to spend don’t need to hire expensive outside consultants, or run costly research studies, in order to understand their brand. But they do need to think about it.
At the very least, I encourage startups in their very early phase to understand the answers to the three fundamental questions of branding:
1) What does it say about the customer that they choose your brand?
2) What is the singular thing that only your brand can deliver to your customer?
3) How does your brand make the customer the hero in their own story?
These questions are simple, but they aren’t always easy to answer. Don’t think of this as a one-time, thirty-minute exercise. Instead, think of the process of answering of these questions as an ongoing discussion that unfolds as you find product-market fit.
I spend three full chapters in my book, Branding is Sex, explaining how best to understand and answer these questions. If you implement this process early, your branding is well taken care of. Like I said, branding doesn’t need to cost you tens of thousands of dollars. The book only costs $8.99!
As a start-up, if you do nothing else, dedicate time each month to discussing these three questions. This process gives you your brand’s North Star, which gives you direction and points you toward where you’re going.
Benefits Beyond Branding
The best thing about branding at the early stage isn’t just that it will impact how customers see you. It’ll also impact how you see yourself.
By going through this exercise, you’ll identify not only what you’re going to do but also, and more importantly, what you’re not going to do. It’s really easy as a startup to be opportunistic and to try to be all things to all customers.
But we all know that doesn’t work long term.
When you start to understand your branding and know directionally where you’re going, you can make more strategic, thoughtful, and deliberate decisions about your business.
We all know that many companies have a hard time getting their branding right. They have rebrand after rebrand, but their message never seems to hit home with customers. It seems helpless. After working with hundreds of companies in this exact situation, I’m confident to say that it isn’t helpless. They’re just making one fatal mistake:
These companies are focusing on the output of branding before adequately understanding their customers.
Many companies see branding as writing the perfect copy, choosing the perfect color scheme, and writing up a perfect brand message. This isn’t the case. These things might be the output of branding, but branding is one thing: understanding your customer.
This is a challenge. There are thousands of ways you can understand your customers, and many companies are paralyzed with understanding where to start.
From my experience helping companies understand their customers, there are three core questions that really get to the root of how the brand and customer interact. If you can answer these three questions, you’ll be in a much better place to start your branding process.
1) What does your brand say about your customers?
The first question for brands to answer is what it says about a person that he or she uses this brand. What does it communicate both to the outside world and to the customer him or herself?
This is important because, at its core, this is what a brand is. It’s a statement about the customer, and it’s crucial that, as a business, you know what that statement is.
Answering this question requires you to really get inside your customers’ heads and understand what they want to achieve in their lives, how they measure their success in achieving those goals, what they care most deeply about, and, ultimately, how the brand must deliver.
2) What is the singular thing your brand delivers that customers can’t get from anyone else?
The second question to understand is what the singular thing is that a person using this brand gets from it that they can’t get from any other brand.
In other words, what makes your brand singular and indispensable. What you’ll find, as you dig into this question, is that most of the answers aren’t tangible. It’s unlikely that your product has a feature that no competitors can provide. Instead, what commonly comes up are intangible benefits, like the ways the company makes them feel or the story it tells them about themselves.
3) How do you make your customer a hero in the story of his or her own life?
The third question requires an understanding of how your brand makes the customer a hero in his or her own life story.
Everybody wants to be the hero in his or her own story. Everybody wants to be the protagonist. Some brands may achieve that in an obvious way (like a fashion brand making the customer stand out from the crowd), whereas others might be more subtle (like an IT brand making the purchasing manager look good in front of their colleagues). No matter what the case, if you can answer this question, you’ll have loyal customers for life.
At a very high level, everything we do in branding is about answering those three questions.
Before you do any copywriting, design, or other branding outputs, take some time to answer those three questions. If you have trouble getting to the bottom of them, don’t worry. Ask your customers for help, and keep digging until you really understand them.
With this newfound understanding of who your customers are and how they want to interact with your brand, you’ll be on the path to defining a powerful brand strategy.
Branding is a funny thing. It’s often a part of marketing, but requires different skillsets than the marketing team has. It comes from the customer experience, but customer service reps aren’t able to set the strategy. It requires design, but it starts long before design. So the question is: Who is responsible for branding?
This question is one of the main issues that stands between a company and a powerful brand.
So who should be responsible for the brand strategy at your company? It doesn’t matter if you are a small business owner with five employees, or you’re the CEO of a billion-dollar company, the answer is the same...
Branding is everybody’s responsibility.
Contrary to commonly held beliefs, branding is not the responsibility of some marketing manager or the person in charge of campaigns or the person with brand in his or her title.
Organizations that benefit most from branding are the ones where everyone in the company is a steward of their brand.
The companies that do the best are the ones in which the people at the top of the organization lead the charge for branding. In those companies, it’s often the CEO, but it’s also the COO and the CFO and the CTO and basically anybody with a “C” in their title who takes up the cause and drives the strategy through the entire organization.
In order for branding to work, every single person must feel ownership and responsibility for the brand. And the leadership must drive that into every nook and cranny of the organization so that people are walking the brand talk.
How do you do that? It starts by answering the three most important brand questions for your business:
- What does it say about the customer that they choose your brand?
- What is the singular thing that only your brand can deliver to your customer?
- How does your brand make the customer the hero in their own story?
These are big questions. Branding is Sex spends three full chapters diving into how to best answer each of them. But once these questions are answered, you have the foundation to allow your entire team to take responsibility for branding.
Your answers to these questions, as well as your understanding of what’s at the top of your Brand Values Pyramid, need to become gospel within your company. Every employee should know the answers and, more importantly, should embody them in their day to day actions.
It should be clear to everyone in your company that every single thing that any person in the company does must align with delivering on those promises.
When you have that, the question is no longer “Who is responsible for branding?” Instead, it becomes “Who isn’t responsible for branding?”
Finding funding isn't it. Even making key hires isn't it. Instead, members of the Austin chapter of the Entrepreneur's Organization say increasing brand awareness and lead generation will be their biggest challenge in 2016. Are you ready? Ready to go from startup mode so you can scale and grow? It's going to be a great year.
Join the Austin chapter of the American Marketing Association for a professional development luncheon Thursday, January 21, 2016. Do you ever wonder how top brands create irrational loyalty among their users? The world’s most profitable and well-known brands bond in highly emotional and compelling ways with the customers who are most likely to spend the most money with them.
Deb Gabor, founder and CEO of Sol Marketing, will lead a highly-interactive workshop to guide you through identifying and profiling the customer who is most highly predictive of your success using the Ideal Customer Archetype methodology. Through the use of hands-on exercises, you will learn to use this method to go beyond traditional demographic and firmographic profiles to hone in on behavioral and attitudinal attributes that enhance the climate of consideration for your brand.
Once you intimately know your Ideal Customer, you can identify opportunities to make your brand part of your customers’ self concept, tell your brand story more effectively and focus your marketing efforts on the customers who will help you win.
Limited seating available: register today.
Deb was recently interviewed by Tim Hamilton for the new Praxent Commanding Business podcast -- listen to it for a mini branding MBA, Sol style! Listen to the podcast in iTunes
Commanding Business Podcast by Tim Hamilton, CEO of Praxent
EP018: The 3 Big Questions Your Business Needs to Answer when Building Your Brand with Deb Gabor
Released Oct 13, 2015
From leadership to management and marketing to innovation, Commanding Business covers a variety of topics with an aim to uncover actionable takeaways you can implement in your own organization today.
Episode synopsis: To become a financial asset for your company a brand needs to have an essence, a promise and a personality. Building your brand requires sustainable differentiators, scientific research and most importantly, focuses on your customer’s point of view. Your brand should also closely resemble the strategy of the business to benefit your end customer. There are three questions your organization needs to answer to achieve top of mind awareness within your business sector. When you have answered the three questions you have the criteria for the top of your brand value pyramid.