We often think of branding as a complex exercise, requiring lots of time and money to do right. But, you can make your brand powerful and effective for a few bucks. You can also destroy it for just as cheap.
A Simple Definition
Branding has meant many things through the years, starting with the mark that was put on cattle to identify who owned it. But, today, at its most basic level, a company’s brand has come to mean it’s personality. Your brand is who you are; fun, capable, smart, quick, intimate, global, inexpensive, rude, difficult. These are the kinds of traits that make up a brand; traits that ultimately create a personality that the marketplace associates with your company.
In a minute I’m going to share five things you can do for next to nothing that will build your brand. But, first I’ll share two recent experiences with you; one bad and one good.
Last week it was our creative director's birthday, so a few of us went out to get lunch together. We walked over to a local gourmet pizza place, sat down and put our orders in. Everyone, except for me, ordered a pizza. I got a salad.
Eventually the pizzas came out, but no salad. Before I had a chance to ask about it the waitress darted away. I figured the salad would be out any minute. Boy, was I wrong.
Over the next 30 minutes I asked a few times if my food was coming out soon. Each time I was assured it was almost ready. In fact, one time our waitress said it was up she just needed to go get it from the chef. Then she disappeared for ten minutes and, alas, my salad did not emerge from the kitchen.
It eventually came, way late. No explanation, no apology, no discount. Nothing. I was not happy. I was ignored, embarrassed and lied to over a $12 salad. I will never go back to that place and spending money. Never take my family there, never take a client there and never meet a friend there. They lost their good will and reputation, not to mention hundreds of dollars in future sales for 12 bucks!
This weekend I was working on my personal web site when I noticed the server was incredibly slow. I host all our domains, personal and business, with Media Temple. I quickly checked their status page to see if there was an issue, but that would not load either. Uh oh!
I shot off a quick note on Twitter asking if any other Media Temple sites were having trouble. Within minutes the issue seemed to resolve itself. A Media Temple person responded to my Tweet apologizing for any inconveniences and let me know they had the issue sorted. Nice. Then, I got a private message from the same person thanking me for my business and asking me if I’d like any Media Temple ‘swag’.
After giving him my shirt size and mailing address he let me know that a package with free gifts was on its way. Now that’s cool!
I’ve been with Media Temple for years and spend about $100 a month with them. I expect an issue once in a while, because that’s the nature of the technology behind the internet. Even though I’ve always liked their service, the free swag, which I bet costs about the same $12 as the aforementioned salad, further cements my loyalty to Media Temple.
Five Easy Things You Can Do
So now that I’ve shared two examples of how real companies have either broken or built their brand for $12 let’s look at five simple things you can do for your business.
1. Keep sight of the big picture
It’s easy to loose sight of the big picture. Reduced staff, tighter budgets, demanding customers and market pressures all conspire to make us forget about the big picture and to focus on whatever tactical issue is in front of us at the moment.
Why do you do what you do? Why is your company in business? What problems do you solve and what value do you provide? Why do people do business with you? What needs are they trying to meet and what expectations do they have? Make every decision with the big picture in mind. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
2. Empower your people
Your frontline staff need to be empowered to fix problems. They are the ones who see the problems first hand. They deal with your customers, serve them, engage them. They need both the authority and encouragement to fix problems.
In my recent restaurant experience how would I have felt if the waitress came out quickly and said, “Sir, the kitchen is having some trouble getting your salad ready on time. I’m going to make sure you are not charged for it and I’d like to offer you a complimentary drink or something else on the menu.”? I may not have become a raving fan, but I would have been pretty impressed and surely would have given them a second chance.
3. Listen and respond
Your customers are talking. It used to be pretty hard to listen. You had to hire a market research firm to conduct focus groups and expensive customer surveys. Those days are gone. Social media has made these conversations public. Monitoring Twitter, engaging customers on Facebook and keeping an ear to the ground on the internet via Google Alerts has made it quite easy to listen. People are talking about you, you just have to take the time to hear what they’re saying.
Of course, listening is only half the game. You need to respond. That’s the beauty of social media: it allows a two way interchange, a relationship. See this recent interaction I had with Wegmans for a great example of a company who is listening and responding.
4. Make it personal
When you engage a customer, make it personal. Don’t just send out a form letter with a coupon. Engage them on an intimate level. Even huge companies can do this now via social media. Direct message, refer to people by their name, talk about the problem together and how you’re going to fix it. Companies used to want to put forward a big corporate image. These days we all want to deal with people. So, wether you’re Wal-Mart, GE or Joe’s Shoe Shine, we want to deal with individuals, just like us.
Connect with your customer, its not that hard to do. A little personal attention goes a long way. A phone call or a Twitter conversation only needs to take a few minutes and the impact is far deeper than a form letter from your marketing department with some coupons stuffed in for good measure.
5. Get your team aligned
All of the above points don’t work unless you’ve got your team aligned on the important characteristics of your brand. What are your core values? What is your brand promise? Your team should know these by heart. That way, when they are empowered and they are listening and responding on a personal level, they are doing it in a way that fits your company and its brand.
That's it. Five easy things that are virtually free, but will powerfully impact your brand. They may seem simple but many companies ignore them. As my salad story illustrates, they do so at their own cost. Start improving your brand today!
As companies all over the world struggle to figure out how to use social media, one Rochester retailer gets it right and scores a customer service bull's eye
Saturday's cold weather seemed like a perfect opportunity to make a big pot of chili con carne for the family. My wife Lydia agreed and made a quick run to our local Wegmans to pick up supplies for the meal.
One of my jobs was to brown the ground beef, which Lydia had picked up on the aforementioned shopping run. We had 6.7 pounds of 90% lean ground beef from Wegmans. (We were making two batches and we've got two teen boys if you're wondering about the volume!)
When I was done cooking the meat we both were stunned to see how much liquid had cooked off. We'd never noticed that much before. Honestly, we don't buy much ground beef from Wegmans, so we thought it might be an issue with their quality. I snapped a quick pic with my iPhone and posted it to Twitter with the following comment:
Here's the picture that I attached to my tweet:
Within a few moments I received a response from Wegmans, even though my tweet was not directed to them. I knew from my Twitter use that Wegmans monitors their name in tweets and interacts with people that talk about them. For example, last week someone mentioned that they were going to Wegmans for a quick lunch. Wegmans tweeted after lunch asking them what they had and how they liked it.
Here's the direct message they sent in response:
My wife and I were blown away! An almost immediate response, right in our kitchen, from the retailer. When we first saw the liquid we felt like something was wrong and immediately assumed Wegmans was at fault. Within seconds of posting the pic and comment we got recognition and a promise to get more info. We were impressed and I was able to immediately shift my feelings from mistrust to guarded trust.
Even though the response made us feel better we were still a little skeptical. Maybe it was an automated response. Maybe they're just trying to get us to not publicly complain. Maybe they won't get back to us.
Sunday went by without any info, but I expected that. It was the weekend after all. Monday morning I received the following:
Wegmans had an answer and wanted a better way to contact me. They also started following me so that I could send my email addy via direct message and avoid having to publish it to the whole Twitter community. My direct message response:
Within a few minutes I had a personal email assuring us they did not modify the meat, explaining that our experience with the meat was normal and why and how to best work with ground beef.
You can download a PDF copy of the email response Wegmans sent by clicking here.
I was sold. Not only had Wegmans convinced me that their product was fine, they improved their brand's value in my mind with the amazing way they dealt with this issue.
Kudos to Wegmans for their use of social media—they really get it!
They never hit me with 'special offers' via Twitter. Something that lots of companies do, including Kodak and JetBlue, and which I find tiresome
They engage anyone who mentions them. They do it in a friendly and even playful way that engenders social media users to them
They keep a close eye out for potential problems and respond quickly, as in my experience
They keep their word and follow through, working to resolve the issue
Great job, Wegmans! I've always been a fan, but you really hit the ball out of the park with social media.