Living and Breathing Your Brand
Perception can be a powerful thing. As entrepreneurs, sometimes we see ourselves as honest, while our employees see us as brutally honest. Sometimes we see ourselves as balanced and our peers see us as lazy. The hard truth is that the way we want to be seen is often incongruent with how we’re actually seen. It’s the same with companies. Sometimes we have an internal understanding of who we are that doesn’t match how our customers see us. It all comes down to branding.
A year ago, my team and I had a day-long discussion about our branding, in which we were upfront and honest about what our company is and is not. For twelve hours, we discussed our values, strengths and passions, while highlighting the unique qualities that separate our brand from others. It was a cathartic and much-needed session that allowed us to take a hard look at our customer service, our offerings and, most importantly, our identity within our industry. Over the years, I’ve learned that these exercises are integral to achieving continued business success because understanding, communicating, re-evaluating and maintaining your company’s brand is an active process.
The first step in our branding session was to have a clear vision of who we are and who we want to become. To determine our own brand, we spent a big chunk of time distilling and clarifying our purpose: Why are we in business and what are we trying to accomplish? We gathered feedback and wrote down where we want to be in one, five and 10 years, and then we asked ourselves how we would get there and how we want our brand to be perceived. We concluded this part of the session by hashing out and determining our company’s philosophy on everything from selling to marketing. We realized that in order to maintain our success, we must have a transparent and measurable brand.
Once we established our brand and its role in and outside of our company, it became the guiding force behind all of our subsequent communications. Over the course of the year, we asked ourselves whether we were communicating and demonstrating the brand that we established. We asked if it was congruent with our purpose and everything we are trying to accomplish in the coming years. If we did things that weren’t clearly aligned with our brand, we doubled back and ensured we restarted on the right path. It’s all about maintenance. After all, there’s no use establishing our company’s purpose and brand if we don’t live and breathe it every day.
To effectively maintain our brand and monitor how we’re perceived, we implemented a feedback model. We solicited feedback from clients and discussed their responses internally. I then took that concept a step further by encouraging an internal evaluation of my own performance, where my staff can routinely evaluate me through a third-party questionnaire. As the leader of the company, I need to know that I am staying true to the ethos of our business. Any constructive feedback will help me understand how I can help myself and my business grow. What this evaluation taught me is that when feedback is delivered, it’s important not to let your ego cloud the message. I now look for the truth in each message and let it provide objective reality, like a mirror.
Another thing our branding brainstorm taught us is that it’s easy to be in line with your brand in one area and not in others. For example, our brand might come across OK in our marketing, but not in our face-to-face interactions with clients. The more we align our brand in every area of the company, the more we can control the brand. Finally, we learned that strong brands possess three things: clarity (who you are and who you are not); consistency (steadfastly expressing your brand via verbal communication, non-verbal communication, emails, etc.); and constancy (constant visibility to your target audience). When all of these things are achieved, a strong brand can have powerful results. For us, our brand intervention helped us perfect our brand and set us up for future success.
Jason Forrest is the chief sales officer of Forrest Performance Group, a firm that transforms companies into sales organizations. Fun fact: Jason has authored three books, has been recognized as a Top Young Trainer (from Training magazine) and was among the “Top 40 Trainers under 40” in 2012.