FOR SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS, figuring out how to differentiate your company is likely one of many tasks on your to-do list. But it’s a crucial one.
It can be harder than it seems. Often, owners are too close to their companies, which can make it daunting to approach their business from their customers’ point of view. Think about it: How many total people hours have you and your team spent talking about your brand and marketing over the past year in various meetings? Now multiply that by the average hourly value of your time.
When we have our clients do this exercise, the average of what they have spent talking about this with little or no real output is $75,000 in one calendar year. That’s time and money that could be better spent elsewhere, actually getting results.
So, how do you stand out from the crowd without wasting money and time? I can tell you from working with more than 140 companies during the past decade, it doesn’t take a million bucks and endless months to get your story straight and out into the marketplace. It simply takes the right approach.
‘Because we have to’
As a branding agency, we often receive inquiries from business owners asking us to redesign their website, update their sales materials, create a logo or develop an ad. These are all valid tactics—but only if they are working in concert to help you accomplish your strategic business goals. Many business owners initially tell us they spend money on branding or marketing “because we have to,” and then they’re often frustrated or disappointed with the results.
There’s an underlying culprit at work here: many companies have yet to uncover a simple and compelling way to express who they are, what they do and why someone should do business with them.
So what’s the secret to being happy with your marketing because it’s having a positive impact on your bottom line? I recommend following four proven steps we use to get the job done in a timely manner and at a cost that won’t give you sticker shock.
1. Define your space.
A good marketing foundation starts with a one-pager that we call a brand map. It clearly states who you want to be (not your mission, but your vision for your company), and includes: the single and precise reason why people should do business with you; who you want to do business with and the key messages that will resonate with those people; where and how you fit into the competitive landscape; what position you need to take in order to differentiate yourself; and, last but not least, what you want people to think, feel and say after they have done business with you.
2. Bring your story to life.
Once you have internal alignment and agreement on your brand map, it’s time to bring your story to life. We recommend developing three strategically on point and differentiated marketing concepts that bring the story (based on the brand map) to life in a powerful, proprietary and compelling way.
How do you know which concept is the right one? Ask yourself questions such as: Will this position resonate with my customers? Does it address a very specific customer need or want? Will it give us a competitive advantage? Is it believable? Is it doable?
If you hit a wall or if you’re working with other partners or investors who have differing opinions, simply return to the brand map for guidance and validation. Above all, always remember: Your marketing approach is not about you; it’s about connecting with your customer.
3. Get your story ready for market.
Congratulations – you’re off and running. You’ve chosen the concept that best brings your story to life and represents what makes you different.
Now, take a look at all of your customer touch points, and ensure they’re in alignment with and ready to support your new story. Check out your customer space, whether it’s an office, warehouse, retail space or other location; review your sales and service processes for enhancements—even simple things like how you answer the phone can have a major impact on what your customers think of you.
We recently helped a professional group of board-certified emergency physicians in the Twin Cities brand and launch their new retail medical concept, The Urgency Room. To help ensure the UR delivered on its promise of being “The Fast, Affordable ER ue along with the estimated wait time.
And the bottom line is benefiting: The first Urgency Room opened last fall and is currently tracking at 350 percent ahead of goal. The takeaway: Defining and delivering a positive, consistent customer experience at every turn is essential to success.
4. Spread the word.
Even the best strategic approach needs a boost of support to get some traction. Work with your internal and external resources to make sure your brand is introduced flawlessly within time and budget constraints while successfully accommodating the changes inherent in any marketing program.
And don’t forget your employees. Even if you only have a handful of staff, it’s really important for them to be included in the communication process, at least at some level. That way, they’ll be energized and engaged in the new story – and help you tell it in a consistent way.
Now is your opportunity to tell the world about your company and build your brand through channels that may include advertising, public relations, pay-per-click, targeted marketing, special events or social networking.
If you keep your eye on your business objectives alongside your brand map as you continue to tell your story, you’ll save time, money and maybe even smile when you sign those checks for your marketing investment.
BY: SHERI O’MEARA | DEC 2011 | MINNESOTA BUSINESS
Unique, well-planned corporate holiday gifts may be a budget item from Christmases Past for most companies during a recession. But some marketing-savvy Minnesota firms are still marking the holidays with special gifts that make a lasting impression.
Touched By Angels
Every year since 1958, Campbell Mithun has given a commissioned, artist-crafted angel statue to clients, employees and agency friends. Last year, the agency distributed more than 800.
The angels have made their mark. In his company blog, Campbell Mithun CEO Steve Wehrenberg last year recalled: “For the first three and one-half decades, we sent our angels mostly to clients. In 1985 or so, I remember my client, a junior product manager at Land O’Lakes, pointing out half a dozen or more in our lobby display case that his domineering dad, one of our top Pillsbury clients at the time, brought into their family’s home. Apparently our angels mellowed one of Minneapolis’ most feared marketing men of that time.”
Campbell Mithun’s 2011 holiday angel was an important assignment, says Kristine Olson, director of corporate communications for the agency. “As a creative agency built with digital as its core, Campbell Mithun wanted its 2011 holiday angel to celebrate the coming together of art and science—to reflect the agency, the industry and simply to demonstrate how art and science work together to create an object of inspiration and beauty,” she says.
To that end, this year’s angel started as a pencil sketch, evolved into a digital state thanks to the skills of industrial designer Charlie Wood, and was born using technologies such as 3D printing to prototype the final product. It’s also a demonstration of collaboration, says Olson, where an idea is born through a partnership of creative thinking with a story at the center.
Making Spirits Bright
While most companies have scaled back or eliminated holiday parties, Spyglass Creative believes hosting a big bash is the ultimate holiday gift to share. Last year, the firm celebrated its 10th annual holiday party with over-the-top treats for all the senses including exotic animals such as llamas and tigers, stilt walkers, orange boas, hip-hop dancers, DJs, wearable party favors and an eye-popping interactive multi-media display. It’s a packed party each year, with clients flying in from L.A., Aspen, Dallas, Paris and beyond.
“This annual gratis get-together is our way of sharing our gratitude for the support from our clients, business partners and associates,” says CEO Molly Rice. “The truth is, in recent years our party has been one of the few holiday bright spots for many, as the business soiree has gone the way of the wooly mammoth.”
It makes good business sense, too: “As a branding agency, it’s a gift that has a welcome upside—our clients talk about it for months afterwards, tag and share photos from the party on Facebook, and capitalize on networking opportunities,” Rice says.
Each year, guests leave with a parting gift of event memorabilia tied to the theme. Past gifts include psychedelic wonder glasses, personalized cocktail shakers, glowing bouncing balls, disco ball ornaments and special edition T-shirts. This year, Cirque du Spyglass is the theme, and Spyglass aims to live up to the challenge.
Made In Minnesota
For companies of all types, giving a Minnesota-made gift is a simple but time-honored corporate holiday strategy. Among the myriad of options:
• Mark this year’s jubilant re-opening of a Minnesota classic, Faribault Woolen Mill (born in 1865 on the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault), with a corporate gift of blanket, throw or accessory.faribaultmill.com
• Celebrate Duluth Pack’s 100th year in its Duluth factory with a gift of a bag for business or leisure.duluthpack.com. For another well-loved Minnesota-based bag option especially for women: Check out the variety at Urban Junket (photo), founded in 2005 by Tracy Dyer, a former Best Buy marketing executive and road warrior who clearly knows how to merge fashion and function in a range of bags.urbanjunket.com
• A Minnesota agricultural gift is a smart choice for many. Thanks to U of M research in developing cold-hardy grapes, Minnesota’s wine industry has grown from three wineries in 1997 to more than 37 wineries today, and many are producing award-winning wines suitable for holiday gift-giving.mngrapegrowers.com. Or, this year’s bumper crop of Minnesota apples yields abundant possibilities, since Honeycrisp can keep well into January with proper storage. Contact a local orchard:minnesotagrown.com.
• Minnesota-based Tastefully Simple’s “Sweet Appreciation” gift ($49.95), has been a hit with firms such as LaBreche to give “because our clients could put the food in the break room and share it with everyone,” says Laura Boyd, LaBreche president. “ Plus, the gift had a nice tote for someone to keep for filing or storing things. One of our clients even raffled the tote to their employees.” tastefullysimple.com
• Susan Albrecht, Macy’s corporate sales, recommends a Macy’s “Made in Minnesota Merry Basket”($100), which includes Sturdiwheat Pancake Mix, Pop Crickle Cherry Pecan; a selection of Christmas Point soups and wild rice; and Golden Fig specialty foods.