In addition to "my day job", I've had the privilege of teaching marketing as a lecturer at MIT and a professor at Tufts for a number of years. Each semester I get to hone my skills, think about new ideas and imagine what the brave new world of marketing tactics will become. A very exciting time to be in marketing but not for the faint of heart since marketing today needs to be looked as a series of short timed experiments given all of the superb, and not so superb, tactical choices that are available.
Most of my focus, both at the firm and in the classroom, regarding marketing is heavily directed on lead generation. The topic of branding gets little attention and what attention it does get is typically related to what happens when brands (Tiger Woods or Toyota) go bad.
Part of my attitude to sometimes push away from branding is due to the fact that I firmly believe that lead generation and the math and processes behind lead gen are the most important factors in creating successful sales trajectories.
Also, it's my painful experience that most small and even growing middle market companies are just not ready to be "branded". They haven't figured out what they want to be, the true customer value of what they bring or how to express that messaging such that they are creating a consistent brand that resonates in the ears of their customers and prospects.
So, just one of the questions that you might want to try to answer now at the beginning of the year is just what you want your brand to portray for 2011 and where do you want it to end up a year from now?
Branding is a long term thing and not many companies have a lasting 100 year brand like Steinway or Ward Leonard, a couple of our long term customers, , but in order to make this practical for your company, try putting a targeted end-of-2011 branding stake in the ground.
Just two questions that you might want to think about in one of your upcoming management meetings or at an upcoming January offsite to focus on your 2011 sales and marketing tactics.
Just What is your Brand Today?
First, what do you think that your brand is right now among your customers and separately among your targeted prospects? Discuss this question among all of the members of your senior team first and force the details to be identified and written out. Then bring in the marketing department and ask them the same thing. Follow this with going out and talking individually to the sales managers and the actual salespeople and write out their exact comments. You may have to treat their comments anonymously to get back objective detail. Finally, go out and have someone objectively do interviews with your ten top customers and ask them the same thing.
Bring all of this research and interviewing process down to very specific terms and highly qualitative and recorded comments, grid out the responses, and the results will tell you almost everything that you need to know about your brand and your brand alignment today.
This is a fair amount of work, but nothing that can't be done by the end of Q1, and I'd suggest that if you are going to think about this at all, there's no better time of year to initiate this process than right now.
Second, What's Your Brand on January 1, 2012?
That first step requires solid market research and objective interviewing skills. This next is a bit more difficult because there is no right answer. This question is answered by you, your senior team and your directors coming together in a process of creating absolute buy-in as to both your long term vision out three to five years from now and what the associated brand is that you want to tie to the vision.
Let me give you an example. We work with a company that manufacturers motors. A recognizable brand name because it's been in business for decades and is heavily specified as an approved vendor on military drawings. With a significant change in most of the management team over the past two years, this new senior team has carved out not only a solid longer term strategic growth plan, but have tackled, discussed, argued out and finally agreed on an overarching strategy that they will be known by the quality of everything that they do. From the quality of execution of engineering and manufacturing to their salespeople, to their suppliers and partners and to their employees, quality becomes more than Job #1. It now becomes the culture of everything in the company, and therefore, now defines the new branding of the business.
Obviously, this is a multi-year process, but it begins with the absolute, go-forward agreement among the senior management to answer the question as to what it is that we want to become? With this answer totally bought into by all of the senior management team and board, the tactical components of how one brands then become relatively easy once the stake in the ground is hammered in.
With a few branding tips off my chest on this snowy morning, I need to get back to get this newsletter off and launch a campaign into Salesforce so that we can capture more leads that allow us to Keep Selling!
Have a great rest of January !