If you’ve ever questioned why you need to take control of your own branding strategy, look no further than the career trajectory of everyone’s favorite slack-jawed actor, Sylvester Stallone.
In the early ’70s, things weren’t going well for Stallone. His acting career had stalled so badly that he had to sleep in bus stations and feature in adult movies to survive. After years of striving, he landed a few roles in low-budget films, playing thugs or teenagers, but nothing that really excited him. Directors weren’t seeing the magic — and because he didn’t yet know his niche, he couldn’t sell himself to them either.
Then, on March 24, 1976, Stallone saw Chuck Wepner fight Muhammad Ali. Suddenly he knew the role he wanted to play. He went back home, and in 20 hours, he wrote Rocky. Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff offered him a ton of money for the script if they could cast someone else, but Stallone stuck to his guns: The film was only getting made if he could play the lead.
I know what you’re thinking: I’m going to tell you that you need to figure out your brand identity, decide what you stand for and establish your tone of voice. Nope. Don’t get me wrong, all those things are important, but here’s the thing: You already have a brand identity — even if you don’t have a logo or online presence. If you have clients, you have a brand.
That’s because your brand is the summation of everything you do. With every interaction and communication you have with your customers, you’re projecting who and what your company is. You may not have written your corporate values down, but you’re expressing them constantly through everything you do.
What’s more, if you aren’t in control of the conversation, negative perceptions can take hold fast. Did one of your account managers come across as rude or inappropriate when dealing with a client? As far as that client’s concerned, that’s your brand. And the crazy thing is, while a lot of companies have it in their heads that branding is only important in B2C, it’s actually more important to get it right in B2B.
Far more so than consumers, business customers buy a relationship. They’re not just purchasing a product or even a solution; they’re buying into you and your team. They’re trusting you to help them achieve their goals and protect their professional reputation. This makes it crucial that you develop a brand voice they can trust.
Here are three steps to get you started:
1. Humanize Your Customers (And Your Brand)
We all know that people buy from people, so start talking to your customers like a human being. Keep in mind that you’re dealing with a person with a specific set of needs, who is driven as much by emotion as by corporate requirements.
Demonstrate that you’re really listening to your customer base and taking on board what they need. Scrap the jargon. Make sure your website is clear and navigable, and that your copy is conversational and accessible. You’ll be amazed what a difference this makes.
2. Identify Your Brand Champions (And Ask Them For Feedback)
If you want to know where your marketing sweet spot is, you need to ask the people who love what you do. These are your brand champions.
First, break down your customer base by segment — for example, by industry, size, type and the kind of products and services they buy from you. Then, think about which of your clients are most loyal and enthusiastic about what you do. Where do they fall on this spectrum?
Reach out to the brand champions you’ve identified and ask them what they like best about working with you. Their answers, in a nutshell, are the strengths of your brand.
3. Re-Evaluate Your Appeal
If the brand champions you’ve identified also represent the customers you want to be your niche, then great! You can work with their feedback and start building your brand identity around this. On the other hand, this exercise might demonstrate to you that you’re not doing as well as you’d like with the clients you want to impress. If your brand champions aren’t your most valuable customers, for example, it makes sense to consider either repositioning or rebranding yourself to appeal to the companies you’d rather do business with.
Repositioning your brand is the easier of the two. Essentially, you’re taking the same goods and services and repackaging them in a way that highlights their value more effectively for your target market.
Rebranding, on the other hand, is a serious overhaul. It means offering new products, services and solutions that don’t really fit with your past identity. Rebranding is what you do when you’ve realized your current business model isn’t cutting it and you need a completely new approach. The benefit, though, is that it gives you an opportunity to refocus everyone in the company on the new brand identity, instead of making incremental changes fighting against the tide of ingrained habits and attitudes.
Whether you need to reposition or rebrand will depend largely on the feedback you get from your current client base. Once you have a picture in mind of what your brand represents (and what you want it to represent), you need to put this ethos at the center of everything you do.
Many companies make the mistake of thinking that branding is just about the font on your business card and the colors on your website. While visual elements are a big part of communicating who you are, the most important thing is to ensure that your behavior as a company embodies the brand identity you’ve distilled.
Think of it like Sylvester Stallone walking up to studios with Rocky tucked under his arm: You’ve written the script, but now you have to get into character and prove it’s a role you were born to play.