In our first post, we talked about brand fog and the danger signs that a brand is hazy and ill-defined. There are many canaries that will alert you to the potential for lethal gas in your proverbial brand coal mine, but no bird is more effective at pointing to danger than a sales team that struggles to describe what makes your brand and your offerings different.
Over the years we’ve seen all kinds of sales problems that marketing was expected to fix. Of all those problems, none is as serious as a sales team unable to answer the big prospect question: “What makes your company or product different from xyz?” How can you help employees understand what your brand stands for.
Not being able to answer that question is usually more serious than poor pitches, leads or sales tools. It points directly to weakness at the heart of what your brand stands for – what makes it relevant and compelling to the right customer. As a result, it’s a problem that demands special attention. Over the years, we’ve learned to solve the problem with 5 questions, leading to remarkable results.
1. Do you still offer a valued and relevant differentiation?
It seems obvious that the answer should be yes, but too often the answer is no. We can be so busy with the day-to-day firefighting of a business that it’s too easy to stick to what made you special once and ignore the market changes around you. Eventually, your ideas of what makes your brand different have become old, irrelevant or standard.
If the answer is an honest yes, then move to the next steps. If it’s an honest no, then STOP and rethink your brand. An undifferentiated brand is a dying brand and nothing will fix it otherwise.
2. How extensive is the problem in communicating the brand?
Sales people – whether they are on the road or dealing with customers online – are the most vulnerable. They are the ones that bear the complaints, objections and tales about what great products and services your competitors sell. It’s easy for them to lose focus, get confused or doubt their own story.
If it’s just one or two individuals, then it’s usually a problem specific to the individuals. If it’s the entire sales team or — even worse — all your employees, then the problem is often one of features vs value. Time for Question 3.
3. Is your brand stuck on features instead of value?
In the business-to-business world, it’s all too easy to sell features instead of total value. The downside is that it’s also easy for your competitors to sell features, and sometimes more features at a lower price, so it becomes hard for your sales people to explain how their product or service is different and relevant.
If your brand messages are also about features, then your sales people and employees will struggle to understand the brand value that they should be selling. That value is usually a package of related elements that together add up to something greater for the customer – it might be the ability to get to market faster, to shave costs, to take risk out of a product, to provide a greater experience, to alleviate fear. Whatever your brand value is, it must be more than a list of features and your marketing efforts have to communicate that. That takes us to Question 4.
4. Is your brand simple and focused?
The more complicated your brand, the more difficult it is to believe in, communicate and sell it. Strong brands are usually simple and focused with a clear message that matters to target customers. It’s a matter of ignoring what you don’t do well, and concentrating instead on the things that you do very well.
Brands as big as Apple or LinkedIn have simple, clear brand promises, and everything they do is about delivering on that promise. Brands as small as Klipfolio or PageCloud also have simple and clear brand promises that are propelling them to success because everyone in their companies is aware of why they exist and what they’re trying to do for customers.
5. Is it everywhere?
When it comes to your brand, your employees are your number one customer. If they don’t understand the brand, if they can’t communicate, sell or deliver it, then how will you get customers excited about it? A day of sales training or posters with your tagline on them is simply not enough to ensure that your employees absorb your brand promises and make them their own. It takes constant and consistent messages every day from the CEO on down.
Ultimately, it takes a culture of brand that compels the company to behave in ways that deliver the brand all the way from HR through to marketing, to product development and even to finance.
If you move through these steps and have honest conversations about each one, then you will come out with a stronger brand, employees better at delivering value to customers and a more effective sales force. And don’t be afraid to access outside help to move through these steps, since brand experts can bring a perspective and objectivity that people inside a company simple don’t and can’t have.
We hope these 5 questions will help your employees fully understand and be able to communicate your brand.