Mean Something If You Want To Matter
Any brand that endures and stands out from the pack does so by connecting with a fundamental human need.
Professional services firms, which deal with abstractions and intangibles, can begin to build and leverage this deep human connection by first understanding what they stand for – what they intend to mean to their clients and employees.
A powerful, authentic brand captures and signals the underlying human meaning in your business – the thing that sets you apart and makes you matter to your marketplace of potential clients and recruits.
Your brand is therefore a strategic business issue, way more profound than issues like name, logo, tagline, or visual style. Those are symbolic expressions of the brand, shortcuts to the meaning in the business: they are not the brand itself.
One of the key challenges for a professional services firm is how to encourage clients to have a committed relationship to the organization, not just to the individual consultant. Brand offers a way to do this, by building a shared sense of the meaning in the business, while at the same time enabling individual professionals to express that meaning in a way that is authentic to them.
Our experience helping professional services firms to differentiate and market themselves effectively has helped us identify three key factors that set professional services brands apart:
- Relationship is the envelope that wraps the client work. Professional services firms need to understand and leverage the emotional value of the client relationship as a key differentiator
- Attracting and developing talent is as important as attracting and developing clients. Aligning the internal and external brand is crucial
- Vision, values and beliefs drive the behaviors that convey the brand. Understanding and clarifying these areas is essential to building a meaningful professional services brand.
Take McKinsey and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the top two global strategy consulting firms. They each recruit similar people from the same set of elite schools, and they each address similar business challenges with similar intellectual tools. And yet clients see real differences and make choices between the two. How and why?
The answer lies in the meaning that both firms have built as they have developed their respective brands. McKinsey has come to mean power and control – the stability and order that enables prosperity. BCG on the other hand, has built its brand meaning around understanding and transformation – the insight that empowers you to change your circumstances for the better. Both are compelling meanings that speak to fundamental human needs, but each appeals to a different client mindset.
These two iconic consulting brands have used narrative and story to create meaning and differentiation as they compete for clients and talent. Our next post will explore how to use story as a tool to differentiate your firm, and to create meaning that attracts the right clients and the right recruits.
July 1, 2015 1 Comment
“What really drives customer loyalty?” is a straightforward question that many CEO’s are asking themselves. A popular response is to employ a loyalty program. This is not necessarily the right answer.
Every airline, hotel, credit card, and grocery store has a loyalty program, and they spend in aggregate $50 billon dollars a year on rewarding customers according to Forbes. Just look at the numbers:
– 83% of consumers participate in a loyalty program
– On average each U.S. household belongs to 29 individual programs, but are only active in 12
– The airline industry alone in North America earned $9.6 billion by selling miles to partners in 2013.
Loyalty programs are big business.
But if you peel back the onion, you’ll find that only 42 percent of program members are active, engaged or participate (The 2015 Colloquy Loyalty Census). That’s a lot of wasted dollars that could be put to use elsewhere. This is not to say that loyalty or reward programs don’t work. They should be used as a form of recognition for valuable customers. But marketers need to reframe how they view these types of programs. The purpose of the programs, including the common practice of providing awards to all customers – good, bad and even unprofitable ones – needs to be rethought. [Read more →]
June 22, 2015 No Comments
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May 20, 2015 No Comments
The recent announcement about Disney raising admission prices at theme parks to over $100 per day points to an important benefit of very strong brands… they can price higher and maintain upwards momentum.
Brands that provide extraordinary quality and a unique experience have enormous leverage to price higher. Said another way, it is possible to raise prices without much of a consumer push-back.
Here’s the rub. In almost every category, where products are essentially at parity, marketers struggle to hold prices, especially when there is a competitor who is willing to cut price to hold on to or grow a franchise. Thus, particularly in highly competitive categories, marketers become hostage to a pricing spiral, and reluctant to take risks or invest. As someone once said, it’s hard to look outside of the swamp when alligators are nipping at you toes. [Read more →]
March 3, 2015 No Comments
17lbs. That’s the weight of the 2014 Restoration Hardware shrink-wrapped collection of catalogs – 12 catalogs to be exact – that arrived at my house, unsolicited, via UPS. My first reaction was disgust. Utter disgust at the waste of paper and ink and use of fossil fuels required to ship it to my house. As a diehard proponent of sustainability I am horrified, but as a branding consultant, I started to think about why so many brands are reluctant to challenge the way they have always conducted business in order to become more sustainable.
Does Restoration Hardware really have to send out 17lbs of catalogs to sustain their business? Isn’t there a better, alternative way to market their products? Why is it so difficult for them to think outside the box and challenge the status quo? We live in a virtual world, a digital age where so much business is now conducted online and on mobile devices – you’d think that they would embrace online catalogs, finding new creative and innovative ways to showcase their products in a virtual world. Perhaps it’s inertia? Or fear of losing business. Or maybe they just have their heads in the sand?
May 21, 2014 6 Comments
The acquisition of Beam Inc. by Suntory Holdings of Japan, has created a storm of concern about whether the heartland American brands, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark will change. With enormous heritage, both brands have very loyal franchises and passionate consumers.
And despite the fact that they have been around for a long time – Jim Beam was founded in 1795 and Maker’s Mark in 1958 – these brands continue to enjoy organic growth, and are benefitting, possibly even contributing to, a resurgence in the popularity of bourbons and whiskeys globally. [Read more →]
January 17, 2014 1 Comment
What can the difference between a straight line and a circle teach us about building a sustainable economic system that fuels growth without destroying our planet? And what do brands have to do with it?
The answers are “lots” and “lots”, respectively.
This is the first in a series of posts in which we will explore the relationship between brands and sustainability. So we thought we should start by questioning whether consumerism itself is sustainable. Is it reaching the end of its useful life? And if it is, what can replace it as an engine for economic growth?
The law of unintended consequences has meant that the existing model of consumption makes many of us sick, unhappy, stressed, and time-starved; it fails to produce affordable food that sustains healthy life; it fails to offer work that gives us a healthy sense of meaning and purpose; it gradually renders the planet itself unviable; and it makes only 1% of us wealthier.
For most of us, this is not a good deal. For our children, it’s disastrous.
In his book ‘Cradle to Cradle’, William McDonough recognized that in nature’s cyclical design, resources are infinite. Yet human industry is driven by a traditional linear economic model: Take (resources) – Make (stuff) – Dispose (dump when the new version comes out).
So which is the better (more sustainable) option? That’s where the circle comes in.
July 15, 2013 No Comments
Significant changes in the outsourcing industry in the past few years mean that outsourcing companies must re-evaluate their branding if they want to succeed in the new environment. These changes are the result of many converging dynamics. Understanding the nature of what is changing can help companies reposition themselves for growth and greater profitability.
The good news is that the continuing growth of the global BPO and IT services market makes it look attractive to new entrants. Current industry projections suggest a global market size of over US$900 billion. Unfortunately, this creates a wide and more confusing playing field.
Despite a languishing global economy, several reports and studies from different BPO sectors project a continuing growth rate of 4-6 per cent, possibly increasing further as the economy stabilises. But growth creates a new set of challenges.
Convergence of factors has caused the problem
The irony is that category growth puts new burdens on providers to stay competitive in a dynamic marketplace. Several issues form a foundation for new brand thinking.
• Price shopping. One of the unfortunate fallouts of the global recession is an emphasis on low cost, which has in turn resulted in an increase in price shopping, with buyers driving to the absolute lowest prices from providers. This isn’t unexpected, but with new competitors entering the market, low price bidding becomes an even tougher hurdle. The implication of this trend is for brands to communicate their unique value in new and compelling ways.
• Providing greater value. Further, while price is a more important decision driver, buyers are, at the same time, looking for more than tactical support and are leaning on providers to bring new services and solutions to the table while keeping process costs low. Naturally all providers are looking to find a competitive edge so it is more critical than ever for providers to position themselves with clarity to differentiate, ensure understanding and secure engagement.
• Shifting labour costs. The past decade has seen a continuous shifting of global labour costs, so that some regions and countries that were once attractive sources of labour are less so today. Among other things, advances in technology have enabled new regions to be competitive. This has led to new perspectives about onshoring and rural shoring as viable alternatives, and keeps buyers up at night hoping that their outsourcing partner can satisfactorily meet their business needs. This is where the brand can act as an assurance of quality and service.
• Increased scepticism and need for transparency. One of the negative fall-outs of the global meltdown, lead by the financial services industry, is an increase in scepticism in what providers promise. This manifests itself in many different ways, one being the need for increased transparency and openness. Buyers approach relationships very differently post-recession, and this places a burden on providers to develop and sustain these relationships in new ways. Brand can be the beacon to show how open and transparent your company is in the new environment.
A consequence of these intersecting dynamics is that outsourcing companies must develop very strong brands to differentiate, attract new business and garner higher prices than competitors. This is easy to say, but requires some rigorous work to get there. What follows are the key elements necessary to define and strengthen an outsourcing company brand in the new environment we face today.
Keys to creating and shaping a unique and compelling brand
1. Create a unique and compelling brand idea that is different from your competitors. Stand apart. Spend the time and energy to really uncover why your company is different and better, and then make it part of how you communicate, what you communicate, and how you shape customer relationships.
2. Build the brand outwards from the DNA and culture of the company. This should be the foundational starting point. Unlike decades ago when a company could shout something and customers would line up, today strong brands have to be built upon the foundation of a company’s culture and DNA to have any resonance at all. Every organisation has an internal ethos that guides decision-making, service philosophy, and general behaviour. The most important starting point in building a brand is to uncover this unique character, and build it into the final brand idea.
3. Express the brand idea in unique language that telegraphs, in a nutshell, what your company is, what it believes and the value it provides. In most engagements we begin, our clients are often using generic words as tag lines or primary marketing messages that could be used by anyone. Here are some expressions being used in the outsourcing industry today:
“Innovative Solutions. Exceptional Service.”
“Shifting the Sourcing Equation”
“Extending Your Enterprise”
“Ready for Real Business”
“Helping Business… Process.”
“Leading the Process”
“New Ideas. More Value.”
“Love the Way You Work”
“Passion for Building Stronger Businesses”
“Premier Technology Services Partner”
These types of generic messages create a real opportunity for an outsourcing company to really focus on what makes it special, and then find a compelling expression embodied in a short number of words that can be used as a primary marketing message. Strong marketers find different ways to express the underlying idea so it telegraphs a lot about the organisation and does much of the heavy lifting to create understanding and engagement.
4. Be open and transparent in your communications. The events of the past five years have driven customers and consumers to be very sceptical of messaging. Thus, smart business leaders now understand that they need to become more transparent in all communications. By being more open and candid, companies are able to establish stronger bonds with their customers. In branding terms, a company needs a “brand voice” that is honest and true to how it behaves and conducts business
5. Use brand architecture to make your products and services very easy to understand. One of the front lines in creating customer engagement is to make your business clear and easy to understand. That means developing a brand architecture that is built from the “outside-in”. In many cases, this mean reorganising how you communicate what products and services you provide from the customer’s perspective. In that manner, new customers will understand you better, and be willing to engage further in building a relationship. This may sound surprising, but all too often, outsourcing companies presume that customers understand them. Not only can this be false, but in a highly competitive marketplace, clarity is an essential tool to secure new and expand existing relationships.
Developing and building a strong brand does not happen overnight. Identifying the need for it is the first step…one that can no longer be ignored in the evolving complexity of the outsourcing marketplace.
This article appeared in Outsource Magazine http://outsourcemagazine.co.uk/
April 24, 2013 No Comments
The outsourcing industry has become highly competitive with many new entrants. It has also become highly commoditized. Purchase decisions are predominantly driven by price, recently fueled by pressures of the struggling global economy. Branding, which is often overlooked in the outsourcing industry, is a very helpful tool to break through the clutter and elevate a company away from commodity price comparisons. In addition, a strong brand can help secure new customers, grow the business franchise, and improve margins.
Buyers of outsourced services today expect more than tactical support and inexpensive labor. Today, companies look at outsourcing as a strategic imperative to grow on a national and global scale. So providers must address the customer’s needs in unique new ways. Said another way, a strong “brand” can help communicate a unique value-added aspect of a business and generate great interest.
Outsourcing has grown rapidly over the past decade and continues on an upward trajectory. HfS research estimates that the total market size will exceed $950 Billion in 2013. Traditionalists break it down between IT Services and general BPO services. The sheer scale has attracted many providers who claim anything and everything, muddying the waters for the legitimate companies that provide excellent solutions for their customers. The result is a complex melting pot of companies providing off-shoring, in-shoring and even rural-shoring. And because the traditional markets that have historically provided very inexpensive labor are changing, there is the added pressure for buyers to understand the implications, and find value-added partners to deliver services in new and different ways.
March 21, 2013 No Comments
The press about Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo! CEO, has focused on whether she is up to the task of reviving the company and the difficulties she will face with a declining business and less than ideal resources. While this may be true, the real challenge is whether Ms. Mayer can recapture the original, organic, innovative culture that made Yahoo! so popular in the first place. This is the engine of brand success today.
August 9, 2012 No Comments