Straw, sticks or brick: which little pig had the better marketing and business development plan?
The straw business thinks in the immediate, and only in terms of the transactional and incremental. He/she most commonly asks, “Which marketing, sales and business development tactic should we be employing right this minute?” Chances of ever owning any meaningful marketplace position or identity are blowin’ in the wind.
The sticks business may exhibit more of a planning and building mindset, but “brand” is defined in terms of “who we are” and vanity exercises instead of the more mission-critical “what are our points of customer overlap.” The company enjoys a solid track record, boasts an enviable reputation among those who know it first-hand and entertains an optimistic vision for the future. It often finds itself under-noticed and relatively indistinguishable in the marketplace because its core messages don’t captivate, resonate or differentiate. It certainly possesses both values and a story, but nobody seems to have the time to take them out, dust them off and translate them into a rapt, cohesive, target-centric narrative. In a sticks environment, the founder-entrepreneur or CEO’s vision and the company’s Unique Value Proposition have yet to be articulated in a way that resonates both internally and externally and so that it’s strong enough to withstand the huffing and puffing of tomorrow. Often, the company has become complacent, a victim of its own operations successes… but this alone won’t grow market share.
If the creation of customers doesn’t sit at your company’s core, I’d like to join you in asking the company’s leaders: what does?
The brick-solid business-grower, often a marketing performer or the founding entrepreneur him or herself, takes the time to ask the big, foundational questions and reverse-engineer both present and future marketplace success: why do we exist (see the Simon Sinek TedTalk, if you haven’t already), does our differentiation exist at a point of target relevance, what opportunities and future problems has drinking our own Kool-Aid® obscured from view, have we truly built Sales and our Sales Truths into the organization’s DNA, how do we better connect with the people that matter most to our sustainable success?
Brand-cracking isn’t about tools of reach. It’s about unleashing your power to reach.
When you’re a little pig hungry (hunger, humility & people smarts – see Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player) for increased leads, revenue and market share, it doesn’t take long to recognize that you’re first going to have increase interest, understanding and enthusiasm. To do that, you can take a myopic approach – thinking only about the next so-called “miracle” marketing tactic or your next campaign. Or, when what the company truly needs is far-reaching, sustainable interest, understanding and excitement, you can do what that wise third little pig did… and build your house in brick.
1. You need to know your position is robust, salient and sustainable.
2. You need to know you are defining the business in the way that best leverages your history while opening up maximum opportunity for your present and future.
3. You need to know your key points of target intersect have been identified and that your core messages have been articulated.
4. You need to build your vision, values and other sales truths into the brand’s foundational framework.
5. Last, but certainly not least, you need to know every aspect of your brand has been processed through the lens of pragmatic business development, with a careful weighing of lower-hanging fruit in relation to big picture possibilities.
Genuine brand strategy (versus superficial cosmetics alone) is more than a proactive, contemporary way of viewing and growing the business; it’s a defensive hedge against dollars spent chasing the wrong, less than optimal position. And in a world teeming with competition, the thoughtfully-engineered brand also serves as warm and cozy shelter from the storm.
We, as marketers, are our organizations’ best and brightest hope when it comes to being best- in-category connectors and collaborators. We need to support each other when we encourage our employers and clients to join us in asking the tough questions, so that we can be equipped with the heavy-lifting tools we need to do our jobs growing the company.
Sharp, sophisticated people know that a business that is not engineered to sell is a business not engineered to grow. Building in brick means utilizing genuine branding to ensure the entire company operates as an engine of customer creation. Just as a great salesperson needs more than a come-on to run on, a company needs a brand. The straw and sticks of this or that tactic or this or that plan often only serve to create the illusion of action. They don’t endure, and they always wind up costing you a whole lot more in the long run. Building in brick means your unique promises, vision and values aren’t seasonal; you’ve taken the time to understand your target connections and your differentiators.
Stuck in a straw environment? Of course, we can empathize and identify with the need to create real-time results, but, should you ever get there (most don’t), will your structure ever support a second story? Communications tend to be arrested at the “what” of what we do and are often me-centric in their approach.
The sticks business-builder is both bright and engaged. But in the area of brand, he/she is often forced to think more in terms of creative executions (logos, websites, digital campaigns) than the relevancy of the company’s Unique Value Proposition, the finer points of creating a true brand personality or increasing marketing impact and efficiency simply by opening the company up to a fresh, objective perspective. They operate without a singular, commanding, charismatic voice with which to vivify the organization and breathe life into their unique promise. “Brand” tends to be viewed as a line-item or a marketing project, and not as a synonym for the business itself… as it ought to be. If there have been prior “branding” endeavors, they operated at a massive disconnect from pure and simple business development. Every day that passes as it continues to fund a fuzzy brand position or fails to stake proper claim to its hard-earned reputation, it leaves big money on the table. Worse, it compromises its future possibilities and also risks being eclipsed by a brand-savvy competitor.
Sticks communications may have even begun to address the “how” – the qualitative differences in our offerings, which is far better than straw, but results are still fleeting as no consistent resonance formula has been articulated. The position is off, soft or unclear and the emotional and experiential benefits have yet to be addressed. The brand often suffers from a fragmented, soulless, confusing marketplace identity. The company operates, sells and markets without a strategic brand framework in place; absent adequate briefs and a personality matrix to inform an engaging marketplace presence, no consistency or relatable human emotion can be expected. For too many startups and small businesses, dreams of a penthouse view over the competitive landscape, absent reliable soil studies, brand engineering and marketing architecture, remain dreams of a penthouse view.
But the brick-sworn business builder refuses to settle for Band-aid® solutions, insisting on a strategic foundation for the company that will withstand the tests of time (and wolves.) It is only at this level that a company can truly come into its own, galvanizing its customers, employees and other audiences by genuinely spelling out what’s in it for them, and by authentically celebrating their vision & values commonalities. Authenticity, transparency, values? It’s all very Millennial, right? Nope! Building relationships based upon vision and values resonance is Sales 101, and it has been, for quite some time. My bet: it ain’t going away anytime soon.
A business is its message. Is what you’re saying what your targets need to hear?
Building your house in brick means you’ve had sufficient marketing and general business experience to understand how perception management and the creation of customers truly happens. You know what you really want is not a series of one-note, one-off marketing tactics but an orchestrated concert. That’s why my job as a branding consultant isn’t simply to make you look pretty; the real challenge for the consummate brand strategist is to build the seeds of your customer connections into your brand’s every fiber. This way, every organizational action and every piece of communication can do a better job in helping you sing your company’s song.
Sing. This time, with feeling.
Not only does having a strong brand behind you increase performance on each initiative, but the cumulative impact is that you have established brand equity you can trade on in the future. When I say “trade on,” I mean anyone who thinks sales are made in the moment is simply kidding himself or herself. To be able to “trade on” accumulated brand equity means you understand that a Sale is not a moment in time, but a culminating event. What is the event? The transfer of trust. They have heard your uniquely beautiful song; your personality reinforces your credibility, your consistency bespeaks your integrity, your shared values bubble up in every piece of communications. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt! Your name is their name, too.
Should we, as marketers and business owners eager to accelerate growth and performance, settle for anything less than whip-smart, insightful strategy and marketing that is consistently grounded in positioning, operative messaging and the timeless truths of Sales? Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins.
Scott Silverman helps you brand because he wants to see you shine. He once read “The Three Little Pigs” cover-to-cover.
© 2018 Articulated Brands (310) 826-8518