The story has it that when he started his business, Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea chose the store’s paint color by what was on sale. As the company (which later sold and is now FedEx Office) grew, it necessarily began to pay more attention to its branding. And if you’re big enough, the saying goes, the paint is always on sale.
That’s a great story. And it speaks to one of the realities that every company faces: when you’re a scrappy startup, your logo and other branding are likely whatever you created using free online tools (or that came as clip art with your computer), something you bought on the cheap at Fiverr, or something your wife/husband/nephew/buddy helped create.
That works to a point. Where that point is on the timeline depends on your business, your results, and your revenue (or on winning a Powerball ticket).
At some point on your timeline, your company begins to grow up and your brand matters enough for you to polish it (if necessary) and then make sure it’s being used consistently across your entire organization.
You can guess all the reasons why brand consistency matters for a B2C company, right? With whole grocery aisles dedicated to laundry soap, soda pop, and cereal, it’s critical to separate yourself from the noise. Tide’s orange cleanly catches our eye, Coke’s familiar red label pops, and Cheerios’ yellow box stands tall before leaping into our shopping cart.
What I want to talk with you about is why brand consistency matters to B2B companies, whether you’re a Do-It-Yourself marketer at a small manufacturing company, the creative director of an agency, or the CMO at any size company.
Branding is more than just a logo, preferred type font, or catchy tagline. Those are very important, as they’re expressions of the brand. But there’s much more to building a brand personality. This term is a catch-all for the culture, messaging and other advertising, positioning, processes, and (even more squishy) the relationship with the customer that gets developed over the years, and that is passed on to future generations (and customers). If a brand is the promise made to a customer, brand personality is how that promise is made, delivered on, kept, and talked about, and how people feel about it.
And did you note the customer up there? You can decide your logo will be some iteration of a compass, that your font is Gotham and your tagline a hipper version of “Don’t go down with the ship.” It is all for naught if you don’t even understand your customer (hint: personas). Your brand personality needs to resonate with how they identify with your product.
Many of the people hanging out at Crema (a hipster’s promised land for Portlandia fans and just another Portland coffee shop for the rest of us) weren’t even born when Apple’s 1984 commercial was broadcast at Super Bowl XVIII. While you can catch it now on YouTube, the ad was only broadcast twice – once in 10 smaller local markets (think Twin Falls) on the last day of 1983 (to qualify for awards), and then in the Super Bowl.Yet its anti-conformity message is still a beacon for many. And there they sit with their Spanish lattes, cuff-rolled-up skinny jeans, and knit watch caps before their open MacBooks, the glowing Apple icon reflecting the life force of their own chosen creative identities.
That’s the dramatic example. Here are some other brand personalities: Tide = tough. Cheerios = healthy. Coke = friendly. Volvo = safety.
What’s your brand’s personality equation?
Before you try and answer that, let’s take a moment to explore why branding and brand consistency matters to B2B companies.
Why brand personality matters for B2B companies
In the past, your sales team reached out, in person, by phone, or email with a prospect with the aim to discuss their business problem and steer them toward the pertinent features/benefits of your product or service. But today buyers are spending nearly two-thirds of their buying journey without contacting a sales rep. During this time, they research online, read third-party reviews, and reach out to their peers and social connections.
What CEB also found is that it’s not one person making a buying decision within a company. Rather, five or six people are typically involved in making a buying decision (IT, CXO, finance, ops, etc.), and the folks on the floor who will actually use the product play influencer roles.
If you’re (for example) a demand gen manager considering new technology, you want to make sure that the new tool you’re considering works with your tech stack, that it’s something your sales team can rally behind, that you can easily integrate it with other tools you’re using, that finance can see the upside, that your team can get up to speed on it quickly, and the list goes on.
CEB also found what aided sales reps most was having an internal advocate inside the company. And it turned out that the #1 way to recruit that advocate was to have them see some part of themselves in your brand (the example CEB gave was a video campaign from Grainger, Downtime is a Real Downer. The spokesman is a perfect persona for an actual buyer).
Whether you’re a DIY marketer or the CMO, it can be difficult to set aside budget for branding. So, when you do invest (finally) in one or more campaigns, you don’t want to lose any earned traction because of inconsistency with the brand.
“Of course, Nathan, we’ve got a central repository for all our branding assets and guidelines for who and when to use them. And our social media presence is consistent from Facebook to YouTube.”
Yes, good to hear. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a top-notch marketer like yourself. What I want to encourage with brand consistency is making sure your employees fundamentally understand the brand and the brand’s personality.
Your employees have to extend the brand personality
Let’s rewind to our first story. Chapters and chapters of business books have hailed FedEx as a model for us all. Over the years, it’s been a great example of a brand resonating with consumers.
But – do you remember that YouTube video from the 2011 holiday season? I won’t link to it, but it showed a FedEx driver throwing a delivery package (which was a computer monitor) over a fence. The company, in a video response, quickly apologized, stated what it would do to address the specific issue and what it would do to prevent this from happening again. But the original video still racked up close to 10 million views and was featured on countless websites, TV news shows, and became a late-night TV punchline.
FedEx bounced back from that event eventually and currently has a place on 100 Most Valuable Global Brands.
The meaning of “customer-facing” is changing
Today, there are even more cameras around us, and social media pipelines to the rest of the world stand at the ready to broadcast one corporate misstep. You’re at risk, from within and without your organization. The list is long and growing longer where an ill-advised action by an employee has left a brand reeling.
In the past, we would talk about “customer facing” staff, meaning sales, marketing and service. But today your front-desk receptionist can have as many (or more) LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers, and Facebook friends than the CEO. Everyone is customer facing. The engineers … well, I don’t know what social platforms the engineers use, but I’m sure their reach is far and wide, too, and affects recruitment, which affects the brand.
Think about all the touches your company has with a customer. Marketing is reaching them via emails, newsletters, the blog, eBooks, white papers, and so forth. You’ve got sales team members reaching out. There are customer support folks checking in with them. And then there are the folks in accounting sending them bills and renewal notices.
If you asked the front desk office administrator or the backroom software engineer to write down your company’s brand personality, would it match up with what you or the executive team would write down? When someone touches a client or prospect with an email or phone call, is the messaging consistent?
I’m not talking about memorization and all messaging being word-for-word with the brand guidelines. Really, it shouldn’t be. Too strict adherence to the brand isn’t consistency, it’s tyranny, and can lead to disengagement or worse. No customer believes your value proposition when an employee merely parrots the company schtick.
But when one of your employees is chatting on the ol’ Facebook or LinkedIn about their new job or a new product, does what they say align with what you want the brand to convey? (There is a strong case to be made that your employees should understand that in today’s Internet-of-things world, they are in some ways always representing you and, as a result, should try to curb their road rage, etc., … or least not do it while wearing a company shirt.)
Sing the same song
Here are some options for getting everyone on the same page.
Start your own “Everybody Reads” book club and buy everyone a copy of Made to Stick. Sure, you read it back in grad school. It’s a good time to read it again and discuss it with the entire team. No budget for buying a bunch of copies? Have folks check them out at the library, or see who has a copy in the organization to loan to someone else.
These are a great way to get the message out to everyone, wherever they may be located and whatever shift they work. Offer a contest for departments to develop their own video on how they see your brand personality. You’ll be surprised what you learn. You can host the videos on YouTube, but set them so that they are viewed internally. You can be more daring and make them public if you really like what gets created.
“Fireside Chats” references the weekly radio broadcasts that President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave as he guided the country out of the Great Depression (not suggesting your company is in similar disrepair). A weekly or quarterly email or video from the CEO about what’s going on in the company is a great way to get everyone walking in step.
Are you actively ensuring your brand’s consistency? What’s working? Tell us in the comments below or email me.
Brand SEO hack
Oh yeah, I promised a SEO hack. And this does relate to your brand (specifically, your company name).
The hack comes from a mashup of something SEO guru Rand Fiskin discussed at his company’s annual MozCon a couple years back, and something local SEO mastermind David Mihm proposed at a monthly SEMpdx event discussing local search.
The background (watch Rand’s Whiteboard Friday on it) is that Google and the other search engines are placing more emphasis on people’s search queries when those queries include both brand plus a specific keyword(s). (ABC + snowboots). The theory is that if people are searching for a product coupled with a brand name, Googles notices that, so more clicks for a brand + keyword will very likely improve the brand’s page ranking.
Separately, David had reviewed some ideas about getting online reviews for your company. One of those was to have a URL link of a search engine query (your brand name + keyword; see the green circle below). Click the search icon and you should see the URL (circled in red). You can now copy this URL and use your favorite link shortener (e.g., bitly) to make that URL bite-size. You can now add that shortened URL to various marketing collateral assets and, voila! whenever someone clicks on it, they are actually performing a search for your brand and your keyword (and telling the search engines to associated the two together).
This isn’t a silver bullet, but it may create some lift, especially if you can be creative in how you are applying it.
Got SEO questions? Check out our free eBook – SEO 101: The Basics and Beyond to learn more about SEO strategies companies of all sizes can use to increase site visibility, increase the number of visitors coming to your site and improve conversion rates.
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