Is Your Brand Identity Hurting Your Market Share?

It has been said that every day, companies either gain market share or lose market share. When it is growing, there is more energy, enthusiasm and perhaps even a little sense of invincibility in an organization. When market share begins to wane, however, it creates a domino effect of problems. It can lead to finger-pointing, second-guessing and internal strife.

Consistently increasing market share takes diligence, creativity, and hard work. It also takes establishing and building a strong brand identity. But even that may not be enough if everyone is not on the same page in embracing that brand identity. After all, if your own team members either don’t understand or believe in your brand identity, how can you expect your customers to?

We’ve all experienced it. A solid, stable customer disappears because someone over-promised, under-delivered or failed to follow up. Often, a more senior member of the team will step in to do damage control. If they are successful at salvaging the relationship, it validates their position within the company. Perhaps, however, they just had a deeper understanding of your mission and brand identity.

If there is an internal disconnect with your brand identity, it is easy to see how customers and potential customers could experience that same confusion. Loss of market share is often the result.

An article published on SmartInsights and written by our CEO, Christine, addresses the dangers of this identity crisis and offers some examples of major companies who have gone through it. The article discusses how companies like Harley-Davidson, Apple, McDonald’s, and others have, or are working through, an identity crisis.

If market share is slipping, it may be time to pause, take stock and get creative. It could be time to reevaluate and sharpen your mission. It may be an opportunity for a rebrand.

The Importance of the Right Mission

New companies will often take days or weeks in developing a mission statement that describes their purpose and values. Once established, however, that mission may just become a series of words in a frame in the lobby. It is possible that your mission has become out of line with your market. That shift could be partly due to technology, the growing importance of convenience, or other trends.

Many organizations can benefit with a fresh look at their mission, starting with individual meetings with department heads. Using open-ended questions, these key people should be asked about how they view the mission of their department and how it differs from that of the organization. How do they perceive the role their department plays in the mind of consumers? What can or should they be doing to build more trust with customers and potential customers? You just may find a disconnect between departments that could create brand identity issues. You could discover your mission is outdated or not being communicated.

Market to Your Strengths

Once you reestablish your purpose and values by refocusing your mission statement, its time to build the foundation of your rebrand. By once again enlisting the assistance of your department heads, you should identify your strengths. This will often naturally lead to uncovering weaknesses that need to be managed. Some key clients may be asked to offer their input. What are the misperceptions people have about your organization and how did they get those misperceptions? Who are your competitors and how does the market perceive them? Encourage those involved to be straightforward and honest with their thoughts.

Marketing isn’t done in a void. You have to consider opportunities and threats but it is most frequently best to build your rebrand from your strengths. When Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded as KFC, it played to their strength: “chicken” while downplaying a weakness: “fried.” Since the official rebrand in 1991, KFC was more easily able to add menu items like hot wings, sandwiches, and grilled chicken.

Put Together Your Marketing Dream Team

Your marketing dream team could include a small group of creative people, those skilled in analytics and, of course, marketing. This is where outside professional assistance can be invaluable. This smaller team should work on what was discussed and discovered in revisiting your mission and strengths and weaknesses. They will want to include factors including competition and perceptions. Brainstorm how you want consumers to perceive you, how you can build more trust, and connect on a deeper level with them. Explore examples of other companies who have successfully rebranded. Discover how they looked at their organization from new angles and through fresh eyes.

Enlist the Help of Customers

Getting input from your best customers is an excellent idea on several levels. Asking their opinion is generally perceived as a sign of respect. They already value your product or service. It strengthens your bonds with them and they have a unique perspective from the “other side of the fence.” They will also likely become good ambassadors for your new brand.

Discuss the ideas your team has come up with, getting their feedback. This is also a good opportunity to do some “A-B” testing on multiple concepts.

Moving Forward

It would be a rare situation where an organization couldn’t benefit from taking the above steps, even if it confirms you are close to, or on, the right path. It can provide energy, clarity and bring team members and departments together. It can create powerful, positive results for an organization who is losing market share and has either lost or outgrown its identity.

Yes, every day companies are losing market share or gaining market share. If you are not growing, it may be time to move forward with a rebrand.

Categories Branding, Strategy

Expanding Into the US? Here Is Your Guide to Thrive

You have reached a momentous decision: to expand your business into the U.S. market. Now is an exciting time to be venturing across the ocean. The U.S. economy shows promising signs, and the GDP growth rate is expected to hold strong at 2 to 3 percent this year.

Besides economic prosperity, the U.S. holds other charms for business owners. Its single prominent language and relatively relaxed data laws mean that expanding into North America can seem like a smooth sail when compared to venturing into Europe or other continents.

But to dive in headfirst without testing the water could be a costly mistake for your business’s bottom line and reputation. After all, the U.S. is a large and complex market, and a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy will soon fall short. You need a guide to help pioneer your business’s American adventure.

How to Transition Wisely Into the US Market

There are some adjustments that entrepreneurs must make to their marketing and growth strategies to ensure they can thrive in the U.S. market. Here are the top three I learned from my years of experience:

  1. Take time to understand the cultural landscape.
    The U.S. has a single prominent language, but it also has approximately 325 million people living on its soil. Each state has its own culture and subcultures. The differences between the groups that live there can be vast. So it is vital to understand this cultural landscape in all its diversity before introducing your product to the market.

    This includes adjusting the tone of marketing materials to an American audience’s sense of humor. There are certain things that might sound OK in Europe but can rub people the wrong way in the U.S. For example, a British customer might love an irreverent jab at his own expense, while an American customer could be offended.

    Even basic words and phrases can cause confusion. For example, a company trying to bring the British dessert sticky toffee pudding to the American market had to explain to many people that the “pudding” was not the cold custard that an American would expect.

    For a more successful approach, invest ample time in reading and researching, and then compile a set of words and phrases that sing the praises of your business without confusion.

  2. Build up a picture through target testing.
    In a market as huge as the U.S., you have to get specific about your buyer persona. This means getting close and personal with some actual Americans.

    Begin by determining where to test your product. You can focus on East Coast cosmopolitan hubs like Boston and New York, families in the Midwest, or health-conscious individuals in California. Whatever the case, test in smaller geographies before going big to make sure your product’s features and benefits are not getting lost in translation.

    If you do not know where you should be testing, that might mean you are not acquainted enough with your buyer persona. This can be resolved by acquiring some guidance to see how your product translates to a U.S. buyer.

  3. Get to know your competition.
    It is always wise to examine your competition when expanding or diversifying into new markets. It is especially important in a crowded and ever-changing market like the U.S. Do your homework before you make the leap by building a profile of your competition. Who are the big players? Who are the emerging challengers? And when compared to those companies, what differentiates your offering?

    When companies fail to assess their competition, the results can be disastrous. For example, a Japanese telecommunications company decided to enter the wireless market in the U.S. It tried to copy and paste the retail and distribution strategy that had worked in Japan onto the U.S. market. If it had looked at where its target customers were purchasing their phone plans, the company would have realized that a pure distribution strategy is not ideal for its growth.

You have your bags packed for a new frontier, but before you set off on this exciting adventure, take some time to translate your business into the best American version you can. In addition, having someone to show you the best path for your product and how to tell its story on this new stage can support this market transition in many ways. For help with your international expansion, do not hesitate to reach out to us for a one-hour consultation.

Categories Branding, StrategyTags , , , ,

How to Prepare Your Business Model for International Expansion

As an entrepreneur, you are in an exciting position. You have successfully grown and are ready to expand in the U.S. The new opportunity is a different environment — and one that should be approached with caution to maximize the chance of success.

Opportunity is intoxicating, and many entrepreneurs find themselves rushing headlong into a situation that they should have approached more thoughtfully. It is true that successfully tackling the U.S. market can quickly scale the revenue side of a business, but the operational side must be ready for the increased demand placed on it by the larger market.

Tweaking Your Business Model

When operations fail to keep pace with demand, businesses that once had great potential will struggle to maintain the market share gained after their reputation is tarnished and their credibility is lost. The good news is that entrepreneurs who are knowledgeable about the weaknesses of their business model will be able to not only increase revenue but also improve their overall business operations by entering the U.S. market.

To ensure the transition goes smoothly, keep these approaches top of mind:

  1. Remain Connected
    One of the hardest parts of running a global business is keeping everyone on the same page. When teams cannot work together properly, friction leads to finger-pointing. Generally, there is some validity to claims made on both sides, but a lack of context keeps people from developing a clearer understanding of the issues.

    Keeping different locations of a business tightly connected can strengthen communication and improve business models. Weekly meetings, especially using video conferencing, will ensure specific departments are not siloed from the overall business. If it makes sense, consider implementing a program in which employees or leadership members rotate into the U.S. office to help connect the team to the new market. This arrangement can provide valuable networking opportunities that help encourage continued growth. Stakeholders based in the U.S. should also travel to corporate headquarters to observe the business in its home country.

  2. Be Aware of Changing Differentiators
    Different geographical areas have varied competitive differentiators. To secure your company’s valuable differentiator, research the U.S. market before taking the leap. If your differentiators in your home country no longer set you apart from other companies in the U.S., you will need to find new differentiation to pursue. It is undoubtedly best to begin this process beforeyou make the move to your new location.

    A multinational corporation in Europe, for instance, may not be allowed to move a customer’s personally identifiable information across borders. As a result, a company with a solution that allows them to analyze data while keeping it in the country where it originated from is equipped to be successful because it has a leg up on the competition. On the other hand, most American companies would be less concerned about transporting customer data if their data and analytic tools are based within the U.S. What was a dominant differentiator in Europe has little to no advantage in the U.S. market, illustrating that the challenges of operating in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. have limited similarities.

  3. Understand Marketplace Success
    It is vital to understand the differences in how businesses approach the American market. It is understandably tempting to rely on the tactics that brought your business success in the first place, but there is no guarantee that this approach will translate to the new location and new customer base.

    In Asia, distribution is everything. Consumers purchase goods from retailers, so breaking into the retail market means a company has made it. On the other hand, in the U.S. market, awareness is the basis for business success. Getting a product onto retail store shelves does not mean that consumers will buy it — they need to know what it is.

One way to better position yourself for success in the U.S. market is to have someone on the ground who can help guide your decision-making based on his or her knowledge of the lay of the land. Getting help with your international expansion before you enter the market is critical because it can ensure a smooth transition and keep the costs associated with international moving operations to a minimum. To learn how we can help, do not hesitate to reach out to us for a consultation. Not only do we provide the strategies you need to ensure your business’s success, but we also help you implement them one step at a time.

Categories Branding, Operations, StrategyTags , , ,

Building a Culture that Ensures Your Company’s Success

Entrepreneurs often overlook company culture during their first weeks in business. While many prioritize other aspects of their business, they risk sacrificing a potential differentiator and what should be the fundamental basis of their brand. A company’s culture is vital to securing a good reputation, encouraging employee loyalty, and fostering collaboration with other businesses. Whatever your other responsibilities, it’s essential to begin building a corporate culture from day one.

Veer Toward Values

Identify specific values that you can easily be put into practice. Generic values like equality, innovation, and employee safety are good at the start but focus on values that relate specifically to your business. If your company provides home insulation services, for example, you have the potential to reduce your customers’ household energy use and associated pollution, so environmental sustainability will be an easy value to promote in your ordinary business practices. Likewise, if you work in software or network design, information security and privacy protection are ideal values.

For example, Trailblaze Growth Advisors ties its values to helping firms of all sizes improve their appeal and increase profitability. Our values include:

  • Hands-On Operations – The Trailblaze team doesn’t advise from the sidelines. We involve ourselves in your business as directly as possible and offer practical solutions for specific problems.
  • span style=”text-decoration:underline;”>Pursuing Perfection – We constantly seek new information, learning as much as possible, so that we never encounter a problem we don’t know how to solve. Whenever our efforts fall short, we learn from our mistakes and improve our company.
  • Cultivating Collaboration – We incorporate as many experiences and opinions as possible, working with experts from all fields to find the best solutions.
  • Guaranteeing Our Goals – We set clear objectives and always fulfill or exceed them.

Document Your Values

Once you’ve decided on values for your business, make sure to articulate them to employees and customers alike. Write all of your values down, incorporate them into training programs, and devote a page of your company website to them. The sooner you make your values clear, the easier it is for your employees to embody them, and the quicker your business will gain a reputation for them.

Articulating company values also gives your employees a chance to become involved in the emerging corporate culture. Encourage them to read through the values, identify omissions, and make suggestions for improvement. The more involved your employees are in this process, the more motivated they will be to promote your company culture and the better that culture will reflect your employees’ attitudes and actions.

Build a Culture

Putting your company culture into action means giving credit to every employee who promotes that culture. Any of your employees’ actions that embody your values, however small, should be met with praise. Consider holding monthly ceremonies in which you publicly recognize employees who promoted your values and reward them with raises or prizes. Keep permanent records of these achievements on your website or on plaques. You must also negatively sanction employees who fail to live up to your values, giving them an ultimatum to comply. One unfaithful employee can give the whole company a bad reputation.

As the leadership team, you must embody your company’s values in all areas of your life, and not just at work. If one of your values is sustainability, for example, consider insulating your home, installing solar panels, and biking to work. The more commitment you show to your culture, the more it will be taken seriously.

Engender Evolution

As your business grows, attracts new customers, and responds to changes in technology, your company’s culture will have to adapt. Encourage your employees to discuss your values and find new ways of promoting them in the changing market. Your company will change, but as long as it remains committed to its core values, it can continue to garner respect among employees, customers, and the business community.

Don’t overlook something as crucial as culture. Check out our sources to learn more about founding a company on strong values.

Additional reading:

  • #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amorusa
  • http://www.inc.com/eat-big-fish/why-successful-start-ups-need-to-build-a-culture-of-overcoming.html
  • http://venturebeat.com/2012/05/14/startup-culture-tips/
  • http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/10/04/how-to-build-a-great-company-culture/
  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-hill/small-business-success-advice-_b_1564803.html;
  • https://hbr.org/2015/04/why-company-culture-is-a-misleading-term; www.entrepreneur.com/article/242141
Categories Branding, LeadershipTags , , ,

Integrated Marketing from Concept to Measurement

Integrated marketing requires that businesses align their marketing processes in a way that continuously improves the customer experience. Understanding the how your processes feed into each other as part of an overall plan is a crucial first step. Successfully integrating these processes along with establishing KPIs ties together the goals of each department into a single unified strategy to enable supporting larger goals.

There is a way to create order out of chaos. The growing complexity of marketing makes it crucial that companies document, define, and automate their marketing processes. In order to be effective, processes within the following categories, which overlap to some extent, must be defined and integrated:

  • The execution process is often referred to as campaign management. This is the communication arm of marketing, and often deals with both outbound and inbound marketing as well as analyzing leads and customer value.
  • The operations of a marketing department include budgeting and resource allocation. Processes include marketing performance measurement, campaign planning, strategic planning, marketing systems and data capture.
  • Analytical processes are used to create predictive models and to analyze the data gathered to measure the results of a marketing program.

While implementing a marketing automation solution can more than double the output that a marketing team can produce, one must do her homework before implementation.  The success of marketing automation implementation does not primarily depend on the selected software, and it is not only about automation. Cross-functional coordination must be formalized by integrating the processes above and setting KPIs that focus teams on achieving corporate goals.

Process alignment creates truly integrated marketing programs.

Integrated marketing is powerful and effective. Each customer or prospect interaction reinforces your brand, increases awareness, and builds trust over time. By coordinating the customer journey across marketing channels, marketing investments become more efficient and effective.

You can integrate your marketing programs by following a few simple steps:

  1. Customer Experience.
    Integrated marketing aligns campaign management, marketing operations, and analytical processes to create a closed-loop around the customer. Create processes that focus on improving the customer experience in ways that will increase satisfaction (thus loyalty), drive revenue for the company and reduce marketing costs.
  2. Conceptualize.
    Set objectives and brainstorm ideas, keeping an overall focus so that everything aligns. Analytical and operational factors carry more weight at this point, while execution processes focus on understanding the target segment and the needs of the customer.
  3. Create a plan.
    Use analytics to understand your audience and competition and to optimize your marketing campaigns. Ensure that you address all three process categories in mind as you plan.
  4. Budget.
    Create a budget and allocate it among the various marketing programs that have been prioritized. There is no hard and fast rule for setting your marketing budget, which should be set on a based on a number of factors.  I have seen budgets in as little as 1% to as much as 35% of projected revenue.
  5. Campaign creation.
    Define and create the marketing campaigns that you have prioritized based on improving customer satisfaction.
  6. Test the waters.
    Test messaging, target segments and creative and make changes as needed. Always test, even if you think something is a no-brainer.  Human behavior is difficult to predict.  I have been surprised many times by test results of both “horrible” and “great” ideas.
  7. Analysis.
    Measure the success of the various parts of your campaign and analyze the results.
  8. Closure.
    Use the information from your results to develop the next marketing strategy.

If you follow the steps above, you can create a revenue generation loop that improves the efficiency of your marketing spend. If you need help, feel free to contact us.

Categories Branding, Digital, MarketingTags , , , , , , , ,

Five Marketing Myths

With the wealth of articles and how-to guides available online, it would seem that almost anyone with a modest budget could run a successful marketing campaign. Unfortunately, many of these resources repeat outdated—and sometimes just plain misguided—information. Familiarize yourself with these five marketing myths to make sure you avoid these common missteps.

  1. “Just make it pretty.”
    Visual aesthetics should enhance your marketing efforts, not define them. After all, you can design the world’s most beautiful advertisement—which may capture the attention of potential clients—but if you do not deliver clear information identifying the value of your products and services, customers will be quick to move on to competitors who can demonstrate these benefits.
  2. “We don’t need a marketing plan.”
    You wouldn’t drive blindfolded, would you? Launching a marketing campaign without a plan can be just as reckless. Too often, companies invest significant sums of money into campaigns that miss the mark. Perhaps they failed to reach their target demographic or did not realize that the competition was offering comparable products at a fraction of the cost. A solid marketing plan contains all the information you need to understand the factors affecting your business’s ability to operate effectively in the marketplace and to maximize ROI.
  3. “Let’s just build the product (or service) first.”
    If you build it, they will come. Or will they? Startups are prone to the misconception that all they need is a great idea and a consumer base will develop all on its own. Once again, we’re back to driving blind. Market research needs to happen before a product hits the production room floor. The alternative—assuming there is a market for your latest goods and that you already have an innate understanding of this market’s desires—can lead to disappointing returns.
  4. “Don’t waste time on messaging.  Let’s just get out there.”
    Your message is the bridge between your product and your customers. Without it, the two will have a hard time reaching each other. In inbound marketing, your message provides an opportunity to appeal to your target market’s particular wants and needs. It helps potential customers answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”
  5. “We have to include every feature and benefit in our materials.”
    Sometimes, less is more. Your customers are busy and already bombarded with a flood of advertisements. If you want to make a lasting impression, you’ll have to be clear and concise. Highlight only the most important features of your product or service. Design your sales pitch so it can be absorbed in a split-second. Chances are, that’s as much time as you’ll have to convince a prospective buyer. You can provide more information after you’ve generated the lead.
Categories Branding, MarketingTags , , , , , , , ,