By Dan Horan
By Dan Horan
May 22, 2019 – When was the last time you took steps to manage your brand? Considering how your company and the markets it serves have changed over time, you can’t let your brand be something that just happens to you—you must build it with intention.
For most electrical product distributors today, there is no need to build a new brand from scratch. Instead, you should aim to turn your existing brand equity into something stronger and more cohesive, i.e. taking control of what you already have.
Brand building does not happen overnight. It takes lots of work and attention. In a perfect world, you would have months or years to craft, test and refine every element of your brand; but in reality, you have a business to run and often need to be building your brand ‘on the fly,’ in your and your employees’ spare time.
Here are three steps to help you balance (a) an idealized view of what your brand could become with (b) a pragmatic assessment of what you can realistically achieve.
Step 1: Assess your brand
Before you start building your brand, you must first understand how it is currently perceived.
While there are plenty of formulaic assessments out there that promise to tell you your brand’s strength or value, the best brand assessments come straight from your current and potential customers.
Be wary of relying too much on your own sales team for such customer insights. With only a single, internal input source to guide you, you run a high risk of falling victim to your own echo chamber, hearing only what you want to hear. Getting honest input directly from customers is required for an accurate brand assessment, even if it makes you less comfortable.
Similarly, don’t limit these conversations to your best customers, who have become your friends. Talk to a more diverse group. Don’t try to sell your products or services—just ask questions and listen.
It may seem discouraging if you receive negative feedback or your customers’ perceptions are vastly different from your own, but resist the urge to justify or defend your own position. Recognize the feedback you’re receiving is a gift and an opportunity to make meaningful changes.
Another way to better understand your current brand’s perception is to compare yourself to the competition. What niche do you fill in the marketplace? How is your brand unique? How do you compare to the other regional or national players?
Every company claims to have good people offering great service, for example. What do you offer that your competition does not?
Step 2: Envision your ideal brand
In a perfect world, how would you like to be perceived in the market? How would you like customers to see your company, your products and your services? Even if you are not clear on all of the details, outline the basics of what your ideal brand would look like.
Keep in mind this idealized brand (i.e. how you want to be perceived) is not the same as your ideal business strategy (i.e. what you plan to do). It is important not to confuse the two.
You should also keep in mind that even with all of the time and money in the world, you will not be able to be all things to all people. Even idealized strategies have trade-offs.
Once you have outlined your ideal brand, consider what your plan would be to get there if you had total control, unlimited time and unlimited resources. That plan is your ideal brand strategy.
Step 3: Reconcile your strategy with reality
Chances are, there is a sizeable gap between how your brand is perceived in the marketplace now and how you would like it to be perceived. It is also likely there are many things outside of your control and you are limited in how much time you can invest in a branding project.
The reality is you may never achieve your ideal brand strategy. You can begin to narrow the gap, however, and make purposeful decisions about where you want to invest.
Whether you realize it or not, you are already constantly investing in your brand through every customer interaction. Building a realistic brand strategy involves not only what new things to do, but also what things to stop doing. Indeed, many of your new brand actions will be replacements for old ones, to help you to make the most of limited resources.
Consider the size of the gap between each element of your current brand and those of your ideal brand. For those that are drastically far apart, you will need to decide whether it is worth the time, effort and money to change that perception.
Don’t write off elements of your brand just because they might not have been part of the original plan. You might not have wanted to be the low-cost choice in you market, for example, but if you are currently perceived that way, recognize the value in that brand equity and realize that if you choose another direction, there will be a cost.
Finally, remember it is good to be aspirational. You should feel like your strategy is always pushing you further, so you are stretching to achieve new goals.
Dan Horan is an associate consultant at Indian River Consulting Group (IRCG). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Electrical Business magazine.