Saturday, 18 January 2020

The challenge lies in building a brand

The holy grail of doing business is building a brand. No matter the industry or the type of business you are running, ultimately, every entrepreneur wants a brand. This is a universal desire whatever the personality of the owner. From the most analytical engineering types to the exact number or creative types - all entrepreneurs want a brand.

This desire is especially interesting if you consider the constant debate around sales versus marketing. Strong opinions persist in favour of each, yet everyone seems in agreement about one thing: the power of owning a brand.

But brand-building is not easy. It requires counter-intuitive thinking that does not come easy to the business owner pressed for cash and looking for the shortest route to selling the company. It is this combination of difficultness and desirability that makes building a brand, in my opinion, the top challenge for entrepreneurs in the coming year.

Building a brand requires a disciplined approach to design, messaging, customer service and quality that pushes the entire business to new heights. You can't grow a brand if your company isn't well run, or at least on its way to being well run.

A brand - whether a company or product brand - is the cherry on top of running a business with purpose. It means you are successfully coordinating things across the business to make an impression to the outside that leaves customers with a clear understanding of what you stand for.

But where do you start this new year as you hope to build a brand?

I suggest starting with a clear understanding of why you are doing what you're doing, for whom you are doing it, and what you want them to think about you. In short, a clear vision, target customer and message. The only other primary ingredient is time. Building a brand takes time since no reputation is made overnight.

Owning a brand offers a business the most efficient way to secure new sales at the highest price. This combination of low acquisition cost and higher prices makes a brand a profit engine for the business. It is why every business should aim to build one and why it must be one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs in the coming year.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

A clear vision to be the best and compete globally

Aggressive, clean-cut business objectives. That's what the CEO of a successful medium-sized company recently shared with me about the business he leads.

It's impressive when someone makes deliberate bets on the future based on a strong sense of where things are and where it's heading. Statements such as: "This is where we are now. This is where the world is going. This is our customer. This is our competitor. This is our key advantage. This is what needs to happen over the coming months to get from here, to here."

This leader had strong views on these topics and clearly articulated them, not in a boastful way, but in a monotone, calm way. It was impressive. Probably the most exciting thing is just how determined they were to compete internationally, but basing themselves in South Africa because they see it as part of their competitive edge. It was a refreshing change from the typical negativity.

The experience made me realise the opportunity for South African companies to be ambitions. You can be entirely local but focused on winning globally. Being based here can even be part of why you are stronger; not weaker. This is not blind loyalty but a simple business decision.

Of course, there are some well-known examples of local companies playing a global game - in some cases relocating their head office eventually, but not before making an impact worldwide. Discovery, SABMiller and Anglo America are well-known corporate examples. Still, many medium-sized companies are doing the same, such as Cochrane (not the interview I refer to earlier), who started the ClearVu brand and installed the fence around the American Capitol building.

There are many reasons why companies achieve international success, but I will argue having a clear vision, and a strong sense of the competitive environment plays an important part. Those statements I listed above.

As we head into the new year, the question I ask myself and those around me is: do you know what you are trying to do? If you do, the sky is the ceiling.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Can you name what you sell (or do you need an elevator pitch)?

It's taken me five years to get to a point where I can confidently tell people what I sell:

I am a marketing consultant.
I sell marketing plans.

Five years.

Why so long to figure out something seemingly so basic? Because at first, I wanted to be fancy. I couldn't imagine that merely being a marketing consultant, selling marketing plans, could be anywhere near good enough. Admittedly, I wanted to dress it up in fancy language.

The funny thing is that despite not having a clear name for it, I had an elevator pitch that beautifully described the value I added. Strange how it is somehow easier to spin a 30-second story than give it a concise name!

I find many business owners have a similar problem. After tweeting my initial thoughts around this topic in the past week, someone responded saying it took one of their clients two years to figure out how to name what they sell!

The challenge is clear, in two seconds (not thirty), answer me this: What do you sell?

It is quite a humbling exercise because most of what we sell is in reality so very basic. At its core, even the mighty Amazon (dot com) is nothing other than a large retail chain that takes orders online. Google helps you find things on the Internet. Coca Cola sells you a drink. Short answers. Nothing fancy.

Can you leave your elevator pitch behind and tell me what you sell? How do you do marketing and sales if you can't tell people what's available?
All businesses are built on the back of human needs, and at its core, all human needs are pretty basic. It should come as no surprise that at its heart, no matter how fancy your business model is, it could well be that it all boils down to a simple "we sell cold drinks" or "I write marketing plans". One-liners.

Doing business may be complicated, but customers aren't really. They have a need. They look for a solution. It's your job to give that solution a name, otherwise, how will they find it?

What do you sell? Can you name it?

Sunday, 17 November 2019

What you sell, is not what you solve

It's fascinating to think about how you can sell one thing, yet meet many needs. As a kid, I enjoyed kicking a ball in the park, and that one ball did many things for me, depending on the day. I got rid of frustration, energy, cleared my head, managed boredom or played with friends.

One ball; many needs.

As businesses, we typically sell only a handful of stuff, yet the number of potentially different needs we meet for our customers are many times more.

It is this idea of "what need do you meet for your customer" that sits at the heart of marketing and sales. Only by getting to the real problem; the genuine desire that they have can you successfully sell your offering at the optimal price and grow the business.

The challenge many businesses experience is they don't know how to get to the heart of the customers' needs. You certainly can't get there through "sales mode". Instead, you need to listen to customers, talk with them to understand their needs and explore various options with them - not only yours. This way, you become a trusted partner, not just a sales agent.

In short, the way to sell to other businesses is to turn sales conversations into business conversations.

Ultimately, you make a sale by meeting a need, and your customer has many of those that your product could potentially satisfy. It is your job to find out how you can truly help your customer, then make the sale.

Make sure you understand your customer's needs before you try and sell to them. In fact, talk to them, don't sell to them.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Before you buy a franchise, consider the brand

You can't run a successful franchise without a strong brand. Yet many franchisees don't know this and struggle to make sales because of this very problem.

When you own a franchise or are the exclusive license holder for a brand in a particular territory, you inevitably understand the importance of marketing to drive sales, but often miss the critical role it plays in brand building. Long term, you need a strong brand to build a franchise.

It is a bit like a braai. By focusing on the core of the fire, and making sure it glows red hot, you know the rest will eventually heat up to cook the meat. Focusing on fanning the core is similar to building a brand while cooking the meat is like making sales. It can be painfully slow to wait for the fire to be ready, and the same goes for brands. Too many franchisees try and braai on a cold fire.

Your marketing activity sits in the middle, with brand building and sales activations on either side.

Brand <----- Marketing -----> Sales

Many franchisees think they inherit a brand from the onset and only need to worry about sales. While it may be true for well-established brands, such as KFC or Nandos, it often does not apply to smaller brands brought in from abroad via licensing agreements, or a Durban based business franchising out to owners in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Over the years I've had numerous enquiries from panicked license owners realising they are stuck with a lemon. They are the proud owners of brands with zero awareness in the local market and consequently struggling sales. What must they do? Without a strong brand, your franchise, or territorial license means little. And yet it is surprising how few realise this.

As a franchisee, you should understand what you are, in reality, buying: a brand. But a brand is not a brand because it has a following overseas, or a cool logo, or a funky name or even because someone calls it a brand. A brand is only a brand when customers recognise it as one, right in your area. The customer decides if it is a brand, and if they haven't made up their mind, you are either in deep trouble or have lots of work to do.

The problem is that most franchisees are unprepared when it comes to brand building. The fact that the franchisor, or owner in another territory, provides you with brand guidelines and marketing materials does not mean that now you can tick off the brand box. You still need to do the hard work of establishing it in the minds of customers.

So what should you do as an aspiring franchisee?
  • First prize is to buy into a brand - a real brand that is recognised in your area. 
  • If you want to buy into a business with a brand that is unknown in your area, you should be prepared to do marketing-activity that grows brand awareness in addition to driving sales. This can be difficult, and I would negotiate hard with the franchisor to assist in this for a launch period.
  • If you already own a franchise that has a brand problem, I would suggest taking a couple of steps back and resetting your expectations. You need to retrofit an exciting brand position back into the marketing materials you already have. You need to work backwards from your logo towards a story.

Too many franchisors sell licenses to entrepreneurs giving them rights to open the same business elsewhere, but without the same band awareness. The result is almost always businesses that fail, or never really gaining traction - like a barbecue on a cold fire.

When you invest in a franchise license, make sure you also invest in a brand. If not, know one thing, your road to success will be twice as long.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Marketing often impacts the culture of the business

I recently went full circle with a business, for the first time: a marketing engagement that became a branding engagement that evolved into a sales engagement and ended up as cultural engagement. Or, in everyday language, what started as "help us with our next Facebook post" became "how should we change as a company to successfully engage with customers."

Heavy stuff, but quite understandable, if you think about it. Marketing is the voice of the company and what anyone says about themselves reflects genuinely about who they are. In "company language", that is culture.

The challenge with most marketing engagements is this: it starts superficially and stay there, yet, for it to work, and deliver new leads, the business itself often needs to change.
What you communicate through marketing is just the front end of every aspect of the company. Think about how the marketing message is impacted by things such as:
  • Are you obsessing over the next sale, or trying to build a long term relationship with your customers?
  • Do you fight on price, or negotiate on value?
  • Are you merely highlighting product functionality, or going deeper to highlight solutions?

These are marketing questions with roots deep into the heart of the business.

In truth, most businesses are happy to settle for superficial marketing. It ticks the box, and the next sale will happen whether they are on Facebook or not. But these are not the companies that will outlast the competition, be inter-generational, and win tomorrow.

To do marketing that grows brand awareness and deliver new business opportunities often requires a much more in-depth review of how the business operates. Ultimately, every aspect of a company that impacts its core has an impact on its culture - the "actual" fluffy stuff, and the most important too!

Does your business culture allow it to do effective marketing?

Saturday, 26 October 2019

For marketing to work, the foundations must be in place

Whether you should do marketing or not, is your choice. It's a bit like whether you decide to build a house from the ground up, or buy something standing - it's your choice.

But when you do decide to do marketing or build a house, you should make sure you do it right, otherwise, it can come crashing down.

I've realised it is not my job to sell you on marketing. You can decide whether you need to do it or not. My job is to make sure that when you choose to do it, you do it right.

Although the effects of marketing can be challenging to measure, or take long to show results, the actual process of doing marketing is not unclear. There are defined steps you need to take to make sure you give yourself the best chance at success.

Most marketing fails because the process of doing it is failing, not because marketing itself isn't working.
You can't do marketing without a target market, without a defined brand position, clear objectives, a budget and a way to keep track of results regularly.

I've stopped telling my clients I will do them a marketing strategy. Instead, I have started to list the specifics that I will put in place to help them do it right. It is a rational, structured process with clear deliverables. Once you have sold yourself on the need for marketing, it is an easy sell to help you do it right.

Marketing might be fluffy, but there is nothing fuzzy about how it should work. The subject is over a hundred years old, and the theory exists. Do a, then b, c...and only then "hope for the best".

Most businesses don't do this and struggle with marketing. No wonder. They don't have the basics in place.

The challenge lies in building a brand

The holy grail of doing business is building a brand. No matter the industry or the type of business you are running, ultimately, every entr...