Time to Conquer Your Fear
Seven years ago, my ship started to turn. At the time, Delia Associates looked very much like a traditional business advertising and PR firm. Don’t get me wrong. We were doing some great work for a lot of great clients. But that’s when the branding bug caught me. I saw branding as more than a fad. I realized it was the foundation of category domination. If a company could discover its true distinction, it could virtually erase all competition, and drive toward greatness.
Talk about a challenge. When I first started to talk about branding, I was met with a lot of clicks. And I don’t mean the kind your mouse makes:
- “Branding? You mean a logo? No thank you. We already have one of those. Click!”
- “You mean like Coke and GE? We’re NOT some huge company with huge budgets. Click!”
- “For goodness sakes, Ed. We just want a brochure. Click.”
I pushed on, and slowly, people started to get it. Companies bought in, and a number of those clients are now reaping the rewards of a branded foundation.
The purpose of this article is not to tout the greatness of Delia Associates. In fact, when we first launched our brand development process, we had our share of misfires. My mission today is to help you realize how closely branding ties into business success, and how technology has become the ultimate driver to that end.
Initially, it was not easy. The move toward a branding philosophy represented a level of active listening on our part that was not required before. We had to stop telling customers what to do, ask harder questions, and really listen to what they had to say. We had to look long-term instead of short term. We had to accept the fact that our customers knew a heck of a lot more about their business than we could hope to know in a few weeks …no matter how much homework we did. We had to trust in them as much as they had to trust in us. No longer could we afford to swagger in as the all-knowing, all-seeing marketing masters.
So we took on a more humble demeanor, and it paid off. By 2005, we really had our brand development process down to a science. And that was what we were after all along. We had a repeatable process that we could easily guide our clients through–one that enabled them to have an equal voice in the creative process.
The beauty of the process, however, lied in the results. Each client had to have a distinct identity. No cookie-cutter stuff. Each one was a custom expression of true uniqueness. And as the developers, we protected that uniqueness at all costs. No changing directions mid-stream. No bailing out prematurely. It was all about staying the course, and building something that would impact both top and bottom lines.
We were really on to something and then I threw another monkey wrench in the machine by adding technology. (Yeah, I know, crazy Italian entrepreneur. Couldn’t leave well enough alone.)
Now people were really confused. It was one thing to ask them to understand this relatively foreign concept of branding. On top of that, we asked them to take a double leap of faith by channeling that brand into technology, another potential abyss for many businesses.
And I’m not talking about your simple web page that looks like an onscreen version of your company brochure. I’m talking about new ways of communicating through blogs, web-driven press, forums, live instant messaging, online word-of-mouth magnification, customer-specific websites, local online marketing, online surveys and webcasts. Finding new ways of deploying a brand message and connecting with customers and prospects. Opening new doors that would lead to sales previously inaccessible. Bringing brands online to embrace the global economy.
Were we thinking a little too far out of the box for our small and mid-sized clients? We were out of our minds in the opinion of some. But still others trusted us. They bought into the vision and, once again, they prospered. In fact, today, some of those early adopters keep pressing us for new online opportunities. They realize that technology is the ultimate weapon for a niche business. Global brands have the budgets to deliver mass media campaigns in print, TV, billboard, and sponsorships. Smaller specialty businesses, on the other hand, have to be as creative about the delivery of their branding message as they are about the development of their unique brand identity. Smaller brands just don’t have the marketing dollars. They have to be frugal. Technology often poses itself as a readily available, and often more cost-effective solution in comparison to mass marketing.
Through technology, niche businesses can and do gain business, take market share, and establish themselves as the category leaders. And on top of that, enjoy the ride, as much as the added margins.
While I used to think it was thelack of understanding or awareness that made people shy away from the topics of branding and technology, I now realize there may be a more compelling, underlying reason: Fear. Fear of taking a stand. Fear of venturing too far beyond the comfort zone. Fear of failure. Fear of a changing world. Fear of spending money on something that, historically, a company of a certain size simply didn’t do.
All I can say to that kind of thinking is…conquer your fear. Embrace your brand and embrace the technology that is now available to you. Use both to drive your team to a level of success that would otherwise never be achievable.
Look around and you’ll see that most small companies that made it big mustered up the courage to take some bold steps. Now look at the calendar. The new year is still relatively new. You can spend it on the sidelines, waiting for that next referral, hoping that your current customers stick around a bit longer…or you can get in the game.
Don’t get me wrong. We don’t have it all figured out. But we’re committed to learning more and more every day. Yes…we’ve got skin in the game, and are conquering our fears at every turn.