Essential Guide to Building A Better Brand – Lesson 2: The customer is always right

There’s an age-old philosophical debate that goes something like, “If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make any sound?” Well of course it does. A tree makes all kinds of noises when it falls down. Crash, bang, wallop. Everyone knows that. They had some serious bloody dumbasses in those days.

And besides, as I like to think of myself as a more contemporary business-to-business marketing thinker, I prefer my own more contemporary take on that particular debate… “If you think you’re an eminently and intrinsically good person to know and be with, but all your colleagues think you’re a complete and utter twat, what are you? A great guy, or a twat?” I think you’ll agree that my version is worthy of a little more due consideration.

One thing is certainly true, we don’t (I hope) spend an awful lot of time in our personal lives circulating amongst friends, family, colleagues and indeed relative strangers, asking at every available opportunity whether or not the other party to the conversation thinks we’re a twat. And that, for the avoidance of doubt, is a good thing.

In business, however, it is a terribly bad thing. Because your business – your brand – is built and maintained if not exclusively, then certainly in large part, on your corporate ‘reputation’. In other words, whether or not customers think you’re a twat.

So when trying to build upon and enhance the reputation of your brand, it makes all kinds of sense to gather opinions from all the audiences for the brand that you consider important to its current and future wellbeing.

The danger at this point, I’ll admit, is that you disappear headlong down a dark, damp and smelly hole called Market Research. The hole has no bottom or sides and, often, has no purpose or meaning. It just costs you a lot of money, you have no real understanding of the outcomes and little way of applying the findings to anything useful on a day-to-day communications basis. That’s not always the case, but that’s the danger.

Well we’ll both be glad to learn that that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about gathering views that you can rely on to offer a degree of objective opinion in the development of a Brand Strategy.

As part of that strategy, you’ll need to deliver a consistent message that holds meaning and value to your audience (or audiences). Those messages will form the basis of why the audience wants to engage with the brand in the first place, or will continue to associate with it in the future. So you’d better get it right. And you may very well have a clear opinion yourself as to what the message should be and you may very well be right. But… you might also think you’re a really good guy. Twat.

The first staging post is close to home. You should speak to the internal audience for the brand – your employees. If anyone can tell you what the company’s really like, what customers think of the brand and why they buy your products and services, it’s the staff. (They probably won’t want to tell you by the way, but they’d tell us. We know how to ask nicely…).

Your external audiences will likely fall into two camps – customers and prospects. There are others (investors, shareholders, suppliers…) but on the basis that customers and prospective customers make the difference between ‘business’ and ‘unemployment benefit’, they’re the ones to focus on. Or put another way, as I once learnt from Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files, “…always follow the money.”

Questionnaires, focus groups, telephone interviews and one-to-one depth interviews are the typical options here. Methodology is usually down to scale (how many customers do you have?), money and/or timings. Birddog prefers the depth interview approach. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and if you know what you’re doing, you’ll get the best insight with an interview. Interestingly, you don’t need many opinions to identify the value traits that will be used to support your brand proposition. The cream rises to the surface quickly.

The important thing is that you actually take the time and effort to do the job. Not only will you identify consistency in the perceived areas of value within your business, you’ll have ratified existing beliefs, dispelled distracting side-issues and achieved clarity and focus for your brand message. And you’ll have heard it from the horse’s mouth. You’ll have compared your hunch against the views of the people most important to your future welfare – your customers. There will doubtless be some aspect of ‘yeah, we knew that’, but even if you knew it all (and no one ever does by the way) the power of a ratified message is second to none.

The final Brand Strategy will not only be supported by staff (because their opinions were sought and they were part of the process) but it will contain all the points of interest for the external audiences to encourage them to associate with it. Why wouldn’t they if it reflects their own needs and desires? Unless they’re twats of course…

Scot McKee
Managing Director
Birddog Ltd.

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