The first article in this series identified key steps to building a brand for entrepreneurs by recognizing the critical connection between the reputation of the entrepreneur and the business itself. At the critical early stage of business formation, launch and early market development, the development of the entrepreneur’s personal brand is integral to the brand of the business. As the business grows, takes on employees and begins to rely on others to develop and sustain the brand, or reputation, established by the entrepreneur, a broader perspective is required.
Relying on others to perform work and protect a carefully developed reputation is one of the most challenging steps for an entrepreneur to take. Yet, if this transition is not executed successfully, the business will struggle to grow and achieve its potential. The same relentless focus on building a personal reputation must be translated into an organization-wide commitment to do the same for the business. As in the previous article, management of the process of building a brand comes from the leaders of the business followed by all employees and partners.
First, clarify your business purpose and align everything and everyone with that purpose. State your business purpose clearly in a simple one-sentence vision statement. A vision statement declares the outcome you are promising to your customers and the world at large. It is not specifically measurable as an objective or goal might be as it is not what you want to achieve this year or the next. Rather, it is the outcome you want for your customers every day and for as long as your business exists. It defines who you are and why customers will come to your products and services. Once this statement is written, understood and clear, make sure every decision you make, every product and service and every customer engagement matches this vision statement or promise.
Second, clarify a unique relationship and experience for your customers. Assume there will be competitors offering similar and sometimes better products. Your customers must believe that you care more about them and their needs. You must learn to anticipate proactively their needs not only for specific products that you offer, but also for the context in which those products need to exist in the customer’s environment. Go out of your way to provide more value to the customer in the scope of managing the service and relationship with them than anyone else. Earn a seat at the customer’s planning table because they see you as an extension of themselves, rather than simply a commodity product provider.
Third, clarify your vision, purpose, promise and customer relationship management model to and through every person, department, process and product that the customer may see over time. Make sure that the customer’s experiences with your business, including the products, sales, customer service, web site, executives, billing department, research and development, technical support and more are always consistent. This consistency must be delivered over time and across all of the ‘touch points’ of your business. It is not enough to measure the response time at the call center for support.
Measure the customer’s experience against the outcome promised in the vision statement and make continuous adjustments to achieve it. Brand equity is built slowly over time and by consistently delivering on the promise of the vision, you allow the business to accumulate a positive relationship bank account. The sum of all positive customer experiences over time and across all facets of the business is the key to building brand equity, that most precious inclination of the customer to buy from you again and to recommend you to others.