“Describe your brand for me. What is it that you want people thinking, feeling, saying about you?”

How would you answer that question? Would it have something to do with being helpful? Responsive? Great customer service? Nice? Friendly? 

I frequently hear those types of responses when asking the question about brand. But, honestly, that’s far from enough.

Not if you want to make your mark in your community, your state, your industry. Not if you want to be a competitive force who dominates in your market. And certainly not if you want to remain an independent consulting firm and outlive your competitors.

You’ve got to be MORE. More of something. You need to take a stand around an idea and own it. You need to make it yours and defend it constantly to keep others at bay. You need to BE that idea. And that idea must create an emotional connection with your clients and prospects.

But what is that something? The idea that should embody your organizational soul?

I don’t know. I can’t answer that for you, but I can help you look for it and begin to take ownership of it.

Start with your vision

What would you like to achieve with your business? Do you want to keep working along steadily without rocking the boat? Or be acquired by a larger organization and retire happily with your earnings? If this is your goal, then just keep doing what you’re doing and your shining prince will come along with an acquisition offer. And you should probably take it. Forget about brand, it's not worth worrying about at this point.

But if that’s not your ideal scenario and you have loftier goals, you need to take an assertive approach to your business. Do you want to be the acquiring agency, sending others off to retirement bliss? Maybe you want to be the sole independent agency standing in your market? Or become a consulting giant in your community? And eventually retire to the beaches leaving your awesome team to run the empire you’ve worked so hard to build?

Communicate your vision

The answer is up to you. But if you don’t know what you want, it’s impossible for anyone else to know. If it’s not clear in your mind, you won’t communicate it to your team or your clients or your community or your industry. And if those around you don’t know it, there’s nothing to get excited about and nothing to help build. In other words, you've got yourself a boring brand.

Your team needs to know your vision as well as you do and accept ownership of it. Not until they can see it, and feel it with clarity, and want it, will they begin to behave in a way that drives the company to that destination.

It is through this collaborative effort around a unified goal that a strong culture begins to arise. Everyone working together to achieve something much bigger than any one person could ever do on his own, or that someone could ever achieve working in “just a job.” Something exciting begins to develop out of a strong, unified culture like this – a personality and a drive toward something bigger.

A brand emerges

Develop a culture reflective of your vision, and your brand presents itself.

Your brand should embody the spirit of who you collectively are as an organization. An effective brand will be like a magnet, drawing people toward it because they want to know more, they want to be a part of what that brand represents. People need to see themselves, or what they wish for themselves, reflected back to them from the brand. They need to feel proud to be a part of your brand.

It’s from this recognition that you begin to develop your style. For example, if your vision is to become a premier consulting firm, then as your brand emerges, you’ll feel a new level of confidence and you’ll market your business with smart, challenging copy and educational, assertive activities. You’ll hire smart people who love to listen, learn, and solve problems. You’ll select clients who are committed to improving their businesses, and you’ll walk away from potential clients looking for a commodity vendor.

As an organization, you’ll feel confident and you’ll pass that well-deserved confidence to your clients. You’ll become the magnetic organization that people want, no, need, to be a part of. You’ll develop a brand to be proud of and one that keeps competitors and predators at bay.

Brand can feel like an elusive idea. But when you know what you want and you gain the confidence in your ability to achieve it, you can’t help but behave in a way reflective of those ideas. And others can’t help but feel your energy. So instead of focusing on “developing a brand”, focus on developing a vision and a culture that shines like a beacon in the night sky. And your brand will then present itself.

Originally published on Employee Benefit Adviser.

Photo by Cheryl Colan

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