Determining the temperature of your brand is difficult to do. I still struggle with this. Having the self-awareness to grasp how others view your business, with no ego involved is a gift. Because when you're super close to your business, having a holistic view of your brand is challenging.
Understanding brand perception keeps you on-message and your company grounded in reality. Gauging how your audience feels about the business is important because their opinion matters. Your audience, your customers, and your user's opinions make you who you are. What they think is more important than what you believe your brand to be.
But how can you tell whether you're on-message or not?
Before you do anything else, make sure your brand has messaging or communication guidelines. They define how you talk in situations ranging from customer service to marketing.
If that's in place and consistent, make sure you've established your brand values. These are the guiding principles of your business. They're an extension of your mission statement. Values capture the essence of what you do and explain what matters most to the company.
If either one aren't in place, stop now and make them. Your brand is off-message because there IS no message. And there's no getting around that.
Now if you've made it this far and you're still unsure if you're on-message, great. I've got a great way to find out. I've mentioned this activity before but I think it worth discussing more in depth today.
A tried and true way to find out if you're off-brand or off-message is to ask ten customers and ten staff members “What do we do here at (business name)?”
I cap the number at ten because:
1. For many early-stage companies, between part-timers and freelance help, you might only have a team of 5 to 10 people.
2. If you have a 20 to 30 person team, and they have trouble saying what you do, odds are it will happen with employee five, six and seven. You won't need a ton of people to figure this out.
3. When you ask ten customers what you do, reoccurring themes should start to surface. That's good. You just want to make sure customers are in the ballpark. Their answers should resemble the message that you're putting out to them.
Your Team – Asking your team members “What do we do here?” allows you to determine how severe the damage is.
Let's say you run a retail clothing startup. Your business might include tailoring, a virtual assistant, and a subscription box service. You ask an employee "What do we do?". They reply with “We sell shirts,” not mentioning the other things you do or the experience you provide to your customers. Guess what? If enough employees respond with this answer, you just might have a brand issue.
This news can be disappointing for a business owner. It shows that there’s a disconnect between the brand and its team. They believe that they just sell clothing. They’re not wrong, but their perception of the real nature of the business is limited. This becomes a real issue if you're trying to expand beyond just selling clothes. Or, if the company makes the bulk of its income from services the team forgot to mention.
If your staff, (your brand's primary spokesperson) struggles to say what you do, you can bet customers are having a hard time as well.
Your Customers – Asking your customers “What do we do here?” allows you to see how well your communication guidelines are working.
Your customers aren't employees. I don't expect them to repeat your message word for word. Again you just want to be in range. If you sell custom organic floral arrangements, and customers say you sell roses, that's pretty close. You might run a project management app. If your users say that you're a to-do list app, your message might need a tune up.
What you should look for is the way in which they describe the experience of doing business with you. It should stick out. Their description of what you do should have a bit of a personal touch to it. Maybe they mention a situation that was memorable for them and your business made it happen. Or they talk about how using your product improved their lives. The personal stories customers share about your business are more important than them nailing your messaging.
Your brand's message helps your team tell your story and explain what you do. It ensures that your story stays consistent. Your customers spread your message through sharing their stories and experiences with the brand. If those stories are positive, you've won. If not, you need to find out why customers aren't pleased with business.
This activity is important in understanding your brand's perception and maintaining your brand's strategy. Checking the temperature inside your organization keeps you honest. You never fall too much in love with your brand because it's constantly changing and growing. Remove your ego and start having an honest conversation with your customers and your team. Adapting to change is tough. Engaging with your audience shouldn't be.
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IMAGE BY: Cindy Tang
James Carter is the founder and head of design for Honor Roll a creative agency located in New York City specializing in brand strategy for early-stage startups in the consumer and retail space. With his help, clients build a premium brand that connects with their audience and stands out in a crowded market. Follow him on Twitter @jamescarterhr.