Everyone knows a company’s success is dependent on its brand, but the topic can incite many questions: What transforms a company into a brand? How do you build a brand? Why should you bother?
Try this thought exercise: When you think about the company Apple, what do you see? What picture pops into your head? Now, think about Microsoft. What do you see there? In your mind, how are those companies different?
The difference between Apple and Microsoft doesn’t lie just with their products; it’s with their branding — how they positioned their companies in the market. You instantly know what kind of companies they are, what they offer in terms of products and services, and what they stand for or represent.
Fundamentally, a brand conveys trust to consumers and clients through these three functions: navigation, reassurance, and engagement. Similarly, according to Wolfgang Schaefer, author of Rethinking Prestige Branding: Secrets of the Ueber Brands, a brand distinguishes these fundamental aspects: mission and myth, connection and exclusion, and truthfulness.
Your brand should signal to consumers and clients who you are, reasons they should choose you over a competitor, and validation about why they should continue to work with you in the future. To help determine your value proposition, which is what your brand demonstrates to your target audience, begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- Why should clients care about my brand?
- Why is my brand different from my competitor’s brand?
- What values does my brand have in common with my clients?
- Why are my core values important foundational elements of my brand?
- How is my brand related to my profitability?
There are several methods for kickstarting a brand discovery or rediscovery process, but a useful method to follow is a process known as appreciative inquiry, a method developed in 1987 at Case Western University to assist companies with organizational change.
One hallmark of AI is its team-based focus on positive outcomes as opposed to problems. Rather than focusing on problems that need solving, AI frames issues by asking a series of questions focused on “what’s working” and then envisions a future based on the answers to such questions. Another feature of this process is that it works in four distinct stages.
The Discovery Phase
In this stage, your goal is to understand current processes, systems, functions, and approaches that are driving bottom-line results such as client acquisition, customer retention, and revenue. These types of questions shift the focus away from problems and competitors to a focus on your core strengths. You’ll begin with broad themes and then progressively narrow your focus. Here’s are some examples:
- What’s my mission?
- Why was our brokerage or team created?
- If I could communicate a single message about my brokerage or team, what would it be?
- What problem is my brokerage or team trying to solve for a respective target audience?
- Why is my brokerage or team in the business beyond making money?
- Who is the primary target audience(s) of my brokerage or team?
- Why do consumers and clients choose to do business with my brokerage or team?
The Dream Phase
The goal during the dream phase is to focus on aligning the insights you gained during the discovery phase to the problems your core target audience faces. Once you have answers to the discovery questions, you and your team can begin to learn how to best position your brand in way that embodies these insights. This dream segment of your journey purposefully avoids an overt discussion about competitors.
For example, if you determined that a primary mission of your brokerage or team is to serve millennial first-time home buyers, then you would dream up the systems and engagement strategies that would best serve this audience and solve their top five problems. What single message would resonate with a millennial first-time home buyer? Would you convey this message primarily in a written, visual, or video format? What do you offer the millennial first-time home buyer beyond an efficient process? Can you appeal to this audience by mirroring what TOM’s Shoes does but in the context of purchasing a home, answering the question “Why is my brokerage or team in the business beyond making money”?
The Design Phase
After you’ve dreamed up the optimal solutions that align with your core strengths, it’s time to address your competitors and your weaknesses in the design phase. Here you’ll prioritize the most impactful and meaningful changes you’ve defined in the first two phases and plan out the solution. For example, if you’ve envisioned a new client engagement strategy that crosses mobile, web, texting, email, showings, open houses, in-office visits, and so on, and this is your highest priority, design this engagement strategy to reflect the purity of what you’ve envisioned. Next, juxtapose your newly envisioned (or refined) systems, processes, and engagement strategies against your competitors’ and evaluate whether your changes can neutralize or negate these strengths.
Make sure you don’t become obsessed with your competitors. Try to remain dispassionate and logical when it comes to your differences, while focusing your strengths and how you can position (or reposition) those into a marketplace asset for your company.
The Delivery Phase
Finally, just as a contractor follows a blueprint when building a house, follow your design during the delivery stage. At this point you’ll choose the right systems, platform partners, engagement strategies, and communication plans that align with your mission and core values. In this way, you’re fulfilling the promise you’re making to consumers and clients, instilling trust in your company, and creating the consistency and cohesion that modern consumers expect.
Following this AI process enables current and future clients to navigate away from your competitors and choose you. It gives them reassurance they’ve made the right choice because you’re actively engaging them at all relevant touch points. You’re demonstrating your mission to serve them well and creating a bit of tradition around how you connect with them. You’re living your truth and giving your clients reason to talk about your brand.