A while back I was working with a university client. I was conducting some brand-focused market research for them. The results told us that for many average citizens (a/k/a taxpayers) and alumni their brand represented some really good things – a welcoming environment, a great place for a family’s first college student, a pleasant, small-town atmosphere, etc. It also told us that their academic reputation was mediocre. There are a few programs in which they are top-notch, but all-in-all not a very strong academic school. I delivered this message to the university’s leadership and marketing department with the assumption that this really shouldn’t be big news. They should know what their reputation is. I mean, geez whiz, the rest of the world seems to. They didn’t seem shocked, but it certainly didn’t align with their marketing and recruitment process. The problem was that they were spending tons of time and money chasing lots of very gifted students. Very few ever even gave them serious consideration. One of my recommendations was for them to face up to reality. There are TONS of good students out there who would be a perfect fit at their school. Why not shift those resources to getting a solid group of those students? And they should also conduct a very targeted search for the best students for those programs in which the school excelled. Unless there was a vision and a strategy for greatly strengthening the overall academic side of the university (which there wasn’t), in my opinion that realignment would give them a better return on their investment.
Thinking of that client reminded me how important it is to truly understand your business’s strengths and emphasize those areas. Make sure your marketing and branding efforts reflect the reality of your organization. Guide your entire company from that perspective. Let me walk you through how you can go about doing this.
KNOW WHAT’S WHAT
I’ve had market research clients that seem to not want the facts. They prefer to only get data that matches what they might want instead of how things really are. (Shameless promotion: That’s a good reason for having an objective third-party help you.) The question I always ask people when they have that perspective is this: “Just because you don’t know something, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Isn’t it better to know?” Yeah it’s a little like that tree-falling-in-the-woods thing. Take that university example. Had they not heard the truth about how their brand was perceived, would that have meant that the perception didn’t exist? Of course not. It was there. And once they actually knew it, they could deal with it. They could plan and strategize from knowledge rather than assumption. A much better place to be.
The same is true for your company. Know what you are good at. Know what problems you solve. Know for whom you want to solve them. I like to call this your company’s “core identity”.
Action(s): Brainstorm with your team. Identify the top 2-3 things your organization is just great at. Look back at your business plan and your strategic vision. Look carefully at competitors. Is your approach or your product really unique? How? Define specifically what market you are targeting, what problems you are solving, and how you uniquely solve them.
DEFINE THE GAP
Like it or not, typically a gap exists between your organization’s fundamental “core identity” and how those in the market think about your company. It’s crucial to clearly understand this gap. Do an honest market assessment that asks the hard questions. But focus it only on THE most important questions. Don’t be frivolous with other people’s time. Be focused in what you ask – and commit to being open to the results (whatever they are) and commit to using it.
Action(s): Conduct objective market research to understand how your brand and your company is perceived. Getting outside help in gathering and analyzing this information is a great idea.
INVEST YOUR RESOURCES
I’m perhaps making a big assumption here, but I’m guessing you don’t have some time-bending machine or cloning technology and that you probably don’t own a money tree or that winning super-ball lottery ticket (yet). True? Well, if my assumption is true, you need to carefully invest the resources you do have wisely.
As I mentioned above, understanding clearly your unique “core identity” will drive how you invest your resources to bring in new customers.
Action(s): Define a marketing strategy that aligns where you spend your resources where they have the most potential for success.
TARGET THAT MESSAGE
Using what you came up with in that previous steps, define a marketing message that works. Write one that truly “speaks” to your very specific target market. It should use the language they use. It should address the problems they experience. It should accurately reflect who you are as a company. It should come from a place of deep understanding and clarity. And it should be a message that begins the help bridge the gap between the company you have and want and the one the market sees today.
Action(s): Take what you learned in the above step and craft a creative marketing message that works. Then rewrite and rewrite it. Show it to outsiders – preferably someone in your market. Keep tweaking it until you get it just right.
So there you have it. A plan for facing the truth head-on and dealing with it. Knowing your company’s “core identity” is crucial to your success. Begin by honest about that and the rest will flow from there.
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