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Piracy, Cord-Cutting, and the Future of Television
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Sticky Branding

Sticky Branding

12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers, and Grow an Incredible Brand
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A winning strategy today may not prevail tomorrow. It might not even be relevant tomorrow. — David Aaker, professor emeritus at the Haas School of Business

Do your customers choose you first?

In 2004 I asked myself that question every day. I’d left a cushy job selling software systems to big companies in order to join my family’s IT staffing business. I thought I had what it took to drive sales, and I planned to take the company to the next level. I quickly learned I was mistaken. The wheels were falling off the bus and I didn’t know what to do.

During the nineties the sales team at my family’s company could generate new clients and business opportunities every week. Through diligent prospecting and by building solid client relationships, the company had become successful. But by the time I joined in 2004, the market had changed and sales had slowed to a crawl.

The sales force had been reeling in a challenging marketplace for over three years. The economy was working against them. Clients had reduced their orders because many had exhausted their IT budgets preparing their computer systems for Y2K. Several software and technology clients had simply disappeared as part of the fallout from the dotcom bubble bursting. A short recession following the tragic events on September 11, 2001, compounded all of these issues.

The impact of these forces had a direct effect on the company’s sales performance. What used to take our sales reps a week to achieve was now taking them a month.

I had been groomed on sales training programs like Huthwaite’s Spin Selling and Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling, with a little Tom Hopkins for good measure. Those programs teach you how to find decision makers, build value propositions, and negotiate and win sales deals. I turned to them fi rst when my business faced a sales problem. My logic was that if sales were flagging, then we had to get better at selling. We pushed and pushed, trying to improve our sales process for the better part of a year, but it didn’t work.

Our sales guys were doing all they could to find new business opportunities, but more and more we relied on cold calling, advertising, and direct marketing tactics just to keep the sales funnel full. And I have to say, it was a grind. I was the director of business development, but I found myself in the trenches dialing for dollars just to keep the business going. And I hate cold calling! But what else could I do? When the business isn’t there, you dig down and you work harder — especially if it’s your family’s business.

But working harder didn’t improve our situation. It actually got worse. Not only were we expending four times the amount of effort to bring in the same amount of business, we were bringing in the wrong clients. My parents had built their business based on strong relationships and partnerships with their clients, but we had to scrape the bottom of the barrel in 2004. We had to take on clients that did not value our services. We were desperate. We took on clients that were unprofitable, unethical, and unpleasant to work with. The revenue wasn’t there. The client demand wasn’t there. We were firing on all cylinders, but not gaining any traction. We had to change.

To turn around the company we analyzed our business, our market, and what we thought it would take to succeed in our industry. Our findings shocked us. It wasn’t our salespeople or our sales processes that was failing us, it was our brand. That realization led to a major rebranding of our business, and it was the catalyst that brought me into a decade-long study of how small- and medium-sized companies innovate and grow recognizable and memorable brands — what I call "Sticky Brands."

As a company, we became highly aware of our brand and our place in the market. I studied our business, customers, and market, and I discovered that our business was indistinguishable from the competition. All of the companies in our industry looked the same. We offered the same services with similar features and benefits. Even our brochures and websites looked alike. Our value propositions — the sum of the benefits a company offers its customers for their products and services — were virtually identical.

We claimed our firm was unique, but from the customers’ point of view we looked the same as every other recruiting firm. We were just another tree in the evergreen forest. The large national firms were winning, but only because they stood out as the oldest and most credible trees in the forest. It was no wonder customers weren’t choosing us first. If we wanted to win, we couldn’t be like everyone else. We had to give customers a compelling reason to choose us. We had to stand out in our industry.

The changes to our brand came fast and furious: a new name, new positioning, and a new approach.

We changed the company name from Miller & Associates, a name that meant nothing to customers who hadn’t worked with us before, to the more memorable LEAPJob. Our new brand identity played on the phrase "leap frog." It was bright, energetic, and youthful. We stopped looking like a professional services firm and created a destination for sales and marketing professionals to advance their careers. Next, we changed the firm’s positioning. Previously our focus had been on IT staffing — we recruited soft ware developers, business analysts, project managers, quality assurance specialists, IT managers, and a variety of other technical positions for large companies. It is a well-defined niche in the recruiting industry, and we had been focused on the space for fifteen years. But when we looked at our struggling company and really considered our strengths and passions, it became obvious we had to choose a new niche for our services.

Our real strength was in working with sales and marketing professionals. That is what we geeked out on — it was our passion. But until we were forced to re-evaluate our company we had never really considered delivering this passion and expertise in sales and marketing to our clients. Rather, we focused it internally and used it to develop our own business. We saw ourselves as IT recruiters, not experts in branding, sales, and marketing. Once we acknowledged our expertise and passion, we knew where the firm could thrive. We repositioned the company to specialize in sales and marketing recruitment. The niche was under-served, and we could become the defacto leader of the space. And that’s what we did. LEAPJob became the most recognized sales and marketing recruiting agency in the Greater Toronto Area.

Finally, we changed our approach. This was the most important part of our brand transition. We didn’t put lipstick on the proverbial pig. We changed our services, implemented new soft ware systems, delivered a lot of staff training, and rethought how we ran our business. We invested in technology and created a website that sold as well as our best salesperson.

And we invested a great deal of time and resources to understand search engine optimization, social media, and content marketing so that we could reach and engage customers in entirely new ways.

We didn’t go through evolutionary change, we went through revolutionary change. It was a painful and scary transition. We were charting a lot of unknown waters and making decisions with not much data. Not all our ideas paid off , but the big ones did. Within nine months of rebranding the business, LEAPJob turned the corner and moved back into profitability and growth.

From 2005 to when we sold the company in 2013, LEAPJob did not make a single cold call. The phone rang weekly with new clients and new opportunities. The brand generated at least a client a week, and in peak periods it generated a client a day. The pace didn’t even let up during the great recession of 2009 and 2010. The phone kept ringing and our sales were consistent.

This experience was a wake-up call. I learned that you can choose to be just another supplier in your industry, or you can choose to stand out like an orange tree in an evergreen forest. I learned that when your company innovates and stands out, it functions as a beacon that attracts new customers and brings previous customers back. And I learned that it’s rewarding to take pride in your brand. Growing a Sticky Brand not only gave me purpose, it gave the whole team a reason to come to work and give it their all. We were all motivated by what we were achieving, and how our actions increased revenue, profit, and growth.

This is your opportunity too. Turning around my family’s business was the catalyst for this book. As I went through the experience, I wished I had a book to help guide me and point me in the right direction. Over the past decade I have built on the lessons I learned while rebranding my business. I have researched, profiled, and worked with small- and mid-sized companies from around the world to understand how they are growing incredible brands. This book distills my experiences, and provides you 12.5 Principles to grow your company into a Sticky Brand.

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Publishing and Marketing in the Digital Age

Publishing and Marketing in the Digital Age

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Social Media Advantage

Social Media Advantage

An Essential Handbook for Small Business
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