Management Companies: What does your brand say about you?

Posted by Guest Post on October 26, 2016
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How To Win Clients Through Professional Branding

At the CAMfire Conference in February, TOPS UX Developer Aaron Jorgensen gave a great session on branding your management organization. Aaron speaks from experience, having run a digital media agency for a decade, as well as teaching branding and marketing for a national design college prior to coming to TOPS. With CAMfire coming up soon, we wanted to share with you a great example of the kinds of sessions you'll find at CAMfire. Please enjoy! - ed.

Your brand is far more than just a pretty logo. Your brand can build up the financial value of your organization, create credibility and trust, inspire your employees, and make it easier to acquire new customers.

But, through my experience, branding is one of the most misunderstood and under-utilized tools for businesses of all sizes. My goal today is to get you guys as excited about branding as me, and to help you understand how it impacts your business and find ways to strengthen the branding for your organization and ultimately grow your businesses.

What is branding?

If I were to ask you to name your favorite “brand”, what would come to mind?

  • Is it a name like Trump or Oprah?
  • What about a logo? Think Apple or Ford.
  • What about a color palette? Think CocaCola (Red, White, Silver), Starbucks (green) or any one of your favorite sports teams.
  • What about things like business cards? A website? Letterhead?

Here’s the reality… those are the simple things that we see at their face value.

Entrepreneur.com defines Branding as:

The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products."

Unfortunately, I find Entrepreneur Magazine’s definition a little unfinished.  Don’t get me wrong. These elements are all extremely important. What they’re referring to is more closely inline with what is called “Corporate Identify”, which is a small piece of a much bigger “Branding” puzzle.

Corporate Identity includes things that are more visual; what your clients or customers see. In my agency, when we would design a Corporate Identity Package, it would include things like a logo, color pallet, business cards, letterhead templates, envelopes and sometimes even basic signage.  

Branding is More Than Corporate Identity

Compare Corporate Identity to Branding though, which is really the overarching experience someone has with your company… any part of your company… good or bad. Any way that some one interacts with something from your company, it becomes part of your brand and it affects the perception of your company - your professionalism, quality, trustworthiness - and we all know if someone doesn’t trust you, they won’t do business with you.

So, it really comes down to an emotional connection your customers have with your company. It is the factors that build trust and comfort.

Branding is not just a logo or pretty colors. It is the experience that a person has with your company. It is an emotional connection they develop through the experiences they have with you.

Let’s look at an example that everyone can relate to - Big Box Stores. We’ve all been in them and most of us experience them frequently. I’m going to use Walmart, Target and Best Buy as an example.

Walmart

When I visit my local Walmart my typical experience can be, let’s say, less than ideal. This is my experience of course. This is usually because there are large crowds, the store gets a bit disorganized, there seems to be a lack of staff to help when I need it, and then there is the long lines when I’m ready to leave.

But, here’s the deal… when I need to go to Walmart, I don’t go for these these things…. I go because of “PRICE”. Their slogan for 19 years was “Always Low Prices”. They changed it a few years ago with an updated identity and new slogan to “Save Money, Live Better”, which speak to exactly what their brand is.

Target

Let’s compare that to one of their biggest direct competitors, Target.  My local Target is actually a Super Target, which is very similar to Walmart Super Center in terms of merchandise. They have a large selection of household items, clothes, electronics, sports equipment, and groceries. However, their crowds are a bit smaller, they have a more helpful staff, organized shelves and departments (most of the time).

To me, it also feels less like a warehouse and most of the checkout lines are open (which is a novel thought, right?). Because of this experience they give their customers, they can afford to charge slightly more and many people are willing to pay that premium.

Best Buy

Now lets compare these to Best Buy, which isn’t a “direct” competitor for Walmart or Target since they focus on electronics, but it is a “big box” store retailer nonetheless.

Personally, I love visiting my local store. When I walk in, I’m greeted by a friendly face. When I walk around the store it is clean, organized and easy to navigate. They have a knowledgeable staff that is ready to help, a pretty wide selection and a very comfortable atmosphere. Overall, it is a normally a pleasant experience.

I will say that these are my own experiences and might differ completely from your own. For instance, when my wife talks about Best Buy, she doesn't talk very highly about it in the same way that I do. In fact if you were to ask her, she might even say that she “hates” it. She’s not a fan of electronic stores, and let’s face it, I’m a guy who geeks out over almost any electronic device I can get my hands on. She finds them boring and dreads going. So our perception of their brand from our relative experiences will vary, right?

I know you must be thinking, "What do Big Box stores have to do with the CAM industry?" Although these examples might not seem like they directly relate, they do illustrate the emotional connection that we have to our experiences with brands.

Things that affect brand

 So, as I mentioned before a brand is more than just a logo… it can be anything that affects the experience someone has with your business.  First, some of the most obvious ones…

  • Your name
  • Logo
  • Business Cards
  • Website

Now what about the other ways people interact with your company?

  • Your messaging and copy on your marketing materials or website.
  • Signage (vehicle, roadside, etc.)
  • The documents you provide to your clients (Community Reports, Form Letters, Contracts, etc.)
  • The recorded message someone gets when your offices are closed.

Or how your employees answer the phone and responds to questions?

  • Your response time it takes to get back to clients when they need something
  • Your email communications - I get emails from people sometimes that sound more like a text message shorthand with emoticons or emojis. Nothing says “professional company" like “LOL ;-)"
  • What about some of the finer details like the signature in those emails?

The way the representatives of your company present themselves in person - the way they dress, the way they walk, talk, and interact with others. There is a reason many companies resort to uniforms.

Always enter the community with both you and your car being sharp in appearance. Some view this as an indicator of your professionalism and your ability to pay attention to detail. - CAMBlog - Andrew W.

Even communities have a brand - Think about it… Why does someone want to move into a specific community? Manicured lawns, professional signage, clean neighborhoods.

Branding is an Emotional Response

Even something as abstract as driving can affect people's perception of a brand:

Imagine… you’re driving down the road, minding your own business making your way to your favorite grocery store...listening to your favorite song. All of a sudden, a pickup truck (We’ll say for “John’s Pest Control”) races around your car and cuts you off making you slam on your breaks and nearly pushing you right off of the road! 

At the next traffic light you see the same truck again. (Because that’s how that always goes… someone drives like a maniac, but is always at the next light!) You notice it's actually a very clean and attractive truck with a professional looking logo. The truck sign says that they’re licensed and insured with low rates.

Fast forward to a month later... you realize that it’s time to find a new Pest Control vendor. You start searching online and you come across our friends at “John’s Pest Control”. Are you going to use them? Probably not, right?… Chances are you’ll pass right by them based on that single experience.

We do stuff like this all the time. We base our decision to purchase or work with someone based on those emotional experiences. For me, the question would come up, 'If they drive like maniacs and don’t take enough care for the people around them, would I want them in my neighborhood? Would I trust them?!' Remember, that’s a representation of you at that point.

But that's a negative branding experience. Let’s look at the other side.

Positive Brand Experiences

There are plenty of stories of companies that do amazing things to brighten their customer’s day or exceed expectations.

Business consultant Peter Shankman shared his positive branding experience: Before boarding a flight as the last leg of a long flight, he texted his favorite Steakhouse. When he got off of the flight, he was surprised with an entire dinner including a large steak, shrimp, potatoes, bread, and utensils. That means that during his 2-hour flight, someone had to see it, make a decision to act on it, get it approved, cook it, track down his flight information and drive nearly 25 miles from the nearest restaurant location to the airport!

Or while waiting on a prescription at Kroger in Suwanee, Georgia, April Villada and her daughter were discussing the possibility of monsters under the bed in her new big-girl room. When April was called to pick up the prescription she was also handed a small spray bottle filled with a “special potion”. It was even covered in an official pharmacy label and directions. It was a potion that would keep monsters away if sprayed once daily.

In the book the Happiness Advantage, the author, Shawn Achor, discusses turning a job description into a "Calling Description”. In the book, he gives an example of two janitors... the first janitor only looks at his job is cleaning up the mess of others. The other, considers his job as a calling, to make a cleaner healthier environment for others.

We have the opportunity to make differences in peoples experiences and sometimes in their lives by making the decision to do so. The pharmacist at Kroger didn’t have to go out of her way to make that potion. But in doing so, that little girl probably went to bed brave and not scared because she sprayed her bottle. More than likely, the mom will be a life-long customer of that store too.

What is your brand saying?

Think  about all of the ways your clients and customers interact with your brand. What can you do today to make it stronger and build more trust?

It's not what you're saying but how you say it. Are all of the messages of your brand building trust and making your customers confident that you’ll be able to deliver on the promises that you’ve offered them? Are you telling your customers one thing, but demonstrating something different in your actions?

Another thing to consider are the values of your organization. What are the most important things that drive your company? Some companies are based around religious beliefs, other have values that are based more on moral or ethics. What are the values of your company?

What is the main message you want your clients to get right away? Think about the examples from earlier…

Walmart Mission

Walmart’s corporate mission statement (and their advertising slogan are one and the same: “We save people money so they can live better”. It is hard to argue that they are the “low cost leader” in many industries.

Best Buy Mission

Best Buy’s mission statement is: "Our formula is simple: we’re a growth company focused on better solving the unmet needs of our customers—and we rely on our employees to solve those puzzles…”, which is reflected in their helpful staff, and I would even say, their clean and organized stores.

Value Alignment

It is extremely important to spend time identifying those values and reflecting on whether your company is aligning with them. When I used to work with companies to develop a brand, this is something that we would do from the start, but it can be done at any time. You can start the process today.

Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Without them, there is no business. They need to be able to trust you and connect with you. So, as a brand, it is very important to understand your customers completely.

In the clothing company, Lululemon’s, company “manifesto”, they list out 13 key statements that everyone in their company should live by. One of my favorites is “Listen, listen, listen and then ask strategic questions.” Your customers are speaking to you.

What do your Customers Really Want?

In an interview for Foundr Magazine podcast, Tony Robbins, the peak performance and business coach discussed falling in love with your clients. He said,

"Don't fall in love with your business because with technology, it will change. Instead, fall in love with your clients and learn everything there is to know about them… their wants, their desires, everything that they will ever need."

You have to really and sincerely listen to them. Before you get caught up in promoting yourself and debating over what your next set of marketing materials should say, focus on actually connecting to your audience. Think hard on who that audience REALLY is. What are the things they REALLY want.

You have to put yourself in their shoes and understand the person, the business and their goals. Harley-Davidson didn’t sell motorcycles by selling motorcycles. They sold the experience… the freedom that people wanted… the feeling of power.

BMW doesn’t sell “cars”, they sell luxury, they sell the Ultimate Driving Machine. What is it that your customers really want? You have to get into your prospective customer’s head and speak their language. Understand them from the inside out.

Don’t forget that the tools and services you utilize, even third-party tools, are an extension of your brand too. For instance, for TOPS clients, the software and applications we provide are an extension of your brand and a representation of customer service. Whether you’re using one of our tools or a tool from one of our amazing partners, these can give your customers a positive experience with your brand. They allow you to do your job better, make your life easier and build trust that is so important with your customers.

Building Your Branding Strategy

In summary, remember this:

  • Branding is not just a logo… it is an experience
  • Anything that represents your company affects your brand
  • As humans, we can make a difference
  • Fall in love with your clients and truly listen to them
  • Stop talking AT your customers and start talking with them

 Congratulations - you now have the beginnings of a branding strategy for your community association or management company!


If you enjoyed this presentation, be sure to attend the CAMFire Conference on Feb 22-23, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. Cleack here to learn more!

 

 

*Image credit: István Asztalos via pixabay

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