Is your brand carrying excess baggage?

Guest post by Betsy Talbot, author of Strip Off Your Fear: Slip Into Something More Confident. She and her husband Warren write about the 5 Tenets to Live the Good Life at Married with Luggage. They are currently traveling in Asia.

Isn’t it just a little bit funny that the owner of a site called Married with Luggage is here to talk to you about your personal and business baggage? I thought so, too.

You see, I just accidentally published a book on branding. While my intention was to write a book on personal self-confidence and speaking up, it appears that all those lessons are exactly the same as building a confident brand.

It wasn’t until we reached out to Red Slice for help on solidifying our message and working out our brand schizophrenia that we connected the dots between the book project and the brand. In fact, it wasn’t until we told Maria about the book and what we were doing that we realized we had a problem with brand schizophrenia.

Let’s see if you have the same kind of ‘a-ha!’ moment we did:

  • Can your friends explain in one sentence what your business does?
  • Does your website accurately reflect your message in an instant, or are you expecting people to draw their own conclusions?
    Can a new visitor to your site tell from the home page whether you can help them or not?

In our case, we were holding on to some old baggage with our business. While the evolution of our message and offerings was crystal-clear in our minds, it was a fuzzy picture for a visitor to the site. Even Maria, who
actually named our business four years ago, couldn’t tell exactly what we were doing.

Let me tell you, when your brand strategist cannot figure out your brand, you’re not being clear enough for everyone else.

Accumulating excess baggage

Perhaps your business evolution mirrors ours in some way. We started out in 2008 sharing our goal of long-term travel beginning at 40, and it resonated with overworked and under-lived people our age also wanting to break free from the rat race. As we went through the saving and downsizing process for two years, we attracted an audience of minimalists, savers, and those wanting to downsize. When we started our journey in 2010, travel lovers and early retirees started following our adventures.

We wrote about all of these topics, making one segment of our audience happy at a time.

The longer we traveled, the more we learned about ourselves and human nature, and our business evolved to address those interests with articles, books, and a newsletter. Plenty of personal growth seekers joined our tribe. We were starting to hit our stride in messaging, but we still hadn’t connected it together in a meaningful way for our audience.

It was all in our heads, and we needed to find a way to voice it.

Streamlining your message

We finally asked ourselves what all those people really wanted overall, and the answer was personal growth and meaningful life experiences. All of our topics fell under this goal, but we were doing a poor job of showing how they worked to achieve it. We realized we had to speak to the need of personal growth and achieving meaningful life experiences and not just the various expressions of those needs.

Is this true in your business (or your personal life)? Are you showcasing an overall strategy to resolve an overall need or are you displaying a disjointed collection of “fixes” for your audience? Is your image an accurate portrayal of your current brand promise or an earlier evolution that has long since passed?

As we started working with Maria on our brand evolution and messaging, I saw the distinct parallels between personal confidence and a strong brand:

  • Accepting who you are now and building on your strengths
  • Saying what you want in a clear voice
  • Attracting the right kind of people into your life

While I didn’t start out writing a book about branding, it seems as if the rules of personal confidence and speaking up are good for business, too.

  • Discover exactly what you offer to the kind of people you want to help
  • Clearly state how you can help your target market and what result they can expect
  • Focus only on the people with whom you want to work

There is no confusing it now, and our business revenue and website traffic reflects our renewed focus on our brand and message.

It is true in your personal life and it is true in your business. As I said in my book:

“Speak up. Be proud of who you are, what you know, and what you do. Help other women do the same. When you change your world for the better, you make it better for the rest of us.” 

Now start unpacking those bags. 

Has your brand undergone an evolution and how did you address it in your visual, verbal or experiential branding? What worked and what didn’t? What do you think about brands that evolve? Please share in the Comments.


How this small biz vodka + sausage + great story hooked us

I LOVE when I see small businesses doing things right.

On a recent wine-tasting trip to Woodinville, Washington, we were leaving one small winery (many of the wineries there occupy warehouse park space so it’s fun to hit like 12 in an hour) to head to lunch when a sign caught our eye:

Project V Distillery & Sausage Co.

What? Huh? Distillery and sausage company? “Oh, we have to check this out!” we said. Intrigued, we locked the car back up again and went to investigate.

We were greeted by a charming, cozy, rustic store full of antiques and cool signs. Instantly, the woman behind the counter smiled and welcomed us. Another kind gentleman asked if this was our first time there and offered to give us a backroom tour and tell us about the place. He turned out to be one of the investment partners.

Project V is fairly new and produces, among other products, Single Silo Vodka, handcrafted from Washington Winter Wheat which is grown on a family farm. As their marketing materials say, “It is a labor of love and it makes damn fine booze.” Damn, yes, this is smooth vodka.

Our kind guide walked us into the back where we joined a few other partied milling about and sipping. He showed us the distillation stills that they built, educated us on the distillation process and the fact that a vodka which is over-distilled too many times actually means it loses some of its flavor. He also gave us some tasting samples. One was a chai tea vodka and as strange as that sounds, it was delicious.

“What about the sausage?” we asked. The place is still so new that the sausage is not yet sold there yet, but the farm is raising pigs on the leftover wheat from the distillation process and hoped to offer those products soon.

The brand vibe was pure, natural, almost Old West with it’s sepia-hued labels and dusty floorboards. They emphasized family farming, craftsmanship and even a joyful love for the work that they do. This definitely stands out from the hip and trendy vibe you feel with Grey Goose or Stoli.

The point here is that Project V has a story to tell.  They start with education to show you why their product is different and better, wrap it with passion, love and pride, and tie it up in a bow of natural, hardworking craftsmandship. You feel like every bottle was distilled just for you. This brand was further exhibited in the kind welcome we got, the knowledgeable staff and the hospitality we experienced even though we’d just “popped in.”

Effective branding and storytelling does lead to sales and word of mouth. We ended up buying a bottle, and here I am spreading the word about this unique little find. Oh, and they’re on Twitter: @ProjectVDistill

That’s how good small business branding is done, ladies and gents. And this is a story none of the big guys would be effectivly able to pull off so elegantly and believably.

How do you use your small size to communicate a unique and effective brand story? Please share in the Comments for some Link Love back to your site!


The myth of the brand facade

Flying back from the Midwest this holiday season, we had some customer service issues with American Airlines.  Snarky flight attendants, a ridiculously understaffed gate (one poor soul checking in 3 flights – and re-routing passengers from a cancelled flight – but, wow, she was quite a trooper) Yes, they are going through Chapter 11, yes, the  industry in general is taking a beating, and yes, 98% of their competitors are not much better.

Makes it so easy for someone like Virgin America to come along and differentiate. When the bar is set so low by so many, it’s not hard to raise it even an inch.

I find it interesting to note that nowhere on American’s site can you find a statement of their philsopphy or what they stand for – not even in their About Us section. They just list a bunch of things they do. What the heck do the employees have to rally around? But it’s easy to find purpose and mission on Virgin America’s site….hmmmmm.

I started thinking about all the brand messages we see from airlines -and financial services institutions. These companies spend millions telling us they care about customers, they care about you as a person, their employees are committed, caring and sharp dressers.

Why do they bother?

We all know when we pull back the brand facade, we’ll experience delays, poor service, long telephone hold times and endless bureaucracy. Wells Fargo is our bank with whom we had our previous mortgage. When they declined to refiannce us (with excellent credit history, mind you) after a botched and complicated application process where the left hand did not know what the right was doing, we went elsewhere. Then we started getting marketing letters in the mail offering us a great – and easy – refinance process with them. WTF?!

When American Airlines shows TV commercials of smiling, calm people breezing on to the plane as if they were entering a spa, we know the reality is poor communication, delays, crowded gates and crying babies.

I’ve often called this ‘putting a coat of brand paint” on top of a flawed product/service/company. Do they really think we’re going to believe? Does the CEO really understand what it’s like to a be a frustrated customer? I don’t think so, or they would never spend million-dollar plus line items on something everyone knows is not reality. The emperor has no clothes, so why are you spending so much to tell us otherwise? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on actually delivering that level of service to begin with?

In your industry, such shenanigans offer a prime opportunity to step up and make a promise you can actually keep – that alone will differentiate you. Southwest Airlines does it by promising low prices and no bag fees (and a downhome, even funny, customer service persona) – and they deliver. Virgin America promises to make flying fun again – and everything from their calm and friendly staff to the  personalized in-flight entertainment system to funny safety video delivers.

Ally Bank has tried to make you think they are the quirky bank that is on your side. Their TV commercials are pretty funny. Now, I have no direct customer experience with them, so I’m not sure if they deliver. But did you know that Ally is simply GMAC, rebranded?

Some of my most interesting clients have been in what could be seen as unglamourous but as I said, when the bar is set so low to begin with, the opportunity to raise it up is huge. Wish these airline and bank CEO’s could open their eyes and see that. Maybe then they wouldn’t be filing for Chapter 11 but actually delivering on what they promise in their TV commercials.

Wow. What a concept.

A brand wolf in sheep’s clothing

Amen, sister! I  am loving this controversial open letter that Sharp Skirts recently posted about ForbesWoman.  SharpSkirts courageously indicts this media outlet, even after ForbesWoman named them one of the top ten entrepreneurial sites for women.

Putting aside the important point Sharp Skirts makes about this purported “business publication” talking down to business women and assuming all they care about is beauty, fashion and gossip…..which is a very important one….I just love the brand lesson this teaches:

You will piss off your target customers if you promise one thing and deliver another.

You can’t go out into the world with a brand promise of ““a magazine and Web site for career-minded women who mean business” if you are going to bait and switch and provide sensational content just to garner eyeballs. Some of the headlines cited in the Sharp Skirts post:

Beauty and the Brood‘ – Oct. 30th piece on how women with more attractive facial features want to bear more children

Halloween Costume Dilemma‘ – Oct. 27th piece advising us not to dress slutty on Halloween

Not Everyone’s Cheering J.Crew Boss Jenna Lyons Lesbian Rumor‘ – Oct. 27th piece on how Lyons’ husband is feeling about her sexuality

7 Signs Your Shopping May Be Problematic‘ – Oct. 27th piece on how to tell if you’re handling your money irresponsibly

Are Women Turned On By Financial Risk?Oct. 26th piece on how money plays into women’s selection of a mate

And two more: “Should Kim Kardashian Return Her Engagement Ring?’ and ‘Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO.” 

I can’t say this anymore eloquently than what the Sharp Skirts blog post stated, so here you go:

“The ForbesWoman Twitter profile descriptor is, “a magazine and Web site for career-minded women who mean business.” So why are they writing about naughty Halloween costumes? Or our breeding and shopping habits? I increasingly feel like I’m reading a copy of Look magazine, circa 1957.

A chorus of boos from our Facebook group has greeted these articles, but Sharp Skirt Dana Van Nest said it best: “I thought Forbes was a trusted business magazine. Seems my opinion is out of date. That article is pure tabloid.” The article to which she was referring – well, pick your poison.”

Feel free to weigh in below about both this brand deception or the quality of content available to smart career women.



How to solve marketing’s moral dilemma

I’m having a moral crisis right now about my chosen profession.

Reports are everywhere about how our current global economic crisis has impacted the way consumers spend/save money. Given the scares we’ve had with a volatile stock market, the collapse of the housing market and troubles overseas, consumers are now consuming less, saving more and paying off their debts.

That should be awesome, right? Well….

Like it or not, our economy’s health runs on consumerism: on spending and borrowing. When people start acting the way they should – meaning saving and living within their means – this causes a glitch in the Matrix.

The WSJ cites: “During the Great Depression, economist John Maynard Keynes warned of a so-called paradox of thrift: When everyone turns frugal, everyone suffers.” Why? Because there is less money changing hands, less demand for products and services and more people – and companies – hoarding cash. This leads to things like retailers not selling inventory, which means they lay off workers, and in turn stop ordering more from their suppliers, which leads to more of those companies going out of business and more layoffs, which leads to now-unemployed people defaulting on mortgages or not buying homes at all, which leads to the construction industry screeching to a halt and people not being able to sell their own homes fast enough…..etc, etc, ad nauseum. Note: I am not an economist but this is how I interpret things. I’m not even going to touch how this impacts financial markets, stock sales, Treasury bills, and the like.

So what is my moral dilemma?

I have chosen a profession – marketing – that, by it’s definition, is all about bringing products and services to market and convincing people and businesses to buy them.

For someone who gets so fed up with our culture of consumerisn, for how much we place on material possessions; for someone who hates the idea of people spending frivolously on things they can’t afford when that money could be used for so much good in the world for people, animals or the environment, you would think I would be thrilled that more people are saving and being smart with money.

And I am. Truly. I think we all needed a wake-up call. When mortgage brokers tried to convince me and my husband to get a house with no money down back in 2007, we briefly considered it and then thought those people were smoking crack. We decided we’d rather get a traditional loan with less risk and no surprises. And while our house is worth less than what we paid for it, thankfully our mortgage is not completely underwater.

So what is a marketer to do, when she’s happy people are saving money,paying down debt and spending more wisely? How can I continue to be a part of the machine that makes people spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need?

Then I thought about it some more. My branding philosophy is all about meeting needs and adding value. It’s not about lying to people, or targeting those who can’t afford a high-end product to go into debt to afford it. My advice is about meeting real needs that people have, not creating ones they don’t.  It’s about making their lives better or their jobs easier or their customers happy. It’s about being crystal clear on who your target audience is and if they can afford  – and benefit from – your products or services: if they can’t, you should not be talking to them or marketing to them. And if you can’t benefit anyone, you should not have a business.

I realized my philosophy is about puting more “honest” marketing out into the world. We can’t deny we live in an economy based around consumption. I can’t change that or make us go back to an agrarian society. But I can help clients be authentic, transparent and honest about the value they offer and to whom they offer it. I can try to convince that coach who wants to bill out at $400 an hour that maybe they shouldn’t spend their marketing dollars at events attracting people who only make $30,000 per year. If you want to sell $400,000 cars, then that is your right – as long as you market them to the people who can afford them and not low-income families. And if you meet a need for a fair, reasonable price to attract the budget-conscious, then fabulous: the point is to meet the needs of the right people with the right message.

Maybe, just maybe, if businesses were more responsible with who they target with their messages, we’d not only have less noise in the chaotic media landscape, but more people could get their needs met within their means and continue saving and paying down their debts where appropriate. And maybe, just maybe, the economic sky won’t have to fall just because people are finally acting responsibly with their money.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Photo credit:

What is your view of the economy? How do you think the culture of consumption has helped or hindered us? Are marketers to blame or not? I’d love your thoughts on this controversial topic below – share a comment and get some link love back to your site. And keep it respectful, folks! Thanks.

Tell me why I should care

Dell recently announced they are “taking a cue from the Apple playbook” and launching a new branding campaign that does not talk about technology. From the NASDAQ article:

The campaign, dubbed "More You," is aimed at personalizing technology and marks a break in tradition for a company that got its start by commoditizing computers. Rather than focus on the specifications of products, Dell is hoping the campaign will encourage consumers to think about features and how they can be used.

So many of us who have been in tech marketing have been beating this drum for years. Yes, when you talk to the IT guys, they care about widgets, features, scalability, disaster recovery, processing speed and the like. But when you start talking to line of business executive (or in this case, end consumers), they don’t care about the whiz-bang technology jargon. They want to know how it makes their lives better.

The best analogy I ever heard about this was from a highly-skilled technical analyst who said, “When I get in the shower in the morning, I don’t care about what the pipes are made of, how they move behind the walls, where the valves are in the house, the speed of water flow by the second….I care that when I turn the knob, water comes out and I get clean.”

Love it.

Too often we get enamored with our own story and communicating every single solitary bit of it in the hopes that SOMETHING will stick.  But what sticks the most for people is not the technical info – you will investigate that as you get closer to making your decision or when you are comparing apples and apples – but the vision of what the product or service will do for them.  Once they are hooked, you can dazzle them with your gigabytes per second and whatnot.

The real scoop on “authenticity” and what it means to your customers

Type “authentic branding” into Bing and you’ll pull up 581,000 results. The advice to “be authentic” hits business owners and entrepreneurs more than gray skies hit Seattle from October to May. And, yes, I give this advice to my clients.

But what does being “authentic” really mean?

This term has been bastardized a bit in the intersection between entrepreneurship and personal development. Many coaches and consultants are advising people to “live their passion” and “live an authentic life” and to find careers and businesses that “authentically” play to their strengths. This is all great advice.

But some business owners confuse “authenticity” with “only the stuff I care about.” And that’s not really what we’re talking about from a branding perspective.

Having an authentic brand means that you deliver what you promise. Period. You do what you say, You walk your talk. When I go to Walmart, I don’t expect great service or quality fashion. I expect what they promise: low prices. That is authenticity. It has more to do with company values, service quality, product line and image. It means that if you advertise your brand as hip, sexy and cool, then your products, your company – heck, maybe even your people – need to walk that talk. It means if you are going to tout “Customer Service is our #1 Priority” that you authentically take care of your customers, go above and beyond, and empower your call center employees to do whatever it takes to solve their problems quickly and painlessly. It means that if you claim to be cheap and disposable, that you ARE cheap and disposable, because that what people want from you if you are promising that.

It means don’t write brand checks your business can’t cash, to use a phrase I love.

Too often I hear the battle cry of “authenticity” used to defend an unprofitable business. “But I’m following my passion, I’m doing what I want to do.” Great. But if customers don’t care about that – or are not willing to pay for it – you don’t have a business: you have a hobby.

Having an authentic brand means starting with the values and practices you believe in and delivering on that promise to customers – but it only matters if your target customers care and respond.  Personal preference is great and should be your foundation. After all, it’s your business – you should do what you like. But if you’re not making any money, you need to evolve or adapt to still play to your strengths but in a way that offers value for which customers are willing to pay.

Why do I need a mission and vision statement?

It’s funny how entrepreneurs and employees alike get caught up in the tactical details of their business on a daily basis, but when faced with the ultimate question – why do you do what you do – they seem to freeze up. My theory is that a lot of the meaning behind the company mission is so “feelings-based” that we often find it hard to articulate it in the right words.

I help clients copywrite their mission and vision statements only after we think though the Brand Strategy. Why? The mission and vision become much more clear as you move through the branding process. As you think about your company’s reason for being, your goals, the image you want to project, and the people you serve, you begin expanding your definition of what you want your company to be. I find just talking to a business owner and asking, “Why did you start this business?” can yield the seeds of a mission or vision statement. They use certain words or phrases over and over again. As you think through the Brand Strategy, certain themes that consistently emerge will be strong clues to your mission and vision.

 The mission and vision not only help you keep the end in mind at all times, they will also inspire your customers –and your employees. Yes, we know your primary goal is to make money, but customers and employees want to connect with your business on a deeper level. They want to know their buying choices and work efforts are relevant to a higher goal. This motivates people and helps them form loyal connections.

So what is a Mission statement?

Your mission statement is a precise definition of what your organization does on a daily basis and what you want to accomplish. It should describe the business you’re in and provide a definition of why the organization exists. Try and keep this to one or two sentences in length. Some example mission statements:

  •  “Make flying good again” (Virgin America)
  • “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” (Starbucks)
  • “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.” (Southwest Airlines)
  •  “To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States” (ASPCA)
  • Women for Women International provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies. We’re changing the world one woman at a time” (Women for Women International)

Small businesses can create a mission statement so inspiring they may not require a vision statement. But if you have a loftier goal in mind for the future of your company, then a vision statement is a great way to frame that.

Articulating the Vision

Rebecca Rodskog of Future Leader Now helps organizations create cultures where people can thrive and do their best work. As an experienced change management consultant and personal development professional, Rebecca is often tasked with crafting vision and mission statements for complex projects, so companies don’t lose sight of the end goal. She also creates mission and vision statements for individuals. Rebecca advises clients who are creating a vision statement to ask themselves: “What is your ideal preferred future?” and be sure to:

–          Draw on the beliefs, mission, and environment of the organization.

–          Describe what you want to see in the future.

–          Be positive and inspiring.

–          Don’t assume the system will have the same framework as it does today.

–          Be open to dramatic modifications to current organization, methodology, teaching techniques, facilities, etc.

Ask yourself:

  • Where will my company be in the long term? Will it be the premier provider of a particular product or service? Will it be in the top ten international players in a particular market?
  • What is the ultimate “to-be” state for my company?

You may not require an actual vision “statement”, as long as you can paint a clear, compelling picture that drives the business forward. These could be ideals or lofty goals that rally the internal troops and help customers connect with you. Below you’ll find sample vision statements from several companies.  You’ll note these contain ambitious visions that go beyond day-to-day operations and the specific market spaces in which these organizations play today. They paint a picture of an ideal future if the business does well:

Women for Women International envisions a world where no one is abused, poor, illiterate, or marginalized; where members of communities have full and equal participation in the processes that ensure their health, well-being and economic independence; and where everyone has the freedom to define the scope of their life, their future, and strive to achieve their full potential. (Women for Women International)

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.  (President John F. Kennedy, 1961)

Coca Cola’s vision statement is actually a multi-part credo:

  • People: Be a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can be.
  • Portfolio: Bring to the world a portfolio of quality beverage brands that anticipate and satisfy people’s desires and needs.
  • Partners: Nurture a winning network of customers and suppliers, together we create mutual, enduring value.
  • Planet: Be a responsible citizen that makes a difference by helping build and support sustainable communities.
  • Profit: Maximize long-term return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall responsibilities.
  • Productivity: Be a highly effective, lean and fast-moving organization.

In summary, your mission is what drives you on a day-to-day basis.  It’s the reason your product or service is in existence, and it defines the “why” behind the thing you’re creating. Your vision is the end state: what you ultimately want your company to become and the impact you want to have on your customers and the world.

Your mission and vision create the framework and inspiration your organization and its employees need to be successful. An old Japanese proverb eloquently states the important symbiotic relationship between vision and action: Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. 

*This post was adapted from my book, Branding Basics for Small Business. Check out the juicy 2nd edition with new case studies, fresh advice on everything from content marketing to networking and expert insights from the likes of Alexandra Franzen, Mike Michalowicz, Ann Handley, Sarah Von Bargen and more!

Want step-by-step guidance to craft your mission and vision statement, as well as your entire brand and marketing plan? Then check out Momentum PRO, a self-guided and stress-free course that will guide you, step-by-step, through everything you need to promote your work and build your fan base with more ease, joy and impact.

Brand at Work: MOO

I love brands that use every customer touchpoint to delight their buyers. Most recently, I got the chance to fall in love with MOO. A UK-based firm with a U.S. office in Rhode Island, MOO prints mini and full size business cards, postcards, greeting cards and more. You can print different images on each card, and they also use recycled and sustainable products. MOO cares about beautiful design and quality products at a decent price. They inject their fun, friendly and bubbly brand into thousands of little things and really understand the concept of “enveloping” their customers in a brand experience that gets people talking.

I recently ordered some minicards from them to promote my book, Branding Basics for Small Business. I wanted to leave people with a reminder about the book, rather than having them scramble for a piece of paper and a pen.

First off, the automated email message about my order: Full of personality. It starts with, “It’s Little MOO again. I thought you’d like to know, the following items from your order are now in the mail:” and ends with:

 Remember, I’m just a bit of software, so if you have any questions regarding your order, the best place to start is with our Frequently Asked Questions. We keep the answers here: If you’re still not sure, contact customer services, (who are real people) at:

Thanks for ordering with MOO – we hope you love your order,


Little MOO, Print Robot

They took a boring, bland auto-email and turned it into a reinforcement of my decision to buy from them. Easy. Simple. No extra cost to do this.

Secondly, packaging: Your package arrives  in an appealing array.  They use package messaging to further reinforce their quirky friendly brand, with little sayings like, “Yay! You’re Our New Best Friend” in the holding case I bought, and a wrapper on the box that said,

“Your MOO minicards are inside*

*Open them quick!”

Everything about them is small, compact and sustainable. They actually design their packaging to be reused. Here is what they say about this on their website:

We think receiving products from MOO should be something special. After all, it’s your artwork, your photography, your event or your business you’re promoting. Something to be proud of and something to be shared. So we custom design our packaging for re-use, resale and recycling. If it’s worth packing, it’s worth packing well.

Third, website copy: Just look at the clever and witty way their website copy is worded and you instantly understand their brand and what they are about. The brand promise carries through in tone and word choice. Friendly. Bubbly. Customer-service focused. Check out this page for just a taste. This is actually a website you want to read and enjoy.

It is very clear throughout all of their messaging that they stand for fun, quality and environmental sustainability.

What does your business stand for? It is clear across everything that you do that this is the promise you deliver? Why not take a look at some of the simple, inexpensive things that you do and see how you can inject your brand voice into them to delight your customers?

Five Signs of a Power Brand

Clients often ask us, “How will we know when we’ve got a winning brand?” Rather than telling them, “You’ll know it when you see it” there are some guideposts along the way to tell you your brand is moving in the right direction.

At first, it starts small: increased website hits, increased referrals, uptick in positive social media chatter – even anecdotal evidence like more positive comments from customers or partners. You can look at metrics like newsletter signups, store visits, or customer phone inquiries. Obviously, it all leads to “more sales” but, let’s get real: the sales cycle is like courtship. You don’t propose of the first date, but there are little steps along the way that you must take to get to marriage.

If you launch a new brand or rebrand an existing one, you can put feedback mechanisms in place to see if you’re going in the right direction: focus groups, email surveys, sales trends, even just good ole fashioned talking to your customers and partners. Seek out unbiased feedback but make sure it’s from people that matter to your sales. Asking your 15 year old nephew or your spouse what they think is fine – if they are your target audience. Believe me, more often than not, they are not the right people to be asking, no matter how much your respect their opinion.

Here are some signs of a power brand to which you can map your progress, at whatever scale your business operates:

  1. People are proud to say they work, partner or shop with your company: If customer, partners or employees find that they get greater cache when they sport your brand on their website, paycheck or shopping bag, you know you’ve got a winner. Your brand is transcending into a world where people want to identify themselves as part of your tribe and bask in your brand “halo effect” to make themselves or their business look good. Sort of like hanging out with the cool kids at school. Examples” Apple iPhone and iPad, Harley-Davidson
  2. Your customers are advocates, spreading your story: Word of mouth is key and if customers are going around – unpaid – doing your advertising for you, then that is the holy grail of marketing. Are they chatting you up on social media, sharing unprompted referrals with friends (“You have GOT to shop at Zappos! They have the best customer service.”) creating “spoof” videos on YouTube, or even inking themselves with your logo (hello, Harley)?  Then you’re doing everything right. Examples: Disney, JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic (ie customer-generated YouTube “ads” vs. other airlines)
  3. Some people (outside your target) don’t like you: When you are effectively creating a brand, you have a clear ideal customer target and you serve them. This naturally means there will be those who don’t “get” you. And that’s okay. The Justin Bieber craze annoys me to no end, but it doesn’t matter: I’m not the target audience. Having people who don’t like you means you are not trying to be all things to all people. Examples: Dunkin Donuts v. Starbucks; Hyundai “Beware of 16-year-olds” campaign.
  4. You can elegantly recover from occasional mistakes: If your brand has enough “brand good will” built up, it can withstand some gaffes and missteps along the way. It’s like a bank account: the more you put in, the more confortable you can be withdrawing every now and then. As long as you recover with dignity and transparency, a strong brand can withstand a lot. Examples: JetBlue during their infamous winter flight debacles, Apple’s recent flubs with the iPhone 4.
  5. Articles about your company talk about your impact on the industry and/or the world: Rather that just talking about what you sell, press and organizations seek you out as a thought leader and innovator. Examples: People quote Zappos when it comes to innovative online customer service, not just shoes and accessories. Having transformed the coffee category by emphasizing flavor and experience, Starbucks last year introduced value packs in the supermarkets, which allowed them to stay competitive during the recession.

What are some other signs you look for when it comes to a “power brand?”