Branding Through the Recession
Published in CFMA’s Updates – February 2013
There is no question that the recession has dramatically affected the financial success of companies in every industry worldwide. Times have gotten tougher, budgets have gotten tighter, and sacrifices have been made to keep many businesses afloat. It is a common trend to slash marketing dollars in times of financial hardship; however, the recession provides an opportunity to increase market share, hone in on that unattainable client, scale up, and outmaneuver your competitors.
Your company can take several simple, cost-effective marketing initiatives to help position your brand at the forefront of the industry:
Differentiate and dominate
On any given project, bids have increased from 4-5 bids five years ago to sometimes more than 40 today, meaning that your potential customers are feeling overwhelmed. You need to make it easy for your customer to choose you by differentiating your company. Focus on what makes you better than the rest – the special skills, equipment, capabilities, experience, attitude, etc. that your company possesses.
What you don’t want to focus on is the “on time and on budget” mentality, because your competitors are saying the same thing. If you didn’t deliver projects on time and on budget, then you wouldn’t be in business – that is the baseline, and now is time to be better than that. Use your differentiation to dominate the market and pick the projects you want to win instead of bidding on every project under the sun.
Establish thought leadership in your market
It is essential to maintain “brand dominance” in your field, which means that you are taking steps to build a wider gap between you and your closest competitors. You need to publicize your unique talents and offerings in a way that sets your company apart as the market leader. Some great ways to accomplish this would be publishing educational pieces on your craft (i.e., content marketing), maximizing PR, and employing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to ensure that your audience is aware of the full scope of your services and skill set.
Large contractors have large overhead, so it is important that you drive home the value associated with the price of your services. Another key innovation tool for a large company is taking advantage of your size by using it to provide your customers premier access to cutting edge, top-of-the-line services and products. It is crucial that you drive the market with your own unique vision instead of passively responding to established trends. A successful company doesn’t merely anticipate change – it initiates and directs it.
For smaller contractors, it is imperative to be nimble and consistently go above and beyond in the realm of customer service, playing up your ability to be more hands-on and attentive than your larger competitors. Showcasing your particular expertise and background will establish your reputation as trustworthy and reliable, which will create a chain of satisfied customers; consistent referrals; and steady, specialized business.
Communicate through multiple channels
You can connect to and communicate with your brand community via a variety of different channels – it is up to you to start that initial conversation, and the “buzz” will inevitably follow. Utilizing such social media outlets as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest is a key mechanism to put a face with your company’s name and relate to your target audience on a personal, memorable level.
Another great way to get your company’s name out there and enhance your reputation as an expert in your field is to insert yourself into public commentary. You should never turn down opportunities to give interviews, partake in speaking engagements, or get involved in the community. These are all simple public relations moves that allow you to network and show off your knowledge and experience.
Also, contrary to popular belief, paid advertising is usually worth the money – if placed in front of your target audience. As a wise man once said, “To stop advertising during a recession is like stopping your watch to save time.”
The most important factor of good branding is consistency. Multiple logos, business cards, and brand voices confuse your customers and actually create competition with yourself. For example, I’ve dealt with members of the same marketing team that had business cards with completely different layouts, titles, and color schemes; if I hadn’t known better, I would’ve sworn they were competitors. Not only is it more expensive and difficult to develop and maintain multiple versions, but it is also harmful to your overall professional image.
In order to maintain consistency across the board, it is vital that you always have an overall plan, vision, and strategy in place when approaching your marketing materials. Don’t forget to share that vision with the team.
Hire the best talent
The recession means that the current job market is more competitive and cutthroat than ever before, which inevitably means that young professionals are challenging themselves more and bringing an exceptional amount of additional education, skills, and experience to the table. The Millennial generation is hungry for that first job, and they are willing to work hard for it.
However, anyone considering working for your company can do a quick Internet search that provides them with any information they seek, including reviews on how you treat employees. The best applicants will research your company more than you research them. These young professionals are seeking employers that do things the right way, take care of their staff, and give back to their environment and community. Your company policies are essentially public information, and a happy team makes for a successful company. Also, if you’re not on the web, you do not exist to most people under 35 – including potential employees and customers.
Think through your client experience. Take some time to reflect on your overall process, from prospect to client, past projects to active projects. Then ask yourself: Would you choose your own company over the competition? An honest assessment of your own personal satisfaction in doing business with your company will allow you to identify flaws and weaknesses you may not have initially recognized.
Another major element of improving your client’s experience is ensuring that your entire team is on the same page in attitude and perspective towards your company, allowing them to be optimum Brand Ambassadors. Some useful methods for determining your team’s dynamic include customer surveys, debriefs on wins and losses, and employee feedback. Remember, success really does begin from within!
Build your brand, and they will come!