Principle 10-Part 1: Branding from the Inside Out

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding by Jeremy Miller

Sticky Brands have something special about them. You can feel it when you engage with them or when you buy from them. And that something are their people, their values and their culture.

Miller cites Jim Collins, author of the book “Good to Great,” who provides the perfect lead-in to this principle: “Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.” (page 151)

He is not talking about extraordinarily talented or smart people; he is talking about people who are a great fit for your company or team. He is thinking of people who feel a connection with your company and go above and beyond in doing their job.

It doesn’t really matter how big your team or your company is. I believe we can apply this idea to even the smallest of companies and teams because each employee or team member represents your company and your brand to the outside world.

What does it take to get that kind of commitment, focus and enthusiasm (and that includes you, too)? It takes a clear definition of your purpose combined with well-defined values tied to the freedom to live and practice both.   

Sticky Brands combine all three. Employees “know who they are, why they exist, and who they serve.” (page 152).  And it shows. Their customers feel their confidence and commitment because all decisions are based on their purpose as well as on their values. These are their guiding principles ensuring that they stay on track and true to who they are.

It’s not enough to pay only lip service to purpose and core values. Both have to be lived and nurtured on a daily basis. They should serve as your company’s backbone. If they fail to do so, the consequences can be dire. A very sad example is Enron and its bankruptcy in 2001 that cost many people their jobs and, to make matters worse, their retirement savings.

Based on their annual report of 2000 page 29 Enron’s core values were:

We have an obligation to communicate.

We treat others as we would like to be treated.

We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.

We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do.

These core values sound great and may have been written with good intentions, but they lack specificity and were clearly meaningless to Enron’s leadership who tried to disguise major losses through fraudulent accounting methods causing their stocks to plummet and ultimately leading to their bankruptcy.

But let’s not stop here. Let’s now see what a good example of core values can look like. Miller used an outdoor adventure park called WildPlay as an example.

  • Evolve the human – Because life is not lived to fullness in a comfort zone, we exist to challenge people to evolve beyond their self-perceived limits.
  • Nurture the pride – We lead our mission through best-of-breed practices where no one gets hurt. Passionate about growth, we put first things first. We believe that humour is intelligent and underpins our focus on fun. Completionists, we are resourceful problem solvers, dependably driving results and we know when to let go. We are bravely vulnerable in our curiosity and creativity. Our inclusive family works as a creative and loyal team where empathy is a given. We challenge each other directly and never compromise our integrity. We seek awesomeness.
  • Taste the dirt – If you don’t know Mother Earth, you won’t take care of her. In our circle of influence, we grow the next generation of caretakers by establishing a sense of kinship with natural spaces. We stretch to take care of the environment in realistic ways that are achievable. Get dirty and remember the smells while you make a difference. Nothing is more primal than the elements.
  • Share the fruit – The labour of our business should result in an obvious and tangible benefit to our team and to our neighbors. We foster skills growth, as mentors to fellow WildPlayers and encourage each to adventure and grow. Our evangelists link us to our communities, on and off our dirt. We have a clear social purpose that we can fulfill, and through giving and participation, we show our commitment to that.
  • Brand Promise – We release your original human and change the course of your life through the thrill and challenge of adventure! We make it easy to decide to “Take the leap” and to have a fun and unique visit. We deliver “awesomeness” at every step along your journey with us.

Don’t you agree that these core values are far more specific and closely relate to what WildPlay is doing? I’m pretty sure that if you had asked an Enron employee, they may not even have known what their company’s core values were. But I can easily imagine that WildPlay employees know exactly what theirs are.

Miller has a great idea on how to find your company’s values. I suggest trying it out if you have problems finding yours. Instead of asking what you are, why not flip the question on its head and ask instead what you are not. Ask each team member to write seven sentences “We are not…” (page 162) preferably on a sticky note or index card and put them on a wall. In case you are a solopreneur, you can do it, as well. Either by yourself, but where is the fun in that, or with someone you believe can help you. Group the notes or cards that show similarities and focus on the columns that are the longest. Now it’s time to flip the script again. Use the negative statements and create positive ones. Use words that are meaningful to you and your team members.

I’ll give you some time to work on that and will see you next week for Part 2 of Principle 10. Until then, have fun and let me know how it went.


Principle 9: Pick Your Priorities

Book discussion
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

In my last blog about Sticky Branding, Principle 8 – “Being Everywhere,” I briefly talked about focus while building and growing your brand community. In this blog we will look more closely at how to do it effectively.  

I like Miller’s analogy for introducing this chapter: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at time.” (page 136) This analogy gives a realistic picture of what to expect when creating a Sticky Brand. “Growing a Sticky Brand is a process. It takes an enormous amount of time, resources and work to grow your company’s brand, so it stands out above the herd and has a sustainable competitive advantage. You’re not going to do that in 90 or 180 days.” (page 136) It’s a continuous process and to keep it manageable, you need to break your branding activities into topics and focus on one topic at a time. I couldn’t agree more: “There are always hundreds of things you should be doing, but what must you do?” Miller suggests using “The 3 Vs” (page 136): Volume, Velocity, and Value to determine your focus.

  • Volume focuses on increasing customer demand and generating sales leads.
  • Velocity focuses on improving your closing rate.
  • Value focuses on price sensitivity and perceived value.

Volume solely focuses on finding new customers and growing sales. If you’re starting out or have repositioned your business, this will most likely be your focus area. You want your phone to ring. In order to make that happen you need prospective customers to know about you, your brand, and the problem you’re solving. Your ultimate goal is to have customers calling you instead of having to reach out to them. You build your brand community because you want to reach the point where your brand is doing “…the heavy lifting” for you. (page 138)

This means your focus will be on making new connections, building new relationships, and creating brand awareness. Evaluating the effectiveness of your efforts is relatively easy. You can track inquiries per day, per week, or per month. The simpler your tracking system, the better. You want to learn what worked and what didn’t. Which marketing activity brought in new leads and which ones were dead fish in the water. This information helps you adjust your course of action. Keep in mind that most of the time a combination of marketing activities is the driver of increased sales. Don’t fall into the trap of looking at them in isolation. Rather, look at all your activities related to an event, a conference, you name it.

Velocity aims at making the buying process easier, faster, and more efficient for your customer. As a company you focus on this area to optimize your business or brand. According to Miller each customer goes through three phases before buying.

It starts with Awareness. How do your customers realize they have a need of your product or service? What stimuli, situation or event trigger the process of looking for a solution?

In the next phase – Assessment – they consider their options. What products are on the market? Are there new ways to solve their problem? What are the costs? This is when they research your company and reach out to you to get more information. It’s a critical step because they may or may not move forward based on what they learn in this phase. They may find your product or service too expensive or just not right for them.

The actual Purchasephase threebegins after your customers make a commitment and decide to buy. This is when the actual sales process begins: negotiating, discussing, and defining contract terms, etc.

Looking at these three phases there is always room for improvement. What can you do to make it as easy as possible for your customers to move through them? What triggers their need? What information do they need to move from awareness to assessment? What information is important when researching their options? What keywords or key phrases are they searching for online? What concerns should you address in a conversation? How can you simplify the sales process?

In each of these phases you have the opportunity to win or lose your prospective customer. That’s why it is so important to make it as easy as possible for them. You can use customer feedback to gather information that will help you improve and ensure the best possible experience.

Last but not least is Value. Typical examples for perceived value and the willingness to pay a higher price are Apple, Tesla, or even your neighborhood electrician or plumber who charges more but does such excellent work that you don’t even look for alternatives. Miller uses the following analogy to describe the benefit: “It keeps your competition at bay like a moat around a castle,…” (page 142)

Let’s take Apple as an example and dig a little deeper. Apple is famous for its “Genius Bar” and tech support, the beautiful design of their products (and no, I’m not an Apple user), and the community they built. People line up in front of stores the moment a new product is released. Customers have a strong affinity toward Apple, they are loyal customers, and they don’t mind paying a premium price. Despite the fact that there are equally well designed and cheaper products on the market, Apple customers return and buy Apple products. “By prioritizing the value of your brand, you are choosing to grow a recognized brand and become the category leader.” (page 143) This example illustrates clearly what it means to increase the perceived value of your service or product.

For the Value category customer retention and higher profit margins are two relevant data points to measure. But depending on your product or service you may add other data points.

Nowadays, collecting data is simple but not necessarily always helpful. Keep it simple when deciding what data to collect and how to collect it. I love the example Miller mentioned. He had heard it at a conference. Here it goes: ”My dad could spot a budgeting problem or a turn in the economy before our accountants did, based on his daily inspections.” He would walk through his company every afternoon. If there was a truck in every loading bay it meant the business was doing well. Empty loading bays meant “tough times were coming.” (page 145)

It’s time to circle back to the headline of this chapter: Pick your Priorities. We’d all like to grow our business, make it easier for our customers and be the market leader. Since improving any of the three Vs means a lot of work, Miller recommends focusing on one V at a time. Ask the questions “What’s holding your business back at the moment? […] What does your business need to focus on…?” (page 148) What areas of your business are struggling and need your 

attention in order to grow? If you have determined the area that needs fixing, set a goal, make a plan, allocate resources, and focus on this goal for the next half year. Review your progress regularly to make sure you are still on track. If you make an unexpected discovery along the way, adjust your course.

Over to you now. What area of your business needs attention? What do you need to fix or improve to take the next step? Let me know in the comments below.

See you next week,

Principle 8: Be Everywhere

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

“Sticky Brands just seem to be everywhere. They have a buzz about them that’s usually the domain of much larger companies.” But “unlike the big guys, they don’t spend outrageous amounts of money on marketing and advertising. They stand out by growing their community.” (page 121) 

This concept isn’t new. In fact, Seth Godin wrote a book called “Tribes” in 2008 about community building. It is the internet that made and makes community building so much easier these days. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and let’s take a closer look at how Miller does community building. 

Let’s start with the fundamentals. According to Miller there are three layers of relationships:

Layer 1 is your Inner Circle. The Inner Circle is made up of people you have a deep relationship with, such as friends and family. Most people have between 10 and 30 such connections. 

Layer 2 are your Personal Connections. They are your casual friends, acquaintances, colleagues, prospects, clients, etc. whom you meet or see on a regular basis at industry events, conferences, maybe for lunch or coffee. 

Maintaining your connection with your Inner Circle and your Personal Connections takes time and effort. In other words, time is the limiting factor for how many close friends and personal connections you (or anyone else, for that matter) can have.  

That’s why the third layer, the Community, is where “things start to get interesting” (page 122) because it eliminates the cap of how many people you can connect with. Others do it for you. They bring their friends and personal connections to your community if they find your blog, social media post, newsletter, you name it, interesting and relevant. It’s up to you to show off your company’s uniqueness by sharing your values, your opinions, and your vision. If we add consistency to the mix, we create the perfect opportunity to build credibility and relationships and, in doing so, support our business.   

Do you remember the Lower 90% from the previous chapter? This is where your community building is kicking in. It allows you to develop a relationship with prospective customers before they need your product or service. Even community members who will never buy from you are important, because they may spread the word about you and your company or recommend you to friends and family. Whereas traditional marketing and advertising is limited by resources, building a community, especially with the help of the internet, is boundless.  

Let’s add some numbers to the game of community building. According to Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody” and “Cognitive Surplus,” 90 percent of your audience will be “lurkers,” members who don’t participate but listen or read. Only one percent will engage and post comments, forward your articles or invite new members into the community. The remaining nine percent are curators, members who share your content through their social media platforms. To keep a conversation going and make your community interesting you need at least 10 active members. If you do the math, you’ll come to the conclusion that you’ll need an audience of at least 1000 members.

A daunting number when you start out. So, where do you find the first 1000 members? Miller says, “The first thousand members of your community come from your Personal Connections.” (page 128) They join your community […] ”because they like you, trust you, and want to support you.” (page 128) You’ll get them on board by asking them to join. 

The LinkedIn Group of Sticky Brands started small, “five people to be exact” (page 128) and grew over time because Jeremy Miller and his team put time and effort into it. “We made a point of being active networkers – both online and offline.” (page 128) 

Building your own brand community isn’t the only way to be “everywhere.” You can support or sponsor existing ones instead. You could reach out to industry organizations, be active in your hometown, exhibit or sponsor an event at a conference. Whatever floats your boat. The key is to find the right group(s), organization(s), or event(s) that share your company’s values and interests. There are a million opportunities.

A word of caution though. Keep in mind that, especially in the beginning, building your community takes time and effort. Focus on what you can do well and what promises the biggest impact on your business. Experiment with various approaches and check what worked and what didn’t. Expand on what was received well and change course if the result isn’t satisfactory.

There is one point, Miller emphasizes: Don’t mistake your community for a lead generating platform. Miller writes that “There is a fundamental difference between marketing and community building. Marketing is all about your company and your brand.” […] “Community building has the opposite focus: it’s not about you, it’s about everyone else.” Page 131) […] “You don’t own the community. You are a member of it.” (page 132)

I partly agree. I’m a member of a couple of groups, and most of what is shared in these groups is information, best practices, helpful tips, books etc. But a minor portion of it is about new courses, services, and products. It’s done in a manner that I find not intrusive; it feels like sharing relevant information. My point being, it is up to you where you draw the line and how you do it. “People see right through marketing-driven communities and avoid them.” (page 132) Remember, your goal is building a community by developing, nurturing, and scaling relationships. You want your members to interact with you and your brand, grow your network, and tell their friends when they need your services or product. The best way to achieve this is by being generous and sharing helpful information. 

Now it’s time for you to build and grow your community. Here is a modified To-Do-List from the book. To get started:

  • Make a list of who you know and who you can invite to your community.
  • Write personalized invitations and be specific in what you want the recipient to do.
  • If you have exhausted your network, think outside the box about how to market your group to other networks.
  • Ask your community for help. Who do they know and invite to join?

And ensure that you are:

  • present: start conversations with your members and interact with them.
  • opinionated: show your personality, share your point of view, how you solve problems, and what you believe in.
  • generous: be proactive, help others make progress and be heard.
  • “everywhere”: to be more precise, be where your customers are and where you have the greatest impact.  

Let me know in the comments below how it is going for you. How do you approach the topic of community building? What is your experience in starting and growing a community? What stumbling blocks did you encounter? What is your best practice advice?

See you next week!

“Principle 7.5” – Storm Isaias

Photo taken by my husband: The tree that took down our power and internet cables
Photo taken by my husband: The tree that took down power and internet cables

Sometimes the best planning doesn’t work because forces of nature, and I mean that in a literal sense, divert your course.

That’s what happened to me this week. I was in the midst of finishing my blog post for this week and with a tremendous Boooom … my computer screen went black; our power was gone. I couldn’t access my blog draft anymore and the internet was gone as well. A huge tree in our neighborhood had fallen across the street taking all kinds of cables down with it.

What do to? I felt miserable for a little while because I had cut it so tight with my writing… but there wasn’t much I could really do except for waiting; hoping that power would be restored quickly.

OK, it hasn’t happened as quickly as I would have hoped, but compared with other areas, we are still at the top of the line of getting our power back. To cut a long story short, since it is already Saturday, I decided to skip this week’s post of my book discussion about Story Branding. I’ll continue next week with “Principle 8 – Being Everywhere.”

Have a wonderful weekend and see you next week,