Principle 3: Function that Resonates

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Today I’d like to talk about Principle 3 of Miller’s book “Sticky Branding.” But before I do, here’s a quick recap of the previous Principles.

  • Principle 1 was about clarity and its importance for helping prospective customers in their decision-making process. If you want to refresh your memory, go here.
  • Principle 2 was about consistency in our messaging, which means saying no to opportunities that don’t fit. Here is my take on this principle.

So, let’s move on to Principle 3 and what Miller means by “Function that Resonates.” In a nutshell: products or services of sticky brands must be intuitive, easy to use, and work. And you should strive to always over-deliver and wow your customer. In Miller’s words: “Sticky Brands are positioned to win, because they have a clear understanding of how they deliver value to clients, and they invest in the operational excellence to deliver on those needs.” (page 62)    

The example that resonated with me in this chapter is about a used car dealership called Wheels and Deals. I find that buying a car is no fun. Truth be told, I don’t like it at all. In my many car-driving years I can recall only one occasion where I enjoyed shopping for and buying a car; it was when I was buying my Mini Cooper. For the first time I had the feeling the sales rep actually enjoyed what he was doing and was proud of what he was selling. He gave me the feeling I should get the best and most beautiful Mini ever. Why does this come to my mind right now? That is where Miller’s example comes into play. 

Wheels and Deals, a small local used car dealership, did well until the competitive landscape started changing. A competitor with deep pockets opened their doors nearby. Their bigger inventory attracted a lot of customers, hurting the “little guy,” Wheels and Deals. Instead of sticking his head in the proverbial sand, Jim took the time observing his competitor, noting what they did well and what they didn’t do so well. I’m not surprised by his discovery, because he noticed that their sales reps “…were aggressive, commission driven, and they didn’t care what they sold to their customers.” (page 54) 

This is exactly how I felt so many times when buying a car. Sorry, I digress. Let’s continue with the example. 

Wheels and Deals used Jim’s observations to their advantage. They started focusing on better quality cars and better service. In addition, they communicated and showed their customers how they’ll keep their promise of selling higher-quality cars. 

Here is what they started doing for higher quality: Each car they purchased for resale was inspected and serviced beyond government regulations. Before they put a car on the sales lot, they “invest, on average, between $800 and $1,200 in every car.” (page 54) It means making less money on each sold car, but making up for it in volume and customer loyalty. This customer loyalty wasn’t built overnight. It took time. They didn’t only speak of higher quality cars and better service, they lived and breathed it and earned their customers’ trust. 

And here is how they welcome new customers: Friendly staff greets them in a beautiful showroom, they get a tour of the dealership which includes a visit at the mechanics’ bays, and an introduction to the Customer Care Manager. And to top that, Wheels and Deals gives a 90-day warranty with each car. I’m sure their customers don’t think the sales rep is pushy or doesn’t care. On the contrary, by taking the time and showing their customers around they demonstrate what their customers can expect. Did I mention the word trust?

I can only attest to how important both customer service and genuine caring are for someone who is purchasing a car. It proves that “Even commoditized markets can stand out and create Function that Resonates” with their customers. (page 53) Having said that, only a company’s core skills and assets can sustain this competitive edge and make it an integral part of their value proposition. 

  • Finally, and a quick flashback to Principle 1, I quote: “The customer is working with an organization that delivers a tangible benefit, and they can see it, talk about it, and experience it.” (page 56) 

COVID 19 has changed our business landscape to an extent that I can’t fathom yet. I’m very impressed by some entrepreneurs’ and solopreneurs’ creativity and their ideas on how to provide value to their customers and keep their businesses running. I met them in virtual networking groups. We were and still are trying to help each other through brainstorming. Here are some of the examples:

  • A swim teacher creates online birthday parties for children 
  • A photographer offers an online photo shoot 
  • A realtor provides additional information relevant to people buying a house or moving 
  • Yoga studios and gyms teach online classes

To me the “Function that Resonates” or customer value is obvious. All of the above offerings are a product of today’s shelter in place situation helping people celebrate children’s birthdays, getting their exercise, or keeping in touch with their prospective clients by providing helpful information pertaining to buying a house or moving.

I believe I mentioned it in the introduction to this series, building a sticky brand isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes time, adaptability, creativity, an open ear for your customers, a lot of work, and a long-term commitment. But looking at the current situation proves to me that it is the only way, especially for small businesses, to survive. 

 “When you identify an area that can make a real impact on your clients, hold on to it. Invest in it. Make it your own.” (page 62)

And with that I would love to hear what you think about Principle 3. What is your take on it? Put your thoughts in the comments below. 

See you next week,

Principle 2: Tilt the Odds

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

And the journey continues. But before I jump into Principle 2 – have you thought about the chapter on “Simple Clarity”? Did it give you pause? Did it bring up memories of situations in which you got blank looks when talking about your business or a friendly smile but no reaction? Or have you reached the “proficient level” with your pitch?

Let me know and add your comment in this thread.

Off to the next principle. “Tilt the Odds”

In the introduction to this principle Miller writes: Sticky Brands […] “they are not all things to all people.” A deceivingly simple statement that I believe rings true for most entrepreneurs, but in practice is hard to do for several reasons.

Reason number one is you haven’t defined your niche or specialty yet. This is quite common at the beginning of an entrepreneur’s journey because we evolve and discover what we are really good at and what we are really passionate about and what sells. It’s a process in which we learn, going from the general to the specific. Take, for example, a photographer. In the beginning she may say she’s a photographer for events, portraits, and weddings. Over time she may find out that she is particularly good at catching the special moments at events and specializes only in that. Or she may find out that instead of events, portraits, and weddings she is an excellent photographer of food.

Reason number two is the “problem” of saying no to opportunities that don’t fit. For me this is a big one if you need the money and feel you can’t afford to decline work. Miller calls this time “sales purgatory” (page 45), the time you don’t sell a lot or don’t have a lot of clients. He refers to companies that change their brand, but I believe it is equally relevant when you start a new business. If you present yourself as the expert for xyz, this is what people will know and remember you for. It just takes time to get over the hump from nobody to somebody. It is the time during which you must focus and optimize your marketing efforts. What is it that you need to do in order to reach your audience, aka prospective clients? Do you have a website, or do you need to create one? Do you need to be present on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram… or any other social media channel for that matter? What other opportunities do you have to make people aware of your products or services?

Which brings us to reason number three: money. It doesn’t really matter where you’re at in your business endeavor; you will need money to pay your bills. I don’t want to dampen your enthusiasm, but it will always take longer than you think to get over the hump from nobody to somebody. As we have learned in Principle 1, we need to hit the right chord with our pitch, which may take time and some experimentation, but we also need to get known. Some entrepreneurs already have a network that supports their marketing efforts. That’s a big advantage, but some may have to build it first. The key is communicating, communicating, communicating what we do. 

Since we’re talking about communication… It is equally important if you work with a team. Spirits may run low at times if you have experienced some setbacks. Keeping your team in the loop will ensure that they are still on board and understand what’s going on. Instead of allowing doubt to grow, you’ll include them, and they will play an active role in the process of reaching your and also their goal. 

If you’re a solopreneur like me, a great support system can take this role instead, and I find it invaluable. I’m not telling you anything new if I say building your own business, no matter how big or small, is a rollercoaster ride. Along the way we encounter many ups and downs. The downs are much easier to deal with if someone has some encouraging words for us, serves as a sounding board, or helps us come up with new ideas. The ups are far more fun if we can celebrate them with trusted supporters and friends (even if we have to do this virtually right now).  

I have a couple of trusted business owners I can turn to with questions, a coach who helps me with whatever problem I’m struggling with at the moment, and my very supportive ex-business partner who doesn’t shy away from saying things candidly. Not that I always want to hear them, at least not at the moment, but more often than not they started a process that, over time, brought me closer to where I want to go with my business and also who I want to become as a person.

I took the liberty of focusing my view more on solopreneurs to make Principle 2 more relevant and applicable to you. But here are a couple of closing thoughts about it that, no matter your business size, I find important to mention. 

According to Miller, the alternative to a niche or sticky brand is the generalist that often competes on price and availability alone which is particularly difficult in a downturn economy. Creating your niche provides you with the luxury to own it and be the big fish, even if you are a comparably small company. It’s your expertise, your in-depth knowledge about the industry, and your continuous effort to serve your clients better that protect you from a price race to the bottom.

An aspect that I believe is vital for us solopreneurs is playing “off your strengths” (page 50) which, in turn, will help you use your resources more effectively and efficiently. As a solopreneur or entrepreneur, you wear many hats, and your resources, especially time, are limited. Miller calls it “rigor in sales and delivery” (page 50) and working off of guidelines. These guidelines will help you qualify prospective customers with a few questions and weed out the ones that are better served by someone else. At LEAPJob, Miller’s recruiting company, the three guiding questions are around position, location, and salary. If a prospect is no fit, he refers them to another recruiting company.

What is your takeaway from Principle 2? Are you ready to say no? What are your criteria to determine if a prospect is a good fit? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

See you next week,

Principle 1: Simple Clarity

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Have you read the Introduction? Did it persuade you to continue on this branding adventure?

Let’s continue with “Principle 1 – Simple Clarity” and dive right into it.

Simple Clarity sounds… simple, doesn’t it? You know what you are doing, so it should be easy to put it into words. If I’m honest, I found this to be quite difficult. Like your elevator pitch, your sales pitch takes a lot of editing and revising before you hit the mark. It’s a process; one that I would consider well worth your time and effort. Here is why: “It makes your brand easier to talk about, easier to remember, and easier to find. The right words make all the difference in the world.” (page 30)

Using the right words, words or language your customers use, creates a connection. You show your customers that you feel their pain, their frustration and understand their problem. Be like Sherlock Holmes, shed light on what your clients search for. How do they respond to your “pitch”? Keep it short, descriptive and make it memorable. Don’t be clever or overthink it. Focus on the most important service or feature of your business or product. If you’re perceived as complicated you’ll lose their interest.

This is due to the way people process information. Miller refers to a book “The Dynamics of Persuasion” by Dr. Richard Perloff, Professor of Communication, and a scholar of persuasion and political communication perceptions and effects, who distinguishes between two modes of information processing:  centrally processed information and  peripherally processed information.

Bear with me to understand why this is relevant for your business. Processing information centrally means people are engaged, they want to go deep and research all angles of a topic. This kind of research takes place after you have narrowed down your options and have a closer look before making your final decision. Processing information peripherally, on the other hand, means taking only a few cues and rules that we trust or that we believe are valid to make our decision. Most of the time this is the way people make a decision in order to, among other reasons, prevent analysis paralysis ( in a nutshell: not being able to make a decision at all).

I believe this makes it quite clear why Simple Clarity is so important in our communication, online or in person. If our customers have to think about what we have to offer, or how we can help them, their brain turns off. Our words fall on deaf ears. They may think, consciously or unconsciously: too complicated, not interested. And we have lost them. If, however, we clearly state in their language what we do, or even better, do for them, then their eyes will light up, and we have created an opportunity for  a conversation that may lead to a business relationship.

And this brings us to the “how” of finding Simple Clarity for our business. Miller came up with three clarity types. Here they are:

1.            Category answers the question: What is your company’s specialty? Using his company as an example, it looked like this: “sales recruiter Toronto”. This category distinction only works if your company is not in a highly competitive industry.

2.            Function answers the question: What does your company do? He uses Cardinal Couriers as an example. Their differentiator in courier services is standard pricing for deliveries before 8:00am. That’s their focus, delivering before anyone is in the office. Their competition, on the other hand, charges a premium for this type of service.

3.            Situation answers the question: Whom does your company serve? It is the most difficult and complex of the three categories. It sets guidelines with whom a company is working, which may not be achievable in a few words. Therefore, this description is most useful for companies which operate in a “well-defined market with educated buyers.” In his example Miller describes one company that uses qualifying questions in their on-boarding process to find out if a prospective client is a fit or not.

Looking at my own business, I’m certainly in the “Function” category. I have to emphasize that my Taekwondo background (yep, I’m proud to say that I’m a third-degree black belt and instructor) is my basis for working with clients when I help them transform a feeling of chaos and overwhelm to a feeling of clarity and focus, from not getting anything done to progress and success. Did I say branding is a work in progress….

Last, but for sure not least, important is the aspect of making your company memorable and easy to talk about. If your (prospective) customers perceive your message as complicated or confusing, you can forget that they will or want to talk about you. They wouldn’t know how. That’s why Miller compares this part with a label. He suggests using 10 words or fewer, 10 words that are descriptive, explain the “content,” and are memorable.

For me the most important aspect of Principle 1 is the feedback from (prospective) customers. I put a lot of thought into the answers about who I am, what I do, and whom I serve, but I wasn’t as diligent about the feedback I got. As Miller says, it looked good on paper, but it didn’t necessarily resonate with my clients. I noticed when I struck a chord, but I didn’t make a note of the specific words that were used. That is something I had to start doing. Miller writes, and I couldn’t agree more now, that “Every time you share your Simple Clarity description it is a learning opportunity. Keep track of your responses. […] The market will tell you when you have Simple Clarity. Listen.” (page 39)

And with that, I’d like to hear what stood out for you in this chapter. Do you have your “Simple Clarity” nailed? Did the questions help you tackle it? What helped you through this process?

Tell me in the comments below.

See you next week,

Part 1: Introduction

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

Are you in the market for some serious work on your branding? Join me in reading Sticky Branding by Jeremy Miller. It is a branding crash course or refresher course for all the aspects that are important for creating an outstanding brand. Miller explains in 12.5 Principles the important aspects of what he calls a sticky brand, and what one needs to do in order to create one’s own.

The wealth of information, examples, and exercises to make the principles stick (pun intended) is especially relevant for business owners who would like to grow and reach the next level. And if you just got started, it’s a great way to gain the clarity you will need in order to build your business on a solid foundation. Mallika from Miki Foto recommended this book to me, and I immediately got hooked. I’m currently re-branding my business, Coaching with a Kick, and found the questions in the exercises thought-provoking and helpful.

If you object and argue that branding is only for big companies, then hang on and go on this branding adventure with me. You may be surprised by what branding is or could be, according to Miller, even for the smallest of businesses. He poses a lot of questions. For example:

  • Do you know if your “pitch” to your clients or prospective clients is successful?
  • Do you know if you use the right channels to approach your prospective clients, social media or otherwise?
  • Do you make it easy for your prospective clients to pic you and not your competition?
  • Do you know how they feel about the purchasing process of your service or product?
  • Do you miss opportunities to be present for your clients or prospective clients?

And this is only a sneak preview into the many aspects Miller mentions.

I will post a blog every week focusing on a different chapter or, to use Miller’s words, “Principle.” I’m going to summarize what resonated with me, what I found particularly helpful, and how I implemented the lesson(s) learned. It would be fun to hear what struck a chord with you, what you discovered and what changes you will make in your business.

I’m sure there will be aspects that will make you think about your own business practices. You may find that your business can be tweaked or changed to be more client-focused or client-friendly.  After all, that’s what every business is, or better, should be about, right? So, let’s get started with Part 1, the “Introduction.”

Jeremy Miller wrote Sticky Branding because he was desperate. He had joined his parents’ family business, and a year into being at the helm of it the business started suffering. Even though they were “firing on all cylinders” (page 8) it didn’t show in the numbers. On top of low sales figures, they were working with clients that didn’t appreciate their services and, to make matters worse, were difficult to work with.

He needed to find out what was going wrong, and quickly. Miller and his team started by comparing other IT recruiting companies with his own: services, features, benefits and customer service. They came to realize that they were just “another tree in the evergreen forest” (page 9): same offer, same service, same features, same benefits, same customer service.   

This “discovery” triggered a re-evaluation process which led to a complete repositioning of his ailing family business. What used to be a mediocre, indistinguishable IT recruiting company at the brink of collapse transformed into a first class, outstanding recruitment company in sales and marketing.

It will come as no surprise that this transition was an extremely painful and scary time for Miller and his company. Not everything he and his team tried ended in success. But after they went through the 12.5 Principles and nailed each aspect of it, they had achieved what Miller calls a “sticky brand”  or, to use the analogy from the book, they created a company that “stand(s) out like an orange tree in an evergreen forest.” (page 9)

Do you know what a sticky brand is? I believe it’s time for a definition. A sticky brand ….

  • stands out and is remarkable.
  • is raved about by colleagues and friends.
  • exceeds customer expectations.
  • builds on and learns from each customer interaction.
  • brings together purpose, vision, a remarkable customer service experience, passion, and operational excellence.

The underlying theme is curiosity and the all-important question: “How can we serve our customers better.” Creating a sticky brand will never be a done deal, it will always be a continuous process.

This may sound a bit daunting and overwhelming. Especially for us entrepreneurs who are wearing so many hats. But before you throw in the towel and don’t even open the book, think about this: sticky brands, for the most part, don’t have customers, they have fans. Reason enough for me to put a lot of effort into my branding. How about you?

Part 2 of this series will be about “Principle 1: Simple Clarity.”