by Mark Allen Roberts
As I shared in my first book Branding Backwards, your brand is your promise, your flag you plant with laser like positioning in your market that shares the problems your product or service promises to solve and is established over time. Companies can have intentional brands like Volvo that will always mean safety. Market losing companies let the market decide what their brand stands for and I refer to this as; Branding by Default. Like it or not your company, your products, your teams have a brand perception in the minds of the buyers in your market. The harsh truth is; your buyers’ perception of your brand is reality. Your brand emerges after executing your positioning well or poorly over time. It can take years and a considerable amount of money to establish a brand, and one terrible experience that breaks that promise (trust) and destroy it.
What happens when your brand promises something you do not execute?
Your buyers become “Brand Damaged “
Once buyers in your market become brand damaged their trust in your company, its products, salespeople, channel partners is broken… often permanently. I heard a great quote recently and I am not sure who said it but here goes; “People do not buy from people they like, they buy from people they trust.” Your brand is something you must treasure, reinforce and protect. Your brand is what you are promising if someone buys your product or service. It becomes the foundation of your future relationship of trust with your buyers.
Markets establish and adjust perceived brand images much quicker today since the internet has become an open forum for good as well as poor buying experiences.
When I have worked with companies wanting to increase their sales and profitability, one of the first things I do is go out into their market and meet with their current customers, customers they would like to have and customers they have lost. In these meetings I am trying to quickly determine their market’s perception of the companies’ positioning and brand . I am not judging what I hear as I am just gathering market information…market truths if you will. The next step is interviewing the companies’ sales team, distributors, and channel partners specifically listening for what they are promising the market. The last step is I spend time with the corporate team and dive deep into their marketing communication, their positioning and are they intentionally building a brand. What I am looking for is any disconnects, any promises the corporate group is making that buyers have experienced are not true in the market today. I emphasize the word “today” since what I often experience is the perception of the companies’ product positioning and brand at the corporate level was once true, but experiences occurred that have changed buyer perceptions and broken buyer trust.
In every interview with customers, prospects , suspects, distributors and team members they all have an opinion, a perception of what your brand represents today. Does the brand promises shared by the companies’ team and their marketing message match the market’s perception of the companies’ brand? In most cases the root of the brand promise is consistent; however once in a while I find a company that has Brand Damaged Buyers.
What are some symptoms you have Brand Damaged Buyers?
- sales failing to meet plan
- competitors sales growing
- competitors gaining market share
- profit decrease due to field discounting to “win the business”
- channel partners, distributors afraid to sell your products
- past customers you have lost refusing to meet with you
- you are losing large key accounts who have “been with you forever”
- you consistently have missed new product launch dates
- high turnover of star salespeople
- you consistently miss product ship dates
- customers embrace a new product and it fails
- new products introduced before they were ready
- decrease in web traffic
- buyers share “its all about price”
- current customers not embracing/supporting new products for 6-18 months after launch
- current customers stop sharing problems they are experiencing
- increase in product returns and or warrantee claims
- increase in customer deductions off your sale invoices
- sales fails to sell new customers
- sales can not even book meetings with targeted market leading new customers
- trade associations complain frequently about your company, service , and products
- your web site and marketing brochures promise things that are not true with buyers using your product
- unhappy customer experiences are found on web
I can hear some of you saying; “come on Mark, be realistic, anytime you sell a product or service you are going to have happy customers and unhappy customers. Customers sometimes are unhappy for no reason of our own and I don’t think it’s correct or fair to say they are brand damaged” Your right, not all “unhappy” customers become brand damaged. If you have a clear path of communication and you are aware of problems in the buying experience and correct them, your buyers do not become damaged. It is the case when you keep beating buyers upside the head in sales presentations, webinars, your literature and web site with what your corporate team believes to be true, ( often wishes was true) that your buyers perceive ( have experienced) as not true that they become Brand Damaged.
A quick way to determine if your buyers are suffering from Brand Damage is to ask yourself two questions;
As you read the above symptoms, how did it make you feel? Worried? Defensive?…you have brand damaged buyers in your market.
As you review the above list and you say “yes” to more than 5 of the above symptoms…you have brand damaged buyers in your market.
So how about your company…
Do you have Brand Damaged buyers in your market?
How do we heal Brand Damage in our markets and get back on track to creating profitable sales growth?
Once you have broken trust it is difficult to win it back. Buyers want to find brands they can trust. However when companies or representatives of companies keep selling the company line with their Kool-aid drinking mustaches still fresh on their faces, buyers become brand damaged. Brand Damaged buyers shop until they find another company who’s brand promise is true. In my next post I will discuss how to insure the brand burned into the minds of your buyers is the one you intended and how to heal brand damaged buyers.