Thursday 6 February 2020

How is Your Brand Performing in a Tough Economy

Calgary, Alberta, Centre of Canada's Oil Industry  

Written by Robyn T. Braley

When economies are threatened by political turbulence, international trade uncertainty, natural disasters or the threat of war, it's time to assess the strength of your brand.

Canada has been impacted by challenges in our petroleum industry which drives our national economy. Government, industry and climate change interest groups can't seem to find a compromise that will allow all parties to move forward for the common good.

Many companies will make it through this time. They will adapt, adjust and carefully manage their operations as they find ways to survive.

Others will not be so lucky. A client operating in the petroleum industry manufactured processing equipment valued at $5,000,000 per unit.

When the oil industry collapsed it happened in a hurry. They failed to find new markets for existing products and could not retool to make new products quickly enough. They were forced into receivership.

A client in commercial construction offers new construction and maintenance services for older high-rise buildings. When the economy sucks, their new construction business dives while their maintenance division soars. Owners of large buildings cannot afford to put off maintenance.

It’s Your Choice

Small businesses may have few options and can do little to respond to unforeseen market forces. Forces ‘are what they are’ and ‘will be what they will be’ for the foreseeable future.

However, doom and gloom reality doesn’t mean you sit back and do nothing! The way forward is to review the status of your business, assess the current status and plan the best way forward.

As the leader, now is the time to stay positive, especially if your company is facing a looming crisis. How you approach the challenge is a personal choice. You either shrink back and let the negative forces prevail or you fight back, adjust your focus and push through the adversity.

I spoke at a recent Real Estate Conference in Calgary. After my session, two men introduced themselves as Rental Property Owners who had travelled from a neighbouring province to search for distressed rental properties. They had cash in hand and were ready to buy!

I know what you're thinking! That’s a positive for the buyers but a negative for the sellers.

Not necessarily! The sellers may be eager to be free of the obligations associated with operating in a depressed economy like debt, downsizing or filling empty apartments. They may welcome the opportunity for a new start and to pursue new avenues of business.

What’s Your Passion?

I don’t know everyone who will be reading this, but I’ll wager each of you started your business driven by passion and purpose.

Why do you do what you do? Has the intensity of the fire burning within you as intense today as it was at the beginning or has it been reduced to an ember?

There is a saying in sport, “If you quit, they win.” In some cases, quitting may also be winning.

Do you want to rekindle the fire? You must answer the question. If the answer is yes, read on.

Revisit Your Vision

When was the last time you thought about the dream? What is your vision for the company? Is it as vivid today as it was when you started it?

When I begin working with new clients, I take them through a discovery process to help me learn about their company. One of the last questions I ask is,

What will your company look like in 5 years? 

Some clients were taken off guard and drew a blank. Of course, they had a general idea, but most couldn’t describe it.

Ask yourself the question. Think through the key elements. Then, write them down as bullet points.

Write them into 2-3 sentence paragraphs. Refine them until you can communicate your vision statement in a natural and laser-focused way. It should be crystal clear, authentic and future-looking.

Once you are satisfied, have someone in your office or hire a designer to format it. Place it on your wall or desk where you can see it and be reminded every day why you are about to do what you are about to do.

Next Steps

After clarifying your vision, it is time to review your brand. You've often heard me say or write,

"Your brand is what others think it is." 

A brand defines the characteristics that set your company apart from the competition. It makes a promise that customers can believe in. It tells the story of who you are, what you stand for, and the unique selling proposition you deliver on.

When you think about it, successful brands are built around a central idea that is compelling. They offer real as well as perceived value to all stakeholders. A distinctive brand positions a company and gives it a competitive advantage.

So, ask these questions.

1. What do clients, employees and collaborative partners think your brand is?

2. Is your brand as relevant today as it was yesterday?

3. Does it need to be adjusted to meet current conditions?

You can bring in brand specialists (like me) to do a brand audit, but I recommend that you start by going to the source yourself. Particularly if cash is limited. 

Ask your customers and other stakeholders like employees, suppliers and collaborative partners these questions. Now ask the biggest question of all! 

“What don’t you know that you should?”

Talk to Your Customers

I have conducted many qualitative surveys on behalf of large and small businesses. My team made person-to-person telephone calls or met one-on-one with people we didn’t know. Some included cold calls to a control list of prospective customers.

Some required nationwide interviews while others were regional or local calls. Each looked for answers to important questions or solutions to, or a greater understanding of known problems.

Every survey included hard questions. With some research projects, the process identified issues our client didn't know about.

Others confirmed that suspected problems were not only real but worse than expected. That resulted in difficult conversations with the client when I reported back.

Most important, each provided information that led to solving my client's problem.

When you ask the right questions, you get the right answers. I craft 8-10 questions that include open and closed questions. I work from those requiring simple answers to questions requiring more complexity.

The last question I always ask is this.

If our roles were reversed, what question would you ask? 

This question always produces gold. People open-up and talk because they care. High-trust information is usually shared.

Write the questions into a document that includes a written opening statement explaining what you are doing and why you are doing it. Read the statement along with each question. That will provide consistency.

Make careful notes under each question. If appropriate, ask permission to record the conversation for accuracy. Later I’ll explain why this is important.

Who Ya Gonna' Call!

While I would love to work with you to construct your questions and conduct the interviews, it may be more helpful to undertake the project on your own. Particularly if cash is tight.

Assemble a list of 20-25 key customers. Be sure to include some who you’ve had recent issues with. I’ve even included former customers who were pleased to be able to contribute. They will tend not to sugar-coat issues.

Interview each by phone or in person. That allows you to judge the level of engagement through body language or the tone of their voice. Read What Your Body is Saying That Your Mouth is Not!

Listen carefully to their answers.

  • What exactly are they saying?
  • What are the types of words used to describe your people, product and company?
  • Are the same topics coming up in numerous interviews?

Are they skirting around issues by giving non answers? Be prepared to dig down by asking deeper questions.

Along with the customer list, identify a cross section of employees, suppliers and collaborative partners. Modify the questions to reflect their relationship with the company.

Make it Mean Something

The interviews are done. Now what?

1. Review the answers to each question and cross out any that lack meaning

2. Assemble the answers for each question into a single document

3. Rather than recording similar answers, identify the number of similar comments

4. Bold each question and number or bullet point each answer

The Final Step

The information gathered will describe your brand. This is what others – especially your customers – have just told you what they think it is.

Whether you are facing adversity or great opportunity, now is the time to shine. Based on the information provided you can plan next steps and set goals.

I suggest breaking down the survey information writing it into a SWOT format. Problems – and opportunities will be clearly identified.

S – Strengths 

W – Weaknesses

O - Opportunities 

T - Threats 

Bring in Your Team

Bring your team into the process. Read the Leaders Role in Goal Setting Schedule a day in a neutral location free of distractions.

If you have a team and are short of cash, book a room at your library, chamber of commerce, church or community center. Read Choosing the RIGHT Location One day may not be enough so plan accordingly.

I wrote a series of posts about organizing goal-setting sessions. The big thing is to balance practical ideas based on reality with crazy ideas that may sound impractical. These may lead to creative solutions for traditional problems.

Defining goals? Think as if there is no box! Creative Problem Solving

The End
Robyn T. Braley is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker. He is also a media commentator and Rotarian. Robyn is the President of UniMark Creative which does website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. He speaks at business conferences and also blogs about branding. 

Your Opinion Matters

Please share your comments below. What have I missed? What caused you to think differently? Can you share what your brand did when under attack? 

1 comment:

  1. Robin, your resilience in down markets is both refreshing and inspiring.