Last night I had a very fun conversation with my daughter. She will be a high school senior next year and she decided to run for a class office. As she was preparing her speech for the class election, she asked for some help from dad. What followed was a great inquiry about what made her special and how she could communicate that to her audience.
The conversation caused me to reflect on two points.
First, how is it that so many businesses don’t seem to know what truly makes them special in the eyes of their customers?
And second, for businesses that do understand what makes them special, why can so few of their employees articulate it when asked?
Clarity isn’t Always as Easy as it Seems
Let’s start with the first question. The task of gaining clarity about what makes your business special is not always as easy as it seems, but it’s vitally important work in today’s highly competitive, highly differentiated, highly brand-driven environment. If you agree that strong brands represent a simple, clear promise to customers, then defining what that promise is and evaluating its “specialness” to your customers should be job one for any organization. Once accomplished, everything can begin to line up behind what makes you special. If what is special about your organization starts to fade, it can be the beginning of a slow decline into commoditization or consumer irrelevance.
We saw this happen recently with one of our global clients. Their business had been threatened by rapid shifts in consumer behavior and increased price competition. What they realized was that what made them special a decade ago was not the case any longer. The landscape had changed, the customer had changed, and the brand story had not evolved with these changes. The company was embarking on an aggressive strategy to reinvent themselves, to re-discover what made them special.
Pause for a moment. Ask yourself, “What makes my business truly special?” Can you provide a simple compelling answer? Would your customers agree? Are you sure? These are simple questions that can be the starting point to evaluate your specialness.
Can Employees Articulate What Makes You Special?
Second, if you are clear on what makes you special in the eyes of your customers, would all the members of your business align with you, and would they be able to articulate it powerfully and consistently?
I spent last week working with one of our international retail clients who we have had the pleasure to serve for the last several years. As part of the work, I was doing individual video interviews with dozens of their front line associates. What was exciting was how many of them were very clear on what made their brand special, and how easily and authentically they were able to share this with me.
This particular brand began the process several years ago of getting very clear about what made them special. They were able to distill it into a four word phrase that became the foundation for a multi-year, companywide, alignment process. They have been relentless at staying focused on these four words, making dramatic changes to all parts of the organization that did not support the delivery of these four words, and extensively communicating and training all levels of the company on the power and value of the four words. It’s no surprise to me that their business results continue to out-perform.
Marketing is often where answers to the first question emerge. It’s part of the responsibility for marketers to define the specialness, and effectively communicate it to customers. Internal-External Brand Alignment begins where marketing leaves off. IEBA focuses on the organization, its people, and their ability to understand the specialness, then put all the resources of the organization behind its delivery.
Business can be complex, but sometimes getting clear answers to simple questions is a powerful place to start.
So, what makes you so special?