I was recently listening to retired 4-Star General Stanley McChrystal’s Memoir: My Share of the Task. Though he’s writing in the form of storytelling, there are many gems throughout the pages, specifically in regards to leadership lessons, business lessons and culture-building lessons.
During one interesting part, when he’s telling the story of how he commanded Task Force 714 conducting Special Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, he explains the evolution of Al Qaeda, which eventually leads up to the mission to take out Al Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The thing that struck me is that, though he mostly tells it like a history, when he starts talking about how Al Qaeda achieved worldwide notoriety, he switches to business terms. When they open up different groups in different countries, he refers to them as franchises. He talks about other terrorist networks as competitors, some of whom they eventually merged with. In reference to 9/11, he discusses it as a major branding win for Al Qaeda—suddenly from being just another extremist group, they became the leaders in the fight against the United States to the whole Muslim world.
He then explains how, in order to think about the best way to beat the terrorists, his force had to change their thinking from traditional warfare, to branding wars. This was an early precursor to what we later referred to as the military’s efforts to “win the hearts and minds” of the local people, in the support against the fight on terror.
In a specific example, he talks about how, when Al Qaeda set off car bombs in Iraq, killing many members of the UN and other organizations working to stabilize the government of Iraq, it was a branding loss for the United States. Suddenly, the only people left were armed American Soldiers, making the effort in Iraq appear much more like an invading American Army, than like a combination of countries in the world working together to rebuild the government.
Switching to a completely different industry than the military, I recently got to be a fly on the wall in a meeting of cannabis industry professionals in Washington State (where marijuana use is legal). My colleague, who works in cannabis, has been explaining to me how one of the major issues facing the cannabis industry today is that of branding—which is precisely why he was brought onboard. The cannabis industry is working hard to transform their image from ‘illicit drug dealers’ to something more akin to vendors of fine wine. They are professionals, producing a legal and beneficial product, about which they have immense amounts of detailed knowledge.
The meeting was about preparing an industry standard response to the perceived ‘vaping crisis’, yet another issue of branding. Cannabis vaping shares nearly no similarities or health issues recently associated with other forms of e-vaping, yet many of the proposed bans coming from the Governor’s office threaten to affect them nevertheless. The question became, how do we most successfully differentiate ourselves from the e-vaping market, branding our products the healthy things that they are, and so avoid reduced profits and legal problems that are likely to arise out of the coming bans.
So, from two very different businesses, come the same questions. How do we best brand for mission success and profitability?
Straight from some branding experts, here are 5 secrets for successfully branding your business to keep you on message, relevant and winning in your market.
- Find Out How People See You
The most important step to building your brand is to find out what people think of you first. I’ll never forget when I was starting my business, I used to talk about “teaching military leadership skills to CEOs”. After a year of getting no bites, a bold CEO finally asked me, “what do you mean, military leadership skills? Don’t you all just yell at each other”. I realized that (though it’s incorrect) the military has a huge brand disconnect with what I was trying to do.
- Weave Your Brand into Everything that You Do
Consistency is the name of the game. You can’t say one thing and then do another, even if you think those things are really important. The US military eventually ended up putting women into combat, after 2.5 centuries of being absolutely against it, because it was crucial for the brand. If we wanted the conservative Muslims in the local population to believe that we cared about them and their country, and were only out to get the terrorists, then we needed to have women on the teams—to ensure that the messaging that their customs and culture was respected was coming through loud and clear. Consistency matters even when you think no one is looking.
- Don’t Try to Please Everyone
This is referred to as finding your ideal customer, messaging to a niche, or various other things, but essentially the message is simple: if some people are mad at you, you’re making an impression. If you try to please everyone, you are casting too wide of a net, and you likely won’t reach anyone. Don’t worry about all the people who won’t want to use your service or product, just send strong messaging to the ones who will.
- Produce Value
My favorite step, and the first rule of networking, is always produce value. It doesn’t matter how you price your product or service, if you are targeting the right market, and you are able to show value, people will buy it.
When thinking about the value that you can add, ask questions like;
- What sets your product, service and company apart from your competitors?
- What value do you provide and how does that value differ from that provided by your competitors?
- How do these benefits tap into your customer’s emotions?
- Is what I'm producing for my customer produce enough value for the price I'm charging?
- Is my brand in sync with how I'm marketing myself?
- Associate Yourself with Strong Brands
The final step is associating yourself with other brands that have a strong name recognition in your industry, field, or are even household names. For better or for worse, trust plays into branding, and people tend to have very strong feelings about the brands that they associate themselves with. There’s a reason that big brands even tend to have morality clauses with celebrities who represent them—they know that a bad perception (even a false one) can affect their brand many times more than all the good publicity in the world can help.
And remember no company is perfect: just do your best to Be Great Every Day!
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DANIELLA YOUNG IS A TEDX SPEAKER, AN AUTHOR, COMBAT VETERAN, BOARD MEMBER OF OPERATION CODE, & THE CO-FOUNDER OF CAVNESSHR—AN HR-TECH COMPANY WHO’S MISSION IS TO MAKE BIG-BUSINESS HR AVAILABLE TO SMALL BUSINESSES, THROUGH INNOVATIVE SAAS AND VIRTUAL CONSULTING. DANIELLA SPECIALIZES IN HELPING BUSINESSES CREATE CULTURE ROADMAPS, LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PLANS & EFFECT TEAM TRANSFORMATION. WANT TO LEARN MORE? VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT cavnesshr.com.
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