When I started out with Mint, I looked up to the big boys and wondered what it is that made them get there. I had to look at other factors besides money because as a start-up you have limited resources. Just how big were the big boys? Well, let’s just say they were multi-billion, both dollars and shillings i.e. internationally and locally respectively.
I also looked at the small boys and started to dig out the differences other than capital strength. What I discovered back then, almost 7 years ago, when starting Mint is the same as what I discovered last year with Pulsar Limited. It is all about the brand outlook. The big boys were obsessed with their brand outlook and at every turn I interacted with their brand, I could see attention to detail and some standard being observed.
This was the main difference. Some brands are intently keen on having a professional outlook. Let’s get clear on what we mean by professional; here I mean a high-level standard observed within your specific skillsets or at least industry.
And so, I set out to build a professional branding agency. This would be a key competitive advantage for me because ironically marketing agencies, and advertising agencies, do not use their skills to professionalise their brands. It is comparable to an accountant who has bad books for their business, or a fitness trainer who is obese.
Over the years, I learnt just how important a decision I made to build a professional image for the business. A professional represents certain standards that come to be appreciated by your customers especially if you are in the business-to-business space. First though, let us start with…
How to Professionalize your Brand
“We set the standards, we do not meet them.” This is what Safaricom said when they successfully moved the Mpesa servers from Germany to Kenya. It is an indicator of the level of their playing field. Another time, their CEO, Bob Collymore, said to a parliamentary committee that their competitors are Google and Microsoft, nope, not their local counterparts. This should draw an important lesson for all entrepreneurs. Your brand is what you think of it; how big you think it should be.
Personally, I focussed on standardisation and ensuring all relevant customer touchpoints are standardised and branded. You should leverage this power, as it is within your reach, to ensure your business looks as big as possible. The “bigger” you are, the more business you can get. I consider this the most important aspect because first impressions are lasting impressions. From your website, down to the receipt, your brand’s communication needs to be the same. You cannot have a blue themed website styled differently from your pink brochure. To the customer, they feel as though they are interacting with two different brands creating confusion in their mind.
The brand standards help you develop certain expectations for your customer. By the time a potential customer is interacting with your marketing material including your website, they are already developing an opinion about your brand and what to expect. It is a duty bestowed upon you to meet these expectations and further exceed them. It is absolutely crucial for your image to trickle down on various facets of the brand. Needless to say, you require your brand’s own professional email that uses your own brand’s domain name.
Your product or service must be packaged or delivered in a manner as to meet the set standard thereby fulfilling their expectation. What is the point of getting a customer and disappointing them? You should look forward to serving them again and again; repeat business.
It is also important for you to develop an organisational structure within your business. The easiest way to do this is to use business functions such as sales, accounting, marketing and so on. This helps you realise areas you do not have the requisite skills hence the need to plug the deficit in the skills. The online world just made it easier for you to plug this skills deficit as you can learn anything in the shortest time possible. This will help you in reaching your goal of giving your business an all-round professional image. As an entrepreneur, you are expected to fill in for all these shoes and as your business grows, you should hire people better than you in areas you feel you have a skills gap.
Location is another important aspect of looking professional (see article on uncovering your brand’s secrets). Do not underestimate your small office space and what wonders it can do. Spend the least in making it look as good as possible. Our current office is small but it does make me feel good every time someone says, “you have a nice office”. The where is just as important as it sends a specific message. Choose your location carefully. We spent a horrible year on a small building on Koinange Street and it dented our image. We had to move out as a matter of emergency. I normally remember it in horror.
Spare your resources and focus on the most effective promotional channels. You don’t have the luxury of millions to pour on press advertising. Carefully assess all available channels to you and focus on them. I found digital marketing as the most effective for me. The beauty about it is that you are on an almost level playing field with the big boys. Your website will and should look good at a fraction of the cost they spend on theirs. Don’t forget to get in to a maintenance plan with your designers as online technologies and trends are constantly morphing.
There are more steps you can take in giving your brand a professional look such as ensuring top level customer service – another advantage of being small. You can even personalise your service for your customers. All these bring about…
Advantages of Professionalizing your Brand
If you are in the service industry like ourselves, then you know the challenges of pricing. Scratch that. We are all in the service industry, believe it or not. In selling your commodity, a certain level of service is provided, and this can be the key differentiator of how you price your product. The level of service you provide is commensurate to the pricing of your product and vice versa. A professional brand gets to enjoy superior pricing to their competition.
Professionalized brands get to enjoy increased customer lifetime value. If the experience was good, then your customers will return to you. You don’t have to focus on all facets, you can be the brand that does one thing so good people return to it. One of the only reasons I find myself return to Tuskys, for example, is their superfast moving queues… but that password guy :(.
I love referrals. They are so invaluable as the referrer has done half the sales pitch for you; all you need to do is close the sale. When you ask a friend, “I need a logo done for me, know someone?” This friend then refers you to Pulsar or me, an element of trust is already being transferred via your friend. This is why I’d be the top branding agency for considerations among the others you’ve researched on. A little nudging and we get to do an awesome job for you. But, the referrals can only come about from a good job previously done… a professional job.
Increased business opportunities even from referrals gets you increased brand value. Increased brand value gets you more resources to grow your business.
You can further grow your business by bringing in new products. This is where you can capitalise on goodwill of your current customers just as we did when introducing our email marketing service. It was easier to tell our existing customers that already trust our brand to do the job… a professional job!
… and in Conclusion
Start by building a professional image. Image is everything according to Sprite and should be so for every brand. Your image gives your target market a certain perception, let it be a professional one.
By the way, how do you know you’ve built a professional brand? When your potential customer asks to speak to your boss… and you are the boss :)!