Posts Tagged ‘startups’
Branding: It’s Personal
When I was writing a branding column for Creative Retailer Magazine, I had the opportunity to interview a person known for her brand, a brand that is recognized by many, including those outside her ‘ideal customer’ base.
This is a brand that started small and has grown into a multi-faceted, financially successful business with reach across a variety of offerings, including a foray into the non-profit world.
What’s the brand?
Now, you might say, “Rachel’s not a brand, she’s a person.”
And my answer would be, “Yes, she’s a person, but she – Rachel Ray – is also a brand, a well-known brand that has found success because the owner of the brand, Rachel herself, is laser-focused and knows what matters.
She knows what she wants to accomplish and what she wants to bring to market, but most importantly she knows who her ideal customers are, and what she needs to deliver to maintain the loyalty of those customers and create new fans (all areas of business on which every business needs to expend energy).
We can all learn from this dynamo of energy!
Following are my interview questions (SH) and Rachel’s responses (RR)*, followed by steps you can take to develop, maintain, protect and grow your brands – your personal and business brands – and your business.
*Content was transcribed from my recorded interview with Rachel Ray
SH: “When you think back to the very beginning, to the time before you had a brand, was this brand you now have a vision or did it just sort of evolve?”
RR: “The vision I had was for an oval spaghetti pot because spaghetti is long. So I drew it on a piece of paper and I went around and asked somebody to make it. Actually, my husband went to the housewares show and went up to the Meyer booth and said “Would you make this pot for my wife?” Ah, that’s how the brand started. Anything that’s in our brand has a practical purpose. I don’t license my name, I design my products. I use it in my home, I use it at work…it’s literally my brand…”
SH: “What do you think are the keys to branding, to building a brand?”
RR: “Value. Value. Have the best value for the dollar. And, problem-solving. Figure out what the problem is and then come up with a solution. Um, an oval spaghetti pot because spaghetti is long…The Lazy Ladle® or the Lazy Spoon started as a wooden gift that I got from a very small company and I asked the man if we could collaborate so we could make dishwasher-safe products for people and they could still be “lazy” and hang off the pot or the bowl. I am constantly losing the lids or the bottoms of all my plastic storage ware so we came up with these lids that seal every bowl which turns every dish into storage ware. You know, it’s figuring out how to solve a problem for your customer and making sure that you’re making a value proposition. I don’t think you have to be the cheapest, but I do think you have to be the best value for the dollar.”
SH: “What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?”
RR: “Remain humble. You work for someone. There’s no such thing as being the boss. I’m very much a waitress, you know, today as I was when I was a little kid. Your consumer, your customer, they are your boss and you have to answer to them. That’s why I like to be in brick-and-mortar, but I also appreciate an opportunity like QVC where you can talk to the customer, we can see customer ratings, we can get immediate feedback. That’s why I go on book tours, so I can hear what people like and don’t like about the books, and what’s going on with the show. I think you have to remain humble. You also have to work very, very hard – you have to work harder than everyone else, and not complain about it.”
SH: “If you could share one piece of advice with somebody looking to build a personal brand, from scratch, what would you advise them, for their beginning?”
RR: “Think about what your promise is. That’s the most important thing. For our brand it’s accessibility: can do, can use, can be part of, and that problem-solving factor. Whether it’s 30-Minute Meals…the Lazy Ladle® – these things all problem-solve and say anybody can do this. And, that’s our pact. I think you have to figure out what your promise is first…and then stick to that. You know, it’s great to grow, but you have to pick your lane on the highway – that’s the only way you’re going to get to where you’re going is to pick a direction. You can’t be all things to all people.”
SH: “For young women who are interested in having a career in the food industry, what advice would you give them?”
RR: “Well, it’s a great industry. It’s about sharing and you’ll always have work because people are always hungry, you know? (laughs) You know it really goes back to the basics…be humble, your customer is always right and they come first. I think, you know, my mom worked in restaurants for almost 60 years, and I think she loved it as much 60 years in as she did day-one. If you can’t go to work every day and love where you’re at, then don’t do that, especially since it’s a very physically hard job. And, long, long hours and you won’t always have your holidays off, often you won’t, but make sure it’s really what you love – if you love it, it will always treat you right. It’s one of those very unforgiving professions if you don’t love it – you gotta love it.”
SH: “What inspires you creatively?”
RR: “Everything! Getting’ up in the morning! (smiles big) You know I keep little notebooks with me everywhere – you never know where you’re going to get the next great idea, whether for a book or a recipe or a product, so I’m always with… you know it’s really funny, when I was a little girl, even if I’d draw a giraffe, it would always have a bag. My mother said ‘Why do all your pictures have purses?’ I said, ‘Mom, that’s for pencil and paper – they need to be able to write down their ideas.’ And, I am literally that person today. I never go anywhere without my little notebook and my little flat pen.” (laughs)
SH: “Do you have a preference, Moleskines or…?”
RR: “No, I have every size, shape…they’re all, they’re next to my bed, they’re in my office, they’re in my bathroom…I have a pull-down one on my refrigerator…this is my travel one…I’ve got notebooks everywhere!”
So, how’s that for a focused brand and business owner?!
Let’s recap the branding advice Rachel shared:
- Design for practical purposes, solve problems.
- Provide value.
- Remain humble.
- Know who your customer is and what they want and need – then deliver it.
- Work hard and don’t complain about it.
- Decide on your brand “promise” and then deliver on it.
- Pick a direction – you can’t be all things to all people.
- Choose something you love – you’ll work hard and you gotta love it for it to treat you right.
- Look for inspiration everywhere.
- Be prepared, for opportunity…and with pen and paper!
Let’s expand on how this branding advice applies to you, and the brand YOU want to build and grow:
- Solve problems, first and foremost. It’s always a much easier sell when you are providing a solution to a problem. When money is tight, needs come before wants – be a need, not just a want.
- Provide Value. As Rachel said, you don’t have to be the cheapest. In fact, I advise clients against competing on price as there will always be someone who can beat you on price. Compete on value – what do you provide that is unique, that sets you apart, that might possibly mean customers spending their money with you vs. your competition? Remember, it’s all a matter of perception – how do customers perceive what you offer in terms of value for their hard-earned dollars?
- Remain humble. Imagine how easy it would be for Rachel to be full of herself (btw, she wasn’t when I met her) – after all, she has gained celebrity status and is adored by fans. As your business succeeds and you achieve success, never forget where you started…and most importantly, never forget the people (staff, customers, vendors, etc.) who helped you succeed. Those who supported you at the beginning, when you likely had little to offer in return other than a promise (your vision) of what might someday be are likely your biggest fans and supporters. Enlist your early supporters as brand ambassadors and empower and reward them to continue supporting you in your vision.
- Know your customers! This is perhaps the toughest challenge when you’re just starting out, but it shouldn’t be once you have a customer base. You might be surprised how often I receive a blank stare when I ask clients about their ideal customers, their demographics and psychographics (behaviors), and most importantly, what their likes, dislikes, wants and needs are. Many business owners never bother asking their customers what they want and/or what they need. Yes, you’re busy, but this should be a priority. After all, how can you provide what your customers – your ideal customers – want and need if you don’t ask them? Never assume anything – ASK! Trust me, your customers love having the opportunity to tell you how they feel, what they want and need, like and dislike – people love to give their opinion!
- Work hard. There’s certainly time for play, but succeeding in business is hard work. Make a commitment to it and it pays off! One thing to keep in mind though is that most people don’t want to hear about how hard you’re working. It seems to have become a badge of honor to espouse how busy we are, how much we have to do, how hard we are working. Truth be told, most customers don’t really care – they only care about “What’s in it for me (them)?” Keep your business challenges to yourself and remind staff and partners of this – let customers think of you as their “happy place” rather than the place where they’ll have to hear all about your business (and personal) woes…and how busy you are.
- Define your brand’s promise. Your “brand promise” is actually a bit redundant as a brand really is a promise – it’s a promise to the customer about what they can expect from you, from your staff and from your business at every touchpoint. I define branding as “The art of effectively aligning every touch point of your business with what you want people to think, feel and say about you.” What does your brand stand for – what’s your promise? If you aren’t sure, then step back and give it due consideration. Your promise really is the most critical aspect of your brand – it should be dictating your messaging (marketing, PR, social media outreach, etc.), the behavior of your staff, your HR and customer service policies, how your store looks and feels, what you stock and sell, the services you offer, who you partner with, etc.
- Pick ‘a’ horse and ride it…and only it! When I first start working with clients, one of the first questions I ask them is this: “Who’s your ideal customer?” Can you guess what the answer is almost every single time? Everyone! Sorry, but everyone is not your ideal customer! Unless you have bottomless pockets, you can’t possibly reach and service everyone. And, why would you want to? It’s much too hard to be all things to all people – impossible, actually! Perhaps this question is so tough to answer because it can be hard work narrowing it down, and because we are confident that our offering is so great that everyone should want it.
- Here’s a start at narrowing down the everyone to the ideal: Think about the total market (e.g., all people who need your offering); now focus on your reachable market (e.g., people who need what you offer, who are reachable by your business, and to whom you can afford to market your business); and, last but not least, zero in on your serviceable market (e.g., people who need what you offer, who have money to spend on what you offer, and to whom you are able to provide products and/or services given your available resources – capital, staff, physical location). See how the everyone pie just became much smaller?
- Now you might say, but wait, I just lost revenue opportunities! Right? Yes, but you also gained control over how you dedicate your resources – it is now much easier to spend your marketing dollars (and other resources) wisely, without wasting them on prospects who are not ideally suited for your offering, people who would just be a drain on your precious resources. And that means less money out! Keep in mind that another reason many businesses find it hard to narrow down their customer pool to just the ideal customers is that they haven’t determined what their brand’s “promise” is. Again, dedicate energy to defining your promise so you can further narrow down your ideal customer base, making it easier for you to target, reach and service these people, the people who are much more likely to become long-term, loyal customers.
- Do what you love and the money will follow. Have you ever heard that expression? While not everyone is lucky enough to do what they love doing, if you’re planning to go into business, you are much more likely to find success if you are doing something you love, something for which you have passion. When things are tough and you’re stretched thin (both of which happen when you own your own business!), being passionate about your business can mean the difference between pushing through and succeeding and giving up and failing. Ask any business owner and they will tell you, business demands a lot of its owner(s) and the more you love the business (not just the idea of being in business for yourself, but the actual day-to-day running of the business), the better your chances of success.
- Inspiration – it’s everywhere! And, I have found that it’s especially valuable when it comes from “outside.” What do I mean by outside? I mean outside your business, outside your neighborhood (or offline if you’re an online business) and outside your industry. Some of my best ideas have come from attending an event outside of my industry, or visiting a business that’s different from mine and/or in another location. Why? Because they often do things differently. Just being in a new and different environment can lead to you thinking differently and viewing your own environment and business (and customers!) in new ways. Try it!
- Be prepared! Luck = opportunity + preparation. If you prepare for success you are much more likely to ‘get lucky’ when an opportunity presents itself. How do you prepare? Keep an open mind and get “outside.” Endeavor to learn every day. Network (especially outside your business, neighborhood and industry). Be smart about resource dedication – know what your promise is and who your ideal customer is and focus your efforts only on delivering the former to the latter. And finally, carry a notebook and pen with you…always. You never know when that million-dollar idea will pop into your head or fall in your lap!
Hopefully you enjoyed my interview with Rachel Ray and the peek into how her brand was not only built, but has evolved and succeeded.
No, branding isn’t easy and it doesn’t guarantee success.
But when it’s done ‘right,’ it gets you one step closer!
Now, take what you learned from Rachel Ray, put to use the tips I shared above, and stay focused on the overall goal (delivering your promise to your ideal customers) and it’s highly likely you, too, will experience branding and business success.
Want to discuss your particular business,
your current or future brand?
Reach out to me via email:
shackney (at) brandingmasters (dot) com
Or, ring me up! 760.504.8563
I’d love to work with you on YOUR brand!