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Whether times are tough or sweet, aren’t your prospects always asking you what makes you better and different?

Have you struggled with your 30-second answer? Do you have a mission statement that tells all?

Think about it this way: If a cow becomes separated from the herd, whose to say it belongs to one rancher or another? And further, when you drive down the highway and feel like a burger, which eating establishment first comes to mind and why? Do they have the best burgers? Does it matter at the time? That’s where branding comes in.

When considering your unique selling proposition, or “USP”, consider this: why do many of the world’s largest companies spend millions of dollars creating logo usage guidelines manuals? A logo and a tagline are living breathing things, the condensation of everything a business is or will be, and how it portrays itself to the world. This is closely guarded and monitored by the “branding police.”

Go through the following exercise for your business. Ask “What makes my business better and different?” Write the answer(s) downs, share with colleagues/others. Then ask “So what’s so good about that?” The answers to both important questions may take some time to work through. (Hint: they should!) When and if you and third parties can clearly grasp and accept your proposition, congratulations, you have crossed the first hurdle.

The next steps involve spreading the word. It’s all about the four C’s: communication, clear, consistent, creative. This means branding leads into marketing which leads into sales.

While everything we do in life involves time, cost and risk, it has also always been true that you have to spend money to make money, no? In these challenging economic times, there are significant opportunities to take advantage of better i.e. reduced rates on printing, ad placement, etc.

Spend time working in your business but ON your business as well. Write that marketing plan. This also dovetails into a sales plan. Before you spend one dollar, work the whole thing out on paper… ideas you share with your team. White-board them during meetings, record these sessions, experiment on paper with the what if’s, other scenarios, with a pauper’s budget, a prince’s budget etc. There’s no escaping it: if you fail to plan then you plan to fail.

Conduct more brainstorming sessions. Sure, other businesses may also choose to use chimpanzees in their advertising, but yours are used in an entirely different manner…correct? Whatever your messages, always keep marketing engines set at least to “all ahead one-third.” Become steeped in the marketing of your business.

Regularly experiment with the wide variety of online and offline methods: e-cards vs. post cards, tri-fold brochures vs. trade shows. Handouts vs. hand-shaking. TV spots vs. website spots. This can actually be fun.

Eventually, if not soon enough, you should arrive a sweet combination of message and media that will carry you forward for quite some time. Then, simply rinse and repeat.