The Self-Appointed Brand Czar: You

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"Quality is everyone’s job."

This quote has been so widely adopted that it is difficult to trace its original source (the likely originator is noted American business consultant W. Edwards Deming).  It is perhaps the simplest statement of truth that a company can instill in its employees. A similar truth exists in branding.  Branding is not an isolated marketing expense or a short-term strategy to ‘get the word out’.  Your brand is an all-encompassing, continual march forward from where you are today to where you hope to be someday.  It permeates everything the market experiences about you – for better or for worse.  Your logo, your website, your sales team, your receptionist, your product, your customer support, your location, your lobby furniture, etc. Whether you are an executive or a product manager, take the time to know your ideal customer and to know how your brand is perceived by that customer.  Be the self-appointed czar for this brand positioning and make sure you consistently message this to your team, your partners, and your customers.

Your brand isn't what YOU say it is, but what the market perceives it to be. 

Start up life science companies are often confronted with a common scenario. You have a great invention or product that could revolutionize the industry if widely adopted.  You successfully raise money on this value proposition, so surely the market will agree.  But somewhere between the patent and the product, tradeoffs must be made.  These tradeoffs affect quality, performance, price and other aspects of your product.  Your brand proposition is focused on the business model originally pitched to investors, while your brand perception is based on the actual product shipped to the customer - warts and all.  When the messages on your website, in advertisements, or spoken by your sales team don't match the end user experience, there is a tendency for the customer to suspect other claims you make.  And thus, you have lost credibility, trust, and possibly your customer.  Your brand is, therefore, at risk of being nothing but hype.

How do you affect your brand perception?

Tell the truth.  No, don't start by listing all your product's problems first, but focus on what your product does very well, and on what you can support with data. Take an empathetic approach to helping your prospective customer to make an informed purchasing decision.  After all, if you only fool them into purchasing your product, they will find out soon enough what it can and can’t do, right?  Results of this focused positioning approach include trust and market segmentation, both of which can be leveraged into your next product launch or upgrade.

If you are a Product Manager or Director of Marketing at a start up company and the founder is running the company, you may have trouble convincing him or her of this campaign of 'openness'.  Ever known a parent whose child can do no wrong?  The technology or product is the CEO's baby, and the CEO has likely spent a great deal of time raising money on the many promising applications of his new invention.  To now say that it cannot be everything to all markets may determine a total available market that is smaller than the hype.  Others within your company (those not in Sales) also may think the product is perfect as-is and should sell itself. "Don't make it easy for the competition by revealing our weaknesses," they may say. Taking a focused, honest approach to marketing your imperfect product will take courage and persistence.  To get you started, stand up, place your right hand over your heart, and repeat these words:

“I hereby appoint myself Brand Czar for this company, and I am responsible for the success of our brand.  I will become the expert on 1) what we do best and 2) for whom we do this.  As Brand Czar, I will forge long-term relationships with customers through honest dialogue and by delivering on every promise I make to them.”

Consider yourself deputized.  Start with the Sales team, people who usually know better than to say that the product is perfect.  Help them to find and to close prospects in areas where your product truly excels. These people may already be your customers, or you may require research, advertising, or direct mail to bring them into the fold.  You only need a handful of these customers, perhaps only 1 or 2. Foster those relationships to create loyalists and to get important feedback for continued improvement.  Let those loyalists be the voice to your CEO or the R&D team, stating clearly what your product does well and also where you might improve.

By appointing yourself as 'Brand Czar,' you become the voice of the customer, seeing your product through the eyes of the market - a powerful asset within any innovative company.

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