After watching his family’s business nearly hit rock bottom, Jeremy and his family were forced to take a long hard look at the way the company was run and at the industry as a whole. Jeremy realized it wasn’t his company’s sales people or marketing processes that were failing, it was their brand.
This caused him to regroup, revamp, and rebrand the business. Today's interview covers some of his fundamental principles.
Alzay Calhoun: Hey everybody, it's Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant. Today, I'm here with Jeremy Miller, and I learned about Jeremy because he runs a LinkedIn group, called Sticky Branding. It's a good group. It's got a lot of good conversation in it. He's got his own perspective on what branding means, how we can use it, how it's applicable to our business, so I want to leverage his insight today. First let me welcome him. Hello Jeremy. How are you today?
Jeremy Miller: I am awesome Alzay. Thanks for having me.
Alzay Calhoun: You bet, you bet. Let's start with a definition of branding. It's a commonly misunderstood, or misapplied term. How would you define branding?
Jeremy Miller: I look at branding as a relationship with your customers. For most people, they go "It's the logo, the tag lines, the colors, or names. It's that thing that you're putting out into the world." For me a brand, especially a Sticky Brand, is when somebody knows you, likes you, and trusts you. The measure of success is when somebody chooses you first. They think of you first. They refer you first. They come back again and again. That human bond, that connection your form with the business, or the product is the brand. It's the holding on, the company that's trying to create these relationships to invest in their product, their service, their reputation, all those moving parts that form and nurture those relationships. What we're striving for in a brand, is to create a first choice advantage.
Alzay Calhoun: Excellent, first choice advantage. You said a couple of things in that definition I want to dig into. Let's start with first choice advantage, what does that mean, practically, to be a first choice advantage, or have that advantage?
Jeremy Miller: When you think of any remarkable brand, whether it's Apple, Nike, Starbucks, or your favorite restaurant that you go to, every Friday. They all have the one thing in common, you choose them first. You think of them first. You talk about them first. When someone asks you for a recommendation, you recommend them first. That's what a first choice advantage is. It's the connection where somebody knows you, likes you, and trusts you, and goes out of their way to deliberately select you. The thing that I love about that definition is, you don't have to be a global brand with a billion dollar ad budget to create it. Anyone of any size, can do great work for their customers, so they have that moment where their customers couldn't imagine going somewhere else, where their customers could be offered something cheaper, and they will say "No, I really already have the best option."
Alzay Calhoun: By the way, let me highlight that, what you just said is, that positioning is protected, so if they choose you first, that means everybody else is second, so when a secondary option is offered, they say "No" to that, because they already have a primary one, which is yours.
Jeremy Miller: Let's go nerdy on that for a second. There's a concept I talk about called the 3% rule, and what that argues is that at any given time, 3% of your customers are buying, the rest are not. Most marketing messages fall on deaf ears. You're trying to find leads, you're trying to get people in the path of search, whether it's through Google, or through referral or through some kind of campaign, but most of the time our customers are not buying. What a first choice advantage does, is if you've built a relationship say 3 years before somebody has a need, they don't go to Google. They go to you.
The person they call first has a significant competitive advantage in the sales process, because you control the conversation. You control the expectations. You set the tone. If you do a great job in that first sales meeting, they won't even kick the tires and look at other things, they will just buy because they know you, like you, and trust you.
Alzay Calhoun: Okay, so setting up that good sales meeting ... Earlier you talk about these moving parts, all the elements that come together to make a brand. Can you highlight some of those moving parts? What are we talking about there?
Jeremy Miller: It will depend on the business and it will depend on the industry, but the best way to think about it is, what are your customer touch points? Where are they interacting with you? Is it in a retail location? Is it your web site? Is it your social media? Where are they connecting to you as a brand? You mentioned at the start of this call that you came across me through my LinkedIn group Sticky Branding. That's one of my outposts. That's one of my touch points that I have to nurture and maintain. Because I'm a consultant, my touch points are primarily digital, but I also have a book and other things where people will connect and interact with me.
Another business might be more brick and mortar, and store front. Whatever it is that is those interaction points, are where the moving parts really are. If someone's picking up the phone and talking to you, you better have great customer service, and well trained people. If somebody's coming to your web site as the first point, you better have a website the speaks as well as you do to convey that message. Those are the areas that you're going to develop to grow your brand.
Alzay Calhoun: Excellent, excellent, excellent. I want to ask a question that isn't typically asked, but matters a bunch, it's in the back of a listener's mind. How do I measure the impact of this branding stuff? Let's say I get it and I bought into, and I begin to do the things that you're describing? I got to measure it at some point. At some point I got to put it against the P&L, so what things can I use to measure the impact of quality branding?
Jeremy Miller: Your sales. I call them the 3 Vs: volume, velocity, and value. What does your business strategy require of your brand and your marketing? Your marketing is servicing your business. What does your business need? Do you need more customers, then you're priority's going to be volume. You need more sales inquiries, you need more brand awareness. That's very measurable, because you can track leads and other sales metrics based on awareness. Velocity is the speed in which a customer moves us through the cycles. Maybe you're getting overwhelmed with demand, and you need to optimize your process, or maybe you see in your process that customers are falling out of the funnel at some point. They get to the shopping cart and then they drop out. That's and area where you're creating distance. Maybe you need to optimize the customer experience so that you don't have those problems.
The third metric is value, which is competitive immunity, or price protection, so that people aren't going to shop around so you could compare, say Apple to Dell. People might buy a whole lot of different PC products switching from Dell, to HP, to whoever, but the people who buy Apple, buy Apple. That's competitive immunity. Those are 3 metrics, volume, velocity, and value. As a smaller, midsize business, realistically you can only focus on one of those metrics at a time, so you choose a priority, and then you measure how your brand is aiding in that, whether it's your marketing programs, your sales programs, or whatever sales components you're talking about, but that's how you measure if it's working for you.
Alzay Calhoun: Very good. Very good. Thank you. Thank you. We often have this branding conversation without putting it against some business metrics. You did a phenomenal job of that. Thank you. Let's talk to some baby steps. If branding is a brand new topic for you. You like it, you're aware of it, but you have no idea of the connection between your brand and your customer's, your band and your operations. Where do you suggest a business leader starts?
Jeremy Miller: Your customers. I have a concept that I call simple clarities. It's actually the first principle of my book, Sticky Branding. Simple clarity is the ability to describe who you are, what you do and what makes you unique in ideally 10 words or less. So simply and succinctly describe your brand. The way I would measure that is, think of it as a label on a file folder. It's just the description of what your business is, and someone goes, got it, checks it, puts it in the filing cabinet in their brain. What you can do, is you need to establish that first. Can you describe your brand, or your business, in 10 words or less?
The way to test that is to get out in front of your customers and talk to them. Introduce yourself, tell them what you do. If they get it immediately, you're on the right track. If they have questions or it just gets fuzzy, you need to work on it. The starting point for any branding project is simple clarity, the ability to describe yourself simply and succinctly, and the way to validate that, the best way, is to get in front of your customers, and pitch it over, and over again.
Alzay Calhoun: Excellent, excellent. For those companies who say, "Okay, we've don't that. We're already in that process. We already have a branding program, but they admit it's not working. On some level what they have is not working. Where are some check points, or how you think about having that conversation to discover what's not working?
Jeremy Miller: At that point, I would say you've got a business strategy problem. Typically when you are talking about branding, it's a symptom of something not working. They don't like my name. We don't have the right appearance. They can't differentiate us from the competition. There's something going on that's causing the organization to have branding on the brain.
If that's the case, you should take a step back and look at your business plan. Do you know where you want to play? Do you have a strategy of where to play and how to win in your market? Do you have a strategy to grow awareness and move the sales funnel? Do you have the right product or service the market? Are you innovating in those areas in terms of creating the best product and service? These are big questions, but they are all at your business, so your business will drive what your marketing does, not the other way around. If you are sitting there going, "Oh man, my logo's crap," you're having the wrong conversation.
Alzay Calhoun: I appreciate that. You just said, "Your business tells your marketing what to do, not the other way around." Did I capture that right?
Jeremy Miller: Absolutely.
Alzay Calhoun: Very good. I was going to ask you ... Let me ask you anyway, so you can go ahead and say it. "If your branding isn't working," and you're on revision number 10 of your logo, or revision number 13 of your web site, you would say what?
Jeremy Miller: I'd say, "You're on the right track. Here's the irony in all this. If you're a growing business you are constantly revising and renovating and updating, and tweaking your marketing materials and your content. If you think, using Starbucks as an example, go back and look at the history of the Starbucks logo. From the early '80s through the '90s, the store designs, the logos, there was all this change going on in the way the business was run. They were essentially hacking the business to find a scalable model. One of the challenges that I find in terms of branding, is people think it's, "Set it and forget it." That's absolutely not the way to go, because to grow your business, you have to constantly be transforming, so you find a scalable model, then you ride that wave until you start plateauing, then you go through the energy again to continue to reinvest yourself, and you go through the growth phase again, as he spits and stomps as you try and renovate.
The company that is renovating to get to the next level is doing the right stuff. The company that is renovating because they don't know why it's not working, probably needs to take a step back. You're going to keep changing. The reason is, are you changing to serve a strategy, to test something, to test the hypothesis to measure something, or are you just changing because you're thrashing around and don't know what the hell you're doing?
Alzay Calhoun: As companies are trying to get help with some portion of this, they could go to a creative agency, they could go to a digital agency, they could go to an ad agency, there's many different service providers or vendors who can help with this. What advice would you give to help a business leader navigate those different types of agencies, so they could be working with one other or a mix, etc? What advice would you have?
Jeremy Miller: Strategy dictates your partners. If you are trying to build a strategy, you might want to work with someone like myself that works on the strategic end of marketing, in terms of positing, core messaging, etc. There's a value in having product agnostic, or survey agnostic partners that really are focused on the strategic end of your business. In terms of execution, you're going to gravitate toward the partners that will serve your marketing strategy the best. If you are a company that's doing a lot of inbound marketing, you're not necessarily going to go to a traditional agency that does a lot of advertising, you're going to go to someone who's great at content, understand FCO and FCM, understands social end distribution, because today content creation is nothing without content distribution.
Again, you have an opportunity to choose the best partner for the strategy or for the program you're trying to execute on. The other piece of advice with this is, choose partners that you can work with for a long time. The best relationships grow over time. If you just started with one campaign, and then flipped to the next agency, and flipped to the next agency, you're constantly in a state of learning. If you can empower your agencies to execute these campaigns and bring more value to the table over time, you'll be so much further ahead.
Alzay Calhoun: Thank you for saying that. There is an expectation that if I go to any agency, they'll help me with my strategy, too. They'll give me the strategy, and then they'll do it all for me. Sometimes that's true depending on who we're talking about. That's not always true, and you can find yourself 6 months into a campaign that's not working, because you didn't get the strategic help you should have gotten in the first place.
Jeremy Miller: This is a little complicated to explain, but if you think of the marketing industry, or any industry as a curve. At the bottom of the curve is transactional service providers. In our industry, it's graphic designers, web developers, print brokers, etc.
As you go up the curve, you'll get into agencies, and then at the top of the curve might be the strategists, or the global agencies that are working on the really big things. The challenge is, from say a networking perspective is, people only refer down the curve, they don't refer up the curve. The challenge I face, is I can refer a lot of working down to varying agencies, because of the level of relationship I hold in a company. The problem is, say I refer a lot of work up to a web developer, it's not likely that web shop's going to refer much up to me, and the reason is twofold. Number 1, they don't see the world from the same vantage point; and 2, they're going to try to adapt their services to solve the problem.
What you'll see often with agencies is they will bundle strategy and advice into the sales process. They'll essentially give it away to sell billable services on the backend. As a client, you have to recognize that you are basically going through a process to be sold other services versus building a strategy. That's the misnomer that we see in the marketing industry.
Alzay Calhoun: Well said. All I can do is 2nd that. Well said. What in your business is Sticky Branding? What big project did you have coming up this year? What are you working on right now?
Jeremy Miller: The biggest project that I'm working on right now is I'm implementing pardot, which is a marketing automation system. Are you familiar with marketing automation?
Alzay Calhoun: I am, yeah.
Jeremy Miller: For the listeners who might not be, marketing automation is tools like Hubspot, or Infusionsoft, or Marketo, and Pardot. Pardot is salesforce.com's automation sweep. I'm just so excited about this category. I started my career off on the CRM industry back in the late '90s and early 2000s, when it was in its infancy, and it was transformational. My view is marketing automation is the next big technological way for me to be, because it connects your web site, your email, and your content, and your CRM, all into one platform so you have intelligence plus action. I've got my hands really into this right now, to A, accelerate my business, but 2, I just think this is the next frontier in terms of digital marketing.
Alzay Calhoun: Excellent, excellent. If somebody wants to contact you and your company, what's the best way to go about doing that?
Jeremy Miller: I'm at StickyBranding.com. You actually do Google, Sticky Branding, you will find my book which is called, Sticky Branding, you'll find the Sticky Branding LinkedIn group, you'll find me on all the social networks at Sticky Branding, so I'm pretty consistent on that, but yeah, feel free to reach out to me anywhere and anytime.
Alzay Calhoun: Wonderful, wonderful. Jeremy, I appreciate your time today. You've nailed it, and we've done the good work today. I just want to say thank you, and good luck in the future.
Jeremy Miller: Thanks Alzay. I love what you're doing too. This is fantastic.