Branding in the 21st century

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Branding is included in any serious marketing strategy, but what exactly is branding? It’s not your logo.

Branding strategies that build stronger, more productive workforces

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Although this article is about branding, we won’t be exploring the complexity of brand research, logo design, brand persona, or positioning. Instead, this article will define what a brand really is — it may not be what you think. More specifically, this article will identify the importance of branding and the benefits when executed properly.

What is branding?

If you search for a definition of branding, you might come across this one— “Branding is a way of identifying a business. It is how consumers recognize a business or organization…” and goes on to describe a logo or mark that should be used consistently on marketing materials and uniforms. Although this is technically accurate, it only deals with the surface and not the true meaning of a brand. True branding incorporates the company’s mission, vision, and values—the company’s DNA. Living these values, a true brand is a promise you make to consumers when you do business with them.

Here’s an example: You are a trustworthy person. We know this because your friends, family, and colleagues tell us so. They tell us that when you’ve said that you were going to do something, you’ve always followed through. In fact, you’ve made and kept all of your promises and because of this, you created and reinforced your personal brand reputation as someone that people could count on — so your personal brand is that you are trustworthy.

The example above is how companies should think about their company branding. Brand logos and brand names should be memorable not because of their trendy graphics, marketing, and media. Instead, brand logos and brand names should be visual cues that trigger positive emotions toward the brand promise that is strengthened through consistent and positive consumer experiences.

How to develop a strong brand

Now just like every person is different, every company is unique and its brand should be personalized for each organization’s value system. Deciding what’s most important about your company is crucial to understanding the foundation of a strong brand. Fundamental elements of a brand promise should include:

Your brand must be authentic. Think of the values as the DNA of the brand. Since a brand is a promise, your brand must clearly define what the promise is and how it relates to the core values of your company.

Your brand promise must be significant to your audience. The perception of your brand promise must deliver something unique or better than the competition.

Your brand promise should be consistent across every touch-point. Consistency builds trust and brand loyalty. 

Total commitment to your brand promise. Everyone in your organization must live the brand promise in every phase of business—attitude, communications, experience, and delivery of goods and services. 

Why are brands so important? 

Whether you’re selling a nationally-known product or a regional or local product or service, strong brands are equally important to the success of your organization. Brands are both a strategic and financial asset. Strong brands set your company apart from your competitors. They increase customer loyalty which drives up the value of your company. Continued investments lead to continued strength and value. There are many other values to strong brands, but we’re outlining key benefits that relate to industrial and manufacturing companies. 

The first group of benefits relate to the public face and reputation of strong brands. 

Brand Value 
Win more bids and gain market share with a stronger brand.
A stronger brand allows you to set higher prices for your products and services. People associate higher quality with strong brands and may pay more for a well-branded product or service based on brand experience, reputation, and association with other well-branded companies, even when two products are practically identical. Why? Because strong brands keep their promise and people like to associate with people and brands they know and trust. Brand trust and brand loyalty are key metrics in assessing and evaluating brand performance and equity. 

Brand Loyalty
Retain loyal customers.
Business owners and business development experts know that it is easier and costs less to retain a customer than gain a new one. Although all customer relationships need continued nourishment, the fact is that loyal customers require far less marketing efforts and dollars. Loyal customers possess a great deal of trust in the people and within the companies they choose to do business with. This trust is not to be taken lightly — it must be earned and nurtured throughout the relationship. When brand equity is high, loyal customers become brand advocates and can actually help build new business through brand testimonials, recommendations, and referrals. 

Brand Expression
Create long-term brand awareness and recognition.
Through years of studies and research, we have a clear understanding of the profound effects of advertising. However, creating sustained brand awareness and recognition is the process of continuous and, more importantly, consistent communications that must strategically express the brand promise. Many marketing dollars have been wasted on misguided and ineffective marketing efforts. Effective communications and marketing messages that carefully express the true company values and brand promise will gain brand awareness and recognition and strengthen the brand with consumer trust and loyalty. 

Extending Brand Services
Grow business by launching new products and services.
With an established brand and reputation, it is easier to grow your business by offering new products and services. When consumers see a trusted brand on a new concept, they instantly associate the brand promise to that new product or service. Borrowing from earned value, strong brands can capitalize on the strength of a well-established brand to build market share with far less marketing efforts. 

The overall strength of most organizations is human capital. Simply put, companies will not build a strong brand without a strong workforce. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked and misunderstood fact of all branding concepts. We’ll link the importance of branding with healthy workforces. 

Branding Attracts Talent 
Recruit the best talent.
Strong brands help companies recruit and retain the most talented, passionate, and loyal employees. When handled strategically, attracting and managing talent is based on the organization’s value system. This enables employees to understand and participate in the overall direction of the company where every employee feels as if they are part of something bigger than their current project or position. Giving employees opportunities for personal and professional growth helps to create employee engagement, loyalty, and a fulfilled workforce that understands and lives the brand promise every day. 

Branding Creates Strong Workforces
Eliminate high employee turnovers.
It is well-known that high employee turnovers cost the industrial and manufacturing market millions of dollars every year. What isn’t known, however, is the connection to (or lack of) branding. Studies show that companies with great brands have lower employee turnovers. Why? Most people are motivated by purpose and desire to make a connection to something good that is bigger than themselves. The science of human motivation shows that people genuinely want to have a lasting impact on their work—they just don’t know how. As part of your brand promise, employers must incorporate brand development into personnel on-boarding and training. Businesses who incorporate purpose-driven branding strategies create a more engaged, motivated, and happy workforce. 

Branding Ambassadors
Develop employee branding advocates to strengthen your brand.
All companies have unique work cultures. Those who get it right have curated cultures of purpose-driven and rewarded workplaces that are happy to say good things about their purpose. Every single employee is either an advocate that helps build and broadcast your brand promise or someone who tears it down with negativism and toxic attitudes. The process of developing employee advocates and branding ambassadors starts with strategic and consistent internal communications and brand awareness. Your employees, distributors, and associates play a crucial role in delivering the promise. They create and distribute products and services that deliver the brand promise. Brand ambassadors help to continuously strengthen the brand. Maintaining this effort requires continuous and, most importantly, consistent communications to the biggest group of people who have the power to strengthen your brand.

Road map to a productive communications plan

Kirk Theriot - 2019

In our first communications article, we explored the importance of effective communication. In our last communications article, we explored the high cost of miscommunication. To tie everything together, we have drafted a road map to a productive communications plan. Download the template here:

2121 Communications Plan 2121 Communications Plan (2244 KB)

The cost of poor communications

Kirk Theriot - 2019

In our previous post, we explored how effective, audience-focused communications are critical to driving positive results, meeting strategic goals, and creating a healthy work environment. An essential tool across all businesses, a communications plan is a road map for getting a message across to an audience, pinpointing who you need to get information to as well as when and how you intend to communicate it.

In this post we’ll explore the high cost of miscommunication. Let’s talk.

How many times have you been in an argument or a disagreement with someone over what you thought they said, only to later find that the person meant something completely different from what you thought they meant? Have you set off workplace warfare by sending or receiving an email that sounded rude or insulting?

The cost of poor communications is felt equally by large and small businesses. A survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year, reported David Grossman in his book, The Cost of Poor Communications. In the article, “Top Ten Email Blunders that Cost Companies Money,” Debra Hamilton stated that even smaller companies of 100 employees or less are impacted on average of $420,000 per year.

Poor communications in the workplace lead to an impressive list of issues and inefficiencies. These top our list:

Failed project delivery. The true cost of failed or poorly-executed projects is immeasurable. Missed due dates, cost blowouts, budget overruns, and project cancellation costs are massive.

Increased employee absenteeism and turnover. Inadequate, inefficient, and inconsistent communications severely impacts employee motivation and workplace morale. People who voluntarily leave to find other employment is a significant cost to any employer.

Greater incidences of injuries. Occupational health and safety accidents and stress-related illnesses cost organizations billions of dollars each year. Inadequate communication and lack of quality and consistent training is a major factor in many of these incidents.

Retailers are negatively affected by misguided or confusing consumer communications as well as poor internal communications with personnel.

Poor customer service. Poor communications with employees lead to frustrating communications with customers. Employees who lack guidance from management and are locked out of genuine dialogue about their job struggle to know how to satisfy customers and lose the commitment to do so.

Increased employee absenteeism and turnover. Employee turnover is staggering in retail. Lack of communications and poor communications contribute to uninformed, unappreciated, and unfulfilled workers.

Loss of sales. Ineffective communication and marketing efforts are the death of many retail and service-based companies. Inadequately-produced materials fail to get noticed and poor communications turn potential customers away.

Consider these factors for better communications.

1. Be audience-focused. Targeted message resonate with intended audience.

2. Be persistent in your communications. Good communication is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice and feedback to get better.

3. Be aware of nonverbal communication. Concentrate on tone of voice, eye contact, and your body language. An individual’s facial expression and body language can be a powerful message that is delivered involuntarily. Recognize that your message may be perceived different than originally intended.

4. Create mission-driven messages. Employees become more efficient and feel more valued when they can visually see their role in the puzzle of the company.

5. Create a dialogue. Employees often make assumptions because they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, and we know what happens when people act off of assumptions alone.

6. Create ownership. Employees must recognize that their role is not only important, but it is critical to the overall success of the organization.

7. Stop making excuses. Commit to getting better. Allocate the necessary time, energy, and resources to deliver quality-minded, highly-strategic messages.

Ensuring consistent and strategic communications will enable you to connect the dots for employees between their roles, increase customer retention, and increase donor resources and donations. Money talks!

In our final post on effective, audience-focused communications, we’ll draft a road map for a productive communications plan.

4 steps to effective, audience-focused communications

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Effective communication in the workplace is critical to driving positive results, meeting strategic goals, and creating a healthy work environment. Poor or nonexistent communications eventually become crippling to any thriving business. Disconnected and inconsistent consumer communications contribute to lost sales in retail as well as declining resources and donations for nonprofits.

The start of a new year is the perfect opportunity to review last year’s accomplishments and develop a plan for this year’s successes. Make effective communications a part of your overall business plan.

To get 2019 off to a productive start, we’re focusing on a series of posts addressing audience-focused communications, staring with an essential tool across all businesses. A communications plan is a road map for getting a message across to an audience, pinpointing who you need to get information to as well as when and how you intend to communicate it.

Here’s my 4-step plan to create an effective, audience-focused communications plan.

1. Review and define your overall communication objectives.

What do you want to achieve, when, and why? Examine what your organization stands for: its mission, values, and belief systems. Define organizational goals. Look closely at who your organization is serving. This process will help narrow and sharpen the focus for your communication initiative(s). Plans will (and should) vary widely based on specifically defined objectives for your exact purpose. Here’s a few examples:

Internal Corporate Communications— Objective: Develop a plan to better communicate the company DNA to its employees. Help personnel find meaning and purpose in their role in the company and to feel part of something that is bigger than themselves or a simple paycheck.

External Corporate Communications— Objective: Create a consistent brand voice and integrated branding materials to strengthen brand awareness, create a positive corporate culture for company, community and world, and help grow the bottom line.

Project or Corporate Initiative— Objective: Help drive a successful program. Good communication is the backbone of any successful project. Get everyone on the same page— clear, concise communications, minimizing confusion, and getting buy-in.

Non-profit Organization— Objective: Create a force to raise awareness and increase donations. Great communications both internally and externally can provide many benefits, such as helping personnel understand and adopt the mission of the organization, consistently brand the vision of the organization, and rally the donors.

Retail, Online store, Service— Objective: Launch a successful campaign. Consumers are savvy shoppers and respond to smart communications and branded materials. Marketing your goods and services with creative materials will get the results you’re looking for.

2. Identify and understand your audience[s].

Think of "audiences" as groups that you need to communicate with. Whether you need to communicate general day-to-day information, “big news" about major changes, or sales campaigns, effective communications understand and speak directly to their audiences. Know your audience by asking these questions: What do they need to know? What do they know already? What do they want to hear? What's their preferred way of receiving information? What will stop them listening to what you have to say? And how will you know that they have got the message?

Often, you may have one or more audience with different communications objectives. Clarify specific objectives for each audience. List all of your objectives (there may be several) for each audience in your plan.

3. Plan Messaging and Channels

Once you have clarified your objectives and got a full understanding of the different audiences that you need to communicate with, it's time to plan your message. We’ll break this down into two parts:

Wordsmithing and content creation— Create an outline to help define what you need to write in order to meet your objectives. From this outline, draft up copy for all aspects of the communications plan:

Spoken language— Define terms and language used to talk about the objective.

Written language— Develop the language used in basic and promotional communications.

Marketing language— Create professionally designed materials needed to carry out and promote the objective.

Media and publishing your messages—Specify how these messages will be delivered to best reach your target audience. Make a list of all possible communications channels and media options. You probably already use lots of great communications channels in your company, but think creatively and brainstorm unique ways to further reach your audience.

Depending on the communications objective[s], you may choose to hire a professional group to develop and create the actual materials needed to launch the objective. The work that you have completed to this point will be extremely valuable to that team. The deep dive into the goals and objectives of this exercise will guide the creative team to deliver targeted materials that will resinate with your audience and achieve your goals. This is how every project with a professional design or marketing team should start, but unfortunately, rarely does.

4. Test and Monitor Effectiveness

Even with analytics, company stats, and a great deal of thought, it’s easy to get it wrong. It's good to get feedback as early as possible and often through the development process to refine and focus the message. Test concepts with people from different audiences. Test to know if your target audience understand the messages, that they have "buy in," and that they are tuned in to the channels you’ll be using to publish the content.

During the lifetime of the communications objective, monitor program with timely feedback while fine-tuning current and future communication messaging and promotions. This will help steer your program towards success.

How to produce content people actually want to read

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Make it interactive
The transformation of digital communication has radically altered the way we consume content. Consumer behavior and expectations are speeding up this change as younger generations of consumers have moved up to manage and lead business and commerce. They are accustomed to instant access to global content at all times.

Make it mobile
According to the Pew Research Center, about 77% of Americans own a smartphone and about 1/3 of Americans own a digital tablet. The rapid rise of mobile and digital technologies has reshaped the manner in which the world creates and consumes information. This change is profoundly affecting how we produce and distribute content. The relative affordability of mobile technology is another catalyst for the digital transformation, as it allows a growing number of businesses to utilize the latest tools in their quest to engage with company personnel as well as commerce.

Bring your communications to life
If you spent marketing dollars creating fantastic corporate brochures, annual reports, and catalogs, why not get the maximum benefit for that dollar? Create a rich and rewarding user experience with interactive and digital documents. By bringing your publication to life, you can dramatically increase audience participation and effectiveness.

Benefits of Digital Content for B to B

1. Increase participation and understanding—Interactive documents increase user participation with inviting content that engages users longer with better recall.

Bring content to life with interactive content: 

  • Animation—to guide the user in a fluid manner 
  • Video—to engage all of the senses for better communications 
  • Animated GIFs–to highlight important content 
  • Multi-state objects—to give user options to engage with content 
  • Embedded HTML and CSS content (like YouTube videos, social media and other digital content) 
  • Button actions—to easily navigate document 
  • Scrollable frames–for responsive content viewing on smaller screens 
  • Custom page transitions–for more sophisticated presentations 

2. Increase Productivity—Keep documents up to date. Easily update and maintain digital document in real time.

3. Decrease Cost—Skip the cost of print and reprinting documents that require constant updates.

4. Save Time—Focus your time on content creation and skip the time required for printing and distribution. Go digital and publish immediately.

Benefits of Digital Content for B to C

1. Increase conversion rates—Interactive publications increase conversion rates, and repeat buyers.

2. Increased sign-up rates—Interactive publications increase the number of visitors who make contact with advertisers.

3. Increase search results—Interactive publications are a great solution to accommodate shoppers who don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, as well as for readers who want to browse articles for a topic they enjoy.

4. Create more multi-channel buyers—Interactive publication such as eCatalogs create more multi-channel buyers.

This is an example of an interactive pdf file that is published on the ISSUU Digital Publishing Platform. This document incorporates roll-over features and buttons with links. The links allows users to gain additional information on other channels like websites, Youtube videos, and social media. Click image to view.

SparkFORCE Industrial
This is an example of an electronic document that uses HTML and CSS programming language to create a highly interactive and user-driven publication. The document connects with users by involving all of the human senses. People have different learning/communication preferences and this option allows the user to craft a unique experience that best fits their unique preferences. Right out of the gate, the piece give the user an option to consume the content by document or by video. If the user chooses the document, they also have an option to read the animated content or view the content while they hear the content with a voice over feature. This feature is different from a video, because it allows the user to set the pace for content delivery. This document gives the user complete control. Users can customize their specific user experience which suits them best. Click image to view.

Move sales with moving masterpieces

Kirk Theriot - 2019
Bring your product or process to life with 3D animation.

Is it time to get visual with a 3D-animated industrial presentation? • Explain the technical benefits of you product • Highlight hidden features • Communicate detailed industrial processes

Animate your product to move your sales!

Create talent factories

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Organizations that outperform their competition know that strategic talent management is essential in building the right workforce necessary for precise business execution.

A number of studies reveal that well over 60% of industrial organizations find it extremely difficult to engage, develop, and advance their workforce. In fact, many have no talent management strategy at all, despite all that is known about the importance of developing a well-trained workforce. Many small business HR departments are simply ill-equipped to establish a company culture that nurtures talent and promotes high-performing employees on a consistent basis.

Without a plan, organizations often react to immediate and urgent needs rather than proactively procuring and nurturing a well-rounded talent pool. However, to drive optimal levels of success, business leaders need engaged, high-performing employees at every level. Through employee-focused incentive programs, talented people are mentored and coached to reach their full potential, which supports both the employee and the employer. Making your company a talent factory will allow engaged employees to rise up the ranks of the company to master new challenges and opportunities.

The key to transforming a workforce into greatness is to align your talent management plan with your company strategy.

Talent management, when handled strategically, is based on the organization’s mission, vision, values, and goals. This enables employees to participate in the overall direction of the company where every employee feels as if they are part of something bigger than their current job. People genuinely want to have a lasting impact on their work and their ability to contribute. Giving employees opportunities for personal and professional growth helps to create employee engagement and loyalty. Companies that figure out how to retain and manage quality talent can build workforces that impact the bottom line. Knowing that you’ll have the right talent in place to handle the job, you will able to identify and develop specific competencies that position your company for continued growth.

How to increase workforce productivity

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Are your employees on a need-to-know basis? If so, you may be derailing your efforts to increase workforce productivity. Your workforce represents your most significant long-term investment. It ultimately determines the success or failure of your organization. Engaged employees are far more likely to demonstrate the dedication and commitment that are essential to the long-term growth of your company.

The foundation for genuine employee engagement begins with extensive and consistent communications.

Helping employees become more invested in their work begins with honest and open communications. On-going communications and messaging can transform levels of engagement, drive up productivity, and produce a rewarding work environment.

A Harvard Business Review article reported that “on average, 95 percent of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy.” With this massive disconnect, it’s no surprise that only 3 out of 10 workers report being engaged in their role. If you expect employees to connect their work efforts to your organization’s success, you must effectively communicate organizational strategy.

In a survey conducted by The Corporate Leadership Board, employees from all over the world reported that the single most important factor in driving engagement is a strong connection between their work and their company’s organizational strategy. This research reinforces the fact that employees become engaged and more invested in their work when they have a clear understanding of why their role is important to the mission and how it contributes to the overall success of the organization.

Effective communication is important to employees, managers, senior leaders, and other stakeholders. Keeping employees informed with personal, relevant, and engaging communication gives companies a competitive edge and has direct results on the bottom line. In a recent article in, Mahan Tavakoli, Regional Vice President with Dale Carnegie Training, outlines key factors of a successful, open, and honest communications plan, including a clear and detailed internal communications plan, a wide variety of communications channels, and encouraging feedback from employees.

What really motivates employees?

Kirk Theriot - 2019

Employees are the most crucial asset of today’s organizations, and employee satisfaction is one of the most important drivers of continuous workforce improvement. Some companies are faced with a mammoth challenge to keep their people motivated, especially in environments that fail to make employee satisfaction a part of their core business strategy. So here’s the question: What really motivates employees to produce? Is it money? Recognition? Job satisfaction? Benefits? Opportunities? If you think you know the answer, you may be surprised by the facts.

Are we motivated by money?

Ask the average American worker, and I’ll bet that you’ll hear a resounding “Of course! Everybody knows that.” However, there is a great deal of disconnect between what business does and what science knows. The fact is the old 20th century “carrot and stick” extrinsic motivation won’t work on the modern workforce, and the research behind this science is strong. A paper Large Stakes and Big Mistakes, by D. Ariely, U. Gneezy, G. Lowenstein, and N. Mazar for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, stated that “as long as the task involves only mechanical skill, financial rewards worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.” So unless you’re looking to hire people who are only expected to do robotic tasks that don’t require thinking and good judgment, motivating people with money won’t work. The London School of Economics went even further: “We find that financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

Most people are motivated by purpose and desire to make a connection to something good that is bigger than themselves

The science of human motivation shows that people genuinely want to have a lasting impact on their work—they just don’t know how. If an employee can first identify the impact that a project will have on the company, his or her team, and career, then that project will become much more meaningful than just busy work. Companies that figure out how to bridge this gap not only will have a workforce that knows how to impact the bottom line, but will also be more engaged in the long run.

Career analyst Daniel Pink, who delivered a TED Talk on the puzzle of motivation, outlines key factors necessary to engage and motivate our 21st-century American workforce. Daniel states, “People are motivated by the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they are interesting, because they are part of something that is important.” Employers who incorporate purpose-driven strategies will create more engaged, motivated, and happy employees.