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SMEs and the Importance of Creating Positive Customer Experiences

By dint of size, growth and contribution to the UK economy, the small to medium sized business is the ‘new black’. But while the UK government is just beginning to recognise its importance by the recent introduction of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act and making strides in encouraging young enterprise, many established SMEs are still in recovery from a long and punishing recession.

With the influence of e-commerce, the increased use of social media and online referrals it has become harder for some businesses to keep hold of customers or clients, so it has never been more important for SMEs to review their customer strategy.

Customer Journey

 

WDG Research over a number of years has used market insights to assist B2B and B2C clients create a successful customer experience (CX). We have also spoken to associates that operate in the SME B2B sector and, for them, maintaining a positive and authentic client relationship is crucial to their success.

 

Here are some thoughts shared:

B2C SME

Business media frequently publishes articles on customer excellence achieved by big brands, paying little attention to customer facing SME businesses. Yet smaller businesses are often more able to deliver a good customer experience and generate brand fans without huge investment, by simply delivering a consistently reliable optimised service.

Why is this important? Customer reviews online has become the ‘go to’ default for many intended customers, from Trip Advisor to Google Reviews, even for local businesses. Facebook and Snapchat provide an opportunity to share and discuss (mainly negative) experiences amongst a wide audience. B2C businesses need all the positive reviews they can get.

There are simple strategies which create CX success which small businesses can adopt. WDG’s insights from CX studies reveal some basic expectations:

  • Reliability: consistent quality and delivery of service/product
  • Personalised service: customer is treated as an individual (i.e beyond the CRM)
  • Uncomplicated channels of communication: navigable website, accessible and friendly call centre, minimal telephony routeing – continue a consistent positive experience across all channels
  • Rapid resolution of issues

First Direct is an example of how to get it right from the very beginning. In 2014 it came top of a list of 263 UK brands in a study conducted by Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre. First Direct consistently delivers a personal service where staff knowledge and empathy play an important part. How do they do it? By way of meeting and often exceeding customers’ expectations, because the customer – rather than the profit motive – is placed at the centre of their business in the knowledge that positive financial results will follow.

Another example is Waitrose, which was in the top 10 brands in Nunwood’s study. The partner-ownership model lies at the heart of its customer experience: MD Andy Street says “being served by an owner…is bound to see you getting better service at the front line.” And while the Top 4 retailers find themselves in an ongoing price war with ALDI and Lidl, Waitrose is able to take an outside position.

Suggested best practice for B2C SMEs: the training and culture within the company should tie in with delivering a great customer experience. Establish social media monitoring and pay attention to negative reviews. Even though they are less able to commit and sustain the same relative levels of funding for CX programs afforded by the big brands, SMEs can adopt a customer centric approach, and consistent good standard of service.

B2B SME

Out of the limelight, customer excellence in business to business is a greater challenge. With fewer customer accounts, a tendency to longer sales cycles, and servicing a range of client roles, planning a CX strategy is more challenging but nonetheless important.

There are a number of cornerstones to achieving a good experience and ultimately greater business opportunities:

  • Handshakedemonstrating a good understanding of the client’s sector and its traditional culture
  • customer confidence that they are working with a reliable company
  • the supplier is seen to genuinely care about making a difference to the customer both in strategic and commercial terms.

 

Every business sector has its own culture and norms. This is particularly prevalent in professional services such as accountants, solicitors, patent attorneys, barristers etc. From formal language to formal suit, suppliers need to understand the rules and processes and assess what approach is needed. Tom Horigan of Horigan Professional Services Marketing says that in this sector decisions are not taken lightly and the process from enquiry to adoption can typically take 18-24 months.

Nick Wake of Awaken marketing and communication services, who primarily operates in leisure, sport and I

T sectors says that availability is important, “the client knows that they can contact me at any time…I will always get back to them as soon as I can”.

Reliability and trust are also important functions of a strong client-supplier relationship across most SME business sectors. Setting the parameters on expectations from the outset and being honest and transparent about issues that arise really benefits the relationship and the overall client experience.

So often in business-to-business interactions the focus is on selling and hitting targets rather than helping the client improve their operational efficiencies or achieving their growth targets. Tom Horigan says “a positive client experience comes from really understanding what the firm wants to achieve and recognising that each firm is different in terms of structure, culture and ambition”.

Some small businesses work with subcontractors. Maintaining a positive client experience extends to the external agents you work with. Nick Wake suggests if you are working together for a client under your company brand, you need to be sharing the same values.

Suggested best practice for B2B SMEs: be comfortable with the company culture before entering a transaction with a new client as dissonant values may hamper a smooth relationship; keep communication channels open, engender trust and transparency; be prepared to take ownership of issues and respond quickly; exceed expectations.

Jeff Bezos quoteIn general

Every small business sector can benefit from placing the customer/client at the centre of its operations and employing staff who are 100% on board with the strategy. It is obvious to most customers when a company has no inherent interest in them and is just focussed on the transaction. Why should the customer return to that business if the same service or product can be found elsewhere?

It is an unassailable truth that all customers arrive at a number of touchpoints with their supplier, irrespective of the length or duration of their engagement. The first touchpoint could be a website, a sales call, or a face to face interaction. At this entry point the supplier’s brand promise is formed in the eyes of the prospect so it has to be spot on. Other entry points could be a referral or introduction, and in that instance the supplier is managing the reputation of the referee as well as his own. Thereafter touchpoints become all and any interaction with the suppliers from communication channels (text, email, phone) and published articles including blogs, to face to face meetings. If any touchpoint fails to deliver this creates a dissonance in the relationship.

There are few companies whose business flows smoothly without any issues. Companies that deliver customer experience excellence know how to resolve issues swiftly to reinstate the customer’s positive associations with them. Often a sincere apology, accepting responsibility for the issue, and rapid remedial action is sufficient. In some instances the issues may conceal a deeper problem which requires greater introspection, and a review of the internal processes of the company.

At the heart of positive customer experience strategy is making every customer feel valued so that they will return and, most importantly, recommend the business to their network.

Why are Companies Loving Their Private Online Communities?

Corporate and brand image is indivisible in today’s global social streaming online culture. It is not enough to listen in on conversations, marketing needs to be at the heart of it all, steering consumers’ views in positive directions and using a tone of voice across all media that is compelling.

investigate Private Online Communities have become a popular research tool amongst marketers for trying out ideas amongst an engaged population of consumers. Companies benefit by developing products and services that are co-designed by the people who will use them, they also benefit because they have a deeper understanding of their customers. Marketing communications become more in tune with the language that motivates and works for their audience on different media and devices.

Private because few marketers want to share their ideas with their competitors.

What is a Private Online Community?

This is an invitation-only targeted community of consumers brought together on a web platform for the purpose of enabling marketing to gain valuable insights over a period of time.

Communities are frequently built around internal CRM databases and often use people who are already signed up to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc and are active in expressing their views and sharing posts.  The community will share a common interest in a brand, product or service, or represent a specific customer segment. Their views and opinions are important and marketing can dip in and out to test ideas and hypotheses amongst this brand savvy audience.

Examples of types of research for online communities:

Co-creation, Concept development and progression, Semiotics, Surveys, Customer journey development, Tracking studies, Advertising development  

Are communities an expensive way to do research?

Yes and no. There are of course limitations to a defined panel and it is not ideal for all research needs; factoring in the cost of a panel as well as other research requirements may be prohibitive.

But if the client has a regular requirement for research of the type listed earlier which a defined community can address there can be considerable cost and time savings over traditional online research methods. For companies which require frequent feedback, and may be going through a development or change process, or who are running a long term customer engagement or communications program, a panel is a cost effective solution.

Who manages the community?

insightA community manager keeps the panellists active on a day-to-day basis. The manager ‘listens’ to conversations and feedback from panellists, and regularly feeds them with activities that will deliver important insights to the client. The WDG Community Manager is a researcher and insights specialist who can moderate groups and interpret the ‘voice’ of the panel to the client.

For more information about our panel services contact Margot or Louise on 01494 772436 or email info@wdgresearch.co.uk

Digital Natives: voices that demand to be heard

cheering crowd at concert

Wouldn’t it be great to really understand the needs and desires of a whole generation….in detail??

Over the last sixty years generations have been defined by the generational  influences of their parents and political, economic and technical developments of their times. Research has further defined specific groups in the population to help marketing, politicians and the media focus their messages. Understanding what the population wanted and what they thought involved a process, but now, thanks to Generation Y we understand a lot more about their motivations, likes and pet hates. They have delivered in the moment reactions to television programmes, government policy, celebrity behaviour, and brand activity. But who are they?

Around 20% of the adult population in the UK was born between ’80s and early ’90s. These are Generation Y, born mainly of Generation X who are educated, active, and grew up in an era of social diversity and change in music (glam rock, new wave, punk..). Generation Y has emerged into a world of rapidly expanding technology and social change. They have grown up plugged in to games consoles, computers,  and mobile phones so no surprise that emails, text and social media is their preferred communication format.

WDG recently carried out a study of this sector of the population. Digital Natives, so called because of their reliance on their smart phones and laptops, access a wide social network, giving them vast connections and ‘friends’, but what is important to them is family connections. Many have grown up with overworked parents or single working parents, and this has informed a different approach to work/life balance. Where Generation X live to work, Y generation live then work.  Unsurprisingly, traditionally structured companies are less of an attraction for Y’ers; they don’t subscribe to corporate rules and culture, classic business models, and working hours. They seek meaningful work with constant change so that they can develop professionally.

They comprise a mosaic of traits which often seems incompatible. They are often perceived by older generations to be egotistical and brash, possibly because Digital Natives are confident and express their views honestly, but really they are eager to learn and contribute. They assert themselves frequently through their online networks and understand the importance of digital media. They want to make a lot of money, but they also believe in supporting non profit causes. They will pay a high price for brands but are aware of a good savings plan. Most significant is their unceasing optimism despite the fact that they grew up in an era of world terrorism and economic  recession. Far from being fearful and introverted Y’ers are positive with a ‘can-do’ approach to their lives.

Many Generation Y who completed further education have found it difficult to secure a job in this recession, yet the UK is one of the countries most geared up to educate children at the highest level. These tech savvy digital natives are a real catch to employers who are willing to embrace their traits. They use technology to work efficiently, they do not conform to traditional working hours, their behaviour is authentic and honest, and they work best when the job is meaningful to them.

This generation is a golden chalice for Marketing. Their honesty and confidence in sharing their views, likes and dislikes with a wide online audience means that companies get ‘in the moment’ feedback from their customers. Brand developers are now able to have a dialogue with their market, harvest ideas, and create brands that are assured success.

The top 5 desirable brand characteristics as defined by Generation Y are:

1. it has its own style

2 it makes me feel happy and rewarded

3 it is up to date, of the moment

4 it has a clean reputation, is ethical in manufacturing process and raw materials, it is not associated with negative press

5 it is clear and simple

For more information about Digital Natives please contact WDG Research directly.

Falling in and out of love with your clients

I am sure you have been there: one minute your relationship works, you are both happy and you have invested a lot of time in each other; the next minute it all goes eerily quiet, he doesn’t call or answer your emails and you begin to realise that it may be all over. Then you hear that someone else is on the scene and you start to question why. What did you do that was so wrong?

Clients can be very fickle folk – I’ve been there and I know. As an ex-client I can say with hand on heart that it is not always the agency’s fault when a relationship comes to an end. Often it has simply run its course and the client wants to try out other suppliers. Budget influences the continuation of a relationship, and no agency worth their mettle wants to regard themselves as cheap. Internal politics may change the structure of the client department or restrict the process of appointing external suppliers. All of which is frustrating for the agency that has developed a deep understanding of the company, its products and services, its interface with customers, and its employees.

Even more frustrating for the supplier is when a client contact moves on. This is the primary point of communication with the company and once it is lost it knocks the relationship with the company back quite significantly. He or she may inform their suppliers and pass on the details of the new incumbent but this happens as much as it doesn’t. Finding out on LinkedIn is not ideal, but at least it is a place to reconnect and be referred to the contact’s replacement.

When you are in the middle of a good relationship it is easy to forget what it took to get there; the emails and phone calls, the numerous small projects and presentations that finally won the client over. Like any relationship it has to add value to both parties. From the suppliers perspective having a developing knowledge about the company is not sufficient, it has to introduce fresh ideas for the client to think about, recommendations that move the business forward, and be prepared to challenge the client when needed. A good client should be transparent with the supplier in a long term relationship: be up front with budgets, honest with timings, and prepared to share the intended outcome of each project. A good client should not take advantage of the relationship expecting ‘freebies’ or impossible timings, or even usurping the supplier’s time with other clients.

And when it comes to the end of the road, be honest. Tell them and explain why. Nobody likes to be dumped without a good reason.

The YouTube video pokes fun at clients. I apologise, but as an ex-client and agency researcher it is very funny

 

A random thought to boost business in the community

POSTED ON September 24th  - POSTED IN Business Leadership, General Stuff, Networking, SME Marketing, Social Media

Do you ever ask yourself whose responsibility this is? Aren’t Central and local government and the Bank of England tasked with this?

If your business is doing well and has been one of the success stories to rise out of the recession then hearty congratulations. Your success is no doubt offering a boost in employment and supplier contracts to your local economy and there are additional and obvious benefits to this.

For some localised businesses however, a return to growth seems a long way off. Securing the right amount of funds to invest in business continues to be difficult as banks are still refusing to take the risk and are sometimes downright myopic.

The good news we hear is that the economy is showing signs of growth as reported by Bank of England Interest Setting Committee who have revised this year’s final quarter estimates from 0.5% to 0.7%. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also revised its prediction to a 1.5% growth in the UK economy compared with 0.8% set in May 2013. The Metro reported in 3 Sept that retail spending (excl fuel) was expected to increase year on year to August by 2.3%, this in spite of inflation continuing to outstrip wage growth.

So, with all these signs pointing to a brighter future it is madness that there are good businesses, which are often at the tail end of the supply chain, still caught up in the recession’s grip. Firefighting to keep a business viable, lack of investment, and strident cutbacks in all but the essentials does not give these companies sufficient leverage to bounce back.

It has occurred to me that successful businesses could offer assistance to struggling businesses with a view to passing on knowledge, motivation, physical help, and hard cash. Help could take many forms: mentoring where support and advice is needed, financial investment to enable the business to ‘gear-up for growth’, manpower investment (i.e. sharing skills by deploying employees of the successful business to work in the struggling business for a stated period), the list could go on.

The benefits to the successful business are the positive message it sends to employees and future employees, owning a share of a growing business, developing new skills acquired via supported business, positive PR, developing good community relations.

The community benefits as more successful businesses create employment, demand for accommodation (and schools, health centres etc), increase spending in the community occurs….the positive knock-on effect is fairly tangible.

The downside is if the supported company fails. It is a risk and an important consideration – how likely is it to fail? So this is my random thought, but I would appreciate your view.

Creating better communities through social responsibility

If like me you network among your local business community you have probably encountered brokerage agencies that match socially responsible businesses with the voluntary sector. CSR is moving up the business agenda and a greater number of smaller businesses want to give back to their communities. How to give back in a meaningful and effective way where it has greatest impact is not always obvious hence the emergence of brokers – the ones I have met are genuinely interested in sourcing and distributing funding and manpower to support community ventures and local charities, and are themselves not-for-profit.

In areas where business has been devastated, high streets boarded up, and local charities struggling to survive, there is a greater need for helping hands. Sometimes these helping hands take the form of local businesses that have simply had enough and start to work together towards a better future for their community.

In August 2013 Burnley in Lancashire was named the most enterprising town in UK in the Enterprise Award Scheme run by Dept for Business Innovation and Skills. The idea that gained Burnley this accolade was simple: bond 100 local business and organisations to actively promote the town as a good place to work, live, visit and invest. “What is good for Burnley is good for business”. The Burnley Bond holder scheme has reinvigorated the local economy and boosted its core industries of aerospace and engineering, while creating more local jobs.

It doesn’t always take a group of businesses, or a third sector brokerage to direct investment and help on the ground where it is most needed. Coincidentally, also from Burnley, entrepreneur Dave Fishwick famously challenged the banks for failing small businesses. He formed Burnley’s Savings and Loans to meet the needs of individuals and businesses with loans and a preferable interest of 5%AER on savings. All profits (ex overheads) he has distributed to charities.

Though less high profile there are examples of towns and individuals who have their community at heart. Through co-operative enterprise communities are being rebuilt. You can probably tell that I support the idea of third sector brokerages because they are able to connect businesses of all sizes with a single mission to walk the CSR walk as well as talking the talk. It’s not simply about sponsoring events and charities. Companies are being encouraged to help with the development of environmental initiatives, sponsor business hubs where people can meet and hotdesk, provide pro bono services, mentor other businesses, and run staff volunteering schemes as just an example of the scope of what can be achieved in the name of community action and social responsibility.

It may not be the stated mission of many of the schemes but Burnley has proven that what is good for the town is good for business. Getting involved by investing funds or action in kind creates a positive impression of your business, it motivates staff and has the potential to make you the employer of choice. It is also sends a positive message to prospective clients.

Call it the Dunkirk Spirit or what you will, the length and depth of this recession has created a resolve in securing the future for business by business. Where high street banks have failed to recognise the needs of their customers the resourcefulness of the community is capable of stepping in with support.

Sadly, for communities without forward thinking individuals, there is no template for turning fortune around and for some communities responsibility is about improving the social or eco- environment, not turnover. Either way businesses must want to get involved and be committed for the long run.

Collaboration takes the sting out of the recession

It’s an interesting word, collaboration. It labels something that most of us do without thinking and often take for granted in our personal life. For as long as we have been scratching one another’s backs we have collaborated in performing side by side for mutual benefit.

Pop stars collaborate and enjoy a shared audience, screenwriters and authors collaborate to bring the written word to life, governments collaborate to wield a greater share of voice on the world stage.

I have never used the word ‘collaborate’ as much as I have over the last fifteen years since becoming a serious business networker. In fact it is one of my top ten lexicons when discussing business development. Why this has become such an important word to me is historic-ish.

I am a partner in a market research agency which has been around for over 25 years. During the recession in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s WDGresearch held steady with its regular client base and while larger agencies went under we survived. As we came out of that recession I was able to look back and see clearly that we did nothing to steer ourselves away from the precipice, it was the success of our relationship with our long standing clients that pulled us through. It could quite easily have gone the other way if our clients’ budgets had dried up or if our contact within the company had retired, moved on, been made redundant. The shock of realising that simple truth made us review the way we ran the company, analyse our market positioning, overhaul our client and business development, and steer our own ship.

With an ambition to achieve sustained growth we allocated a realistic budget to business development. Our first step was to increase visibility which for us meant collaborating with many of the businesses with which we had strong associations in the past. We realised we were competing with industry heavyweights so we needed to have a greater offering when taking our business to industry conferences and networking events. The collaborations meant that we could make greater use of digital marketing and we had more to say when presenting ourselves in industry journals.

In the year that followed the change we noticed a significant increase in our average billings because we were able to offer more in-house. We received more cold enquiries, our attendance at conferences and networking brought more ‘warm’ contacts to the database, and ultimately our business grew to more than twice the turnover of the previous year. This allowed us to employ more staff to work on client retention and new business.

Subsequent years have seen sustained growth until the current recession started to bite but our collaborations are still working to mutual benefit and support.

This time around, many of our clients have experienced budget cuts and in some cases redundancies. Business information has changed since the last recession and companies rely on CRM systems and digital marketing strategies to get answers about their customers, shaving a complete corner off the marketing research industry. Consequently our business has evolved in parallel. We have new collaborations which reflect the shift in marketing businesses.

We were fortunate to survive the last recession, but now I know that we control the success of WDG Research and the mutual support received from and delivered to our partners in marketing services is the backbone needed to get through this one.

You busy person, marketing your small business 24/7

POSTED ON October 19th  - POSTED IN Brand Marketing, Networking, Personal Branding, SME Marketing

You may not realise this but you could be marketing your small business at this very moment. Are you sitting at your laptop in an office or on a train, or are you reading this on a mobile device in a public space? Wherever you are you create an impression of yourself to the outside world, and there are times when this impression matters to you and your business.

For instance, when you meet new people each of you is assessing one another for all sorts of cues (how old, interesting, funny, intelligent, wealthy, single, married ….). In a business environment you may be looking for integrity, common values, knowledge, experience etc. People can generally see through insincerity, and more often than not are tuned in to blaggers. The visual cues are constant and even when you think people aren’t noticing you – they are.

Standing at the edge of a rugby/football/hockey pitch on Sunday mornings cheering on little Oscar/Wayne/Pippa may not be the obvious place where you are marketing your business, but just think of the conversations you have with other spectators/parents. Initially the chat is casual, bantery and overall convivial. Simply by shooting the chilly breeze with a fellow you inevitably market yourself, and by extension what you do. Eventually – perhaps not on the first meeting – you mention your business or what it is that you do. This is when what you do and who you are should have some positive congruence in the mind of the listener (“I like this person, she comes across as intelligent and switched on and is good company on a cold day. Interesting, she says she is an accountant, I bet she’s not lazy/unconscientious…”). Next time his accountant gives him grief you will be on his list of replacements.

The clothes you wear are also part of your marketing kit bag. Some businesses have uniforms or logo’d sweatshirts, or a colour preference. Your personal marketing effort has to be in line with the company’s positioning or it can be a truly disappointing experience for everyone else. The miserable and indifferent airline rep at the check-in desk can create a bad experience for the customer even if the airline is known for delivering a first class customer experience. The uniform that represents all the brand values that the customer has come to expect is totally incongruent with the service.

Dress for success is a seasoned adage used by stylists which doesn’t necessarily mean suited and booted. Wearing clothes that suit you, are comfortable, stylish and get you noticed are far more likely to create a confident impression. Even if your business requires overalls or a hard hat, dressing smartly when making a first contact with clients is always a favourable move.

Social media is another place where we need to take care how we present ourselves – it is becoming increasingly important as a marketing tool. Remember to stay true to yourself and not follow the crowd for added popularity – it often backfires and at the very least you end up with 00′s of followers who you would prefer not to have. Blogs, photo files, profiles all reflect an image of you so make sure its the image you want people to see.

I do a lot of formal networking and have run networking meetings. What you say and how you behave at such events will affect how people perceive you and your company. Many people just don’t ‘get it’ and within minutes of arriving are delivering non verbal negatives. In such environments focus on being you and show an interest in others. Be the touchline buddy who can engage in conversation, be authentic and impress your fellow networkers with your integrity. You may be surprised how many good networkers regard contacts as business buddies because they know about each other and have shared values in business. They refer business opportunities to one another and work in association because they know that this will enhance their business. Networking success doesn’t happen overnight but it can deliver the sweetest business in the long term.

In a perfect world we should all be marketing ourselves with the same open authentic approach, but while there are still plenty of people who remain oblivious to this need there are opportunites for you to make it work to your advantage. Focus on your subliminal marketing activity so that you always send out the message you want. Get followers who follow you because your message resonates with them and remember (without paranoia) that people notice you when you are least aware. When they meet you, they should get a feel for what a great business you run.

Are you your own brand?

Having a strong brand in marketing terms means that it has a positive and consistent image amongst its customers.

However, the growth in social and business networking on-line and face to face has given the marketing game a new twist and an important new role: the personal brand.  This is hailed as the new marketing phenomenon and is reinforced by the emergence of a wave of personal brand agencies and workshops on the subject. People now see how important they are in representing their business, and the networking mantra of people buy from people has finally sunk in….

Definition of personal branding: the art of attracting and keeping more customers by actively shaping public perception of the benefits of associating with ME, but at its basic level it is everything about you that  makes you YOU.

But it isn’t new: Alexander the Great would have been just another forgotten Greek warlord had he not surrounded himself with scribes and followers who would broadcast his successes.

More recently Simon Cowell would be just another A & R executive, Madonna another female singer from the eighties who we can barely remember. They are the architects of their own unique Personal Brands.

It represents the individual’s values, strengths and experiences, it’s the difference they make and the value they add in their business and personal life.  So to be a strong contender in business today our most important job is to be marketing director of brand ME.

Why would I want to create a PB? Why is it important?

What people think and say about you will dictate the level of influence you have both within and without your network.

People will rely on your Personal Brand whenever they meet you. What makes you different is not what you do but how you do it. It’s the HOW that differentiates you and your business – your USP. You are the X-factor that determines why people become your customers – they are buying into you.

Similarly, successfully employing staff or engaging businesses to collaborate with is influenced by your Personal Brand. The impact and impression you create in communicating your vision will be the deciding factor for others. People want their careers to flourish surrounded by like-minded people. And a great business is built on a great team of people.

Investors also have to be convinced by your Personal Brand. A great business model needs the right individual to make it succeed. As with the Dragons Den, banks, venture capital, and angel investors frequently say that it is the person they invest in.

Finally, we are in the digital age. People will have checked you out online long before they meet you and have formed an opinion based on what they see. So, be aware of what you put on the internet, You Tube, social networking sites – a lack of consistency can lead to confusion in what you are about.

How to create a strong Personal Brand

Most important: don’t just do it for the sake of it. Having an authentic and well constructed Personal Brand will shape the way people perceive you, will draw the business you want towards you, and will carry you throughout your life.

  1. Think of your personal goals in life, create a mission statement for Brand Me; what am I passionate about; what do I want for the rest of my life
  2. Think of yourself as your own personal asset; what do I do that most brings value to my company;  what am I most proud of
  3. Be honest about who you are, your attributes and qualities. If you know yourself you can promote an honest brand
  4. Learn from the Big Brands – what is it about you that makes you stand out vis a vis the competition. What do your customers say is your greatest strength
  5. Learn from Personal Brand masters. During Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign his competitors took a traditional approach to raising funds with celebrity hosted gala dinners and appeals. But he built the biggest war horse campaign ever using the internet and encouraging small donations from individuals – and won.
  6. Use words wisely. Research shows that communication skills are one of the top determinants to professional success. To have a strong Personal Brand you need to be a good communicator. Join organisations like Toastmasters or hire a professional coach to make sure your verbal and written skills are at their best.
  7. Realise that your network, your boss, colleagues and clients can be your most powerful ally – or enemy. Never speak ill of them, their perceptions of your abilities and accomplishments can make or break you.
  8. Be ubiquitous. Attend as many networking events as time allows, get on the speaker circuit, volunteer to run or chair events, run workshops; build your profile on relevant networking sites and use a consistent profile with a consistent ‘handshake’. Don’t forget a decent photograph

What if they can’t find you, read about you, or perhaps they have never heard about you? Not having an online presence is almost as bad as having an inconsistent profile. Actively managing your digital presence and ensuring it reflects accurately who you are is key to having a strong Personal Brand.

Your brand = your reputation, and your reputation is what people are saying about you so try to monitor this. Set up Google alerts (www.google.com/alerts) and search Twitter at search.twitter.com

But what happens when your actions are incongruent with your Personal Brand: take Barack Obama, for example. He spent time and effort on the campaign trail  promoting a winning personal brand. The decisions he has had to take in his presidency, the biting recession, the ongoing problems with Afghanistan and Iraq have made a second term look less of a possibility. In politics a strong personal brand is a must-have, because everything else aside, it gives Obama’s supporters a reason to trust him as a person.

We may not be running for a second term presidency but this demonstrates the importance of protecting our Personal Brand in all aspects of our lives. We may not be a celebrity but if our crown slips so does our credibility.  Nobody is perfect and we all accept this as a fact of life, so let your Personal Brand reflect the real you.

 
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