Practical Ideas to Build Your Brand

By Paul Quinn, Founder and Director of Quinntessential Marketing Consulting Pty Ltd
This article first appeared in Recruitment Extra Magazine, March 2007.


The key to branding success is to stand for something relevant, valuable and unique to your target market. The trouble is, in a cluttered marketplace with over 3,000 competing recruitment agencies, the task of standing out from the crowd can be a daunting prospect. The first piece of good news for those willing to invest the time and resources required to achieve brand prominence is that the end prize is worth the effort. A strong brand can be linked to higher sales, better margins, more loyal customers, and more satisfied staff. The second piece of good news (if you needed any more encouragement) is that there’s a very good chance that many of your competitors have overlooked the fundamentals of building a strong brand. How many truly dominant brands, for example, can you name in your area of specialty?

So what is effective branding?

In its simplest form, effective branding is all about telling your customers who you are, what you do, and how you do it differently in the most clear and compelling way possible. It is also about building the trust of your clients and candidates. People like knowing what to expect from a product or service. Establishing a consistent brand presence fosters trust which inturn creates customer loyalty.

So, given that effective branding can deliver many important benefits why aren’t more companies successfully building strong brands? One reason could be that we live in an increasingly cluttered market place. The number of marketing messages we receive each day is estimated by researchers to be 3,000 to 5,000, and that the number of channels used to communicate those messages has also exploded. How many recruiters, for example, had even heard of the Internet 10 years ago? How many recruiters would survive today without it? With this explosion in new communication channels to target clients and candidates a raft of new brand building possibilities has opened up. The question for many recruiters is ‘What works?’ and ‘Where do I start?’

Get The Basics Right First

Many brands are really just brand names because they either have lost their distinctive characteristics or are not perceived to be unique."

- Duane E. Knapp, The Brand Mindset.

Brand building doesn't have to be about big budgets and splashy advertising campaigns. In many cases the typical recruitment consultancy in Australia could benefit from a two pronged approach:

(a) get the branding basics in place first, and then …
(b) Implement 5-10 simple, proven (and often low cost) marketing activities in a planned consistent way throughout the year.

So what are the branding basics?

Without exception, every recruitment consultancy needs to know (and clearly promote) the answers to the following questions:

What is our point of difference? get the branding basics in place first, and then …
What is our brand positioning? Implement 5-10 simple, proven (and often low cost) marketing activities in a planned consistent way throughout the year.
What is our capability to deliver on our promise? Saying you'll deliver one thing and delivering something different is one of the fastest ways to destroy brand equity. You need to convince prospects you have the staff, processes, and means to consistently deliver what you've promised.
What value do we deliver? If your product or service isn't creating real value for your clients, you won't be in business for long. Note that value doesn't mean 'selling at a cheap price'. Value means delivering something of real perceived worth to your clients - often something that clients are prepared to pay a premium for.

Once the answers to the above questions have been agreed, execution of a number of mandatory marketing activities should follow, including:

  • Logo design,
  • Business cards and letterhead,
  • Corporate signage,
  • Capabilities document / brochure,
  • Competitive pricing structure and terms of business.
  • Website creation,
  • Well designed job advert templates,
  • Job board advertising,
  • Service delivery guarantees,

… I could go on, but 95% of you already have these 'basics' in place. (And by the way, if you're in the other 5% then please call me quick - we need urgent dialogue).

Now what?

Seven Low Cost High Impact Ideas To Build Your Brand

While by no means exhaustive, the following list of ideas are a great starting point for those agencies that already have 'the branding basics' in place.

1) Constant Contact

Anticipated, relevant, and regular contact with both current clients and prospects really works. And best of all, it doesn't have to cost the earth. For example, a professionally produced bi-monthly newsletter can be developed for under $10,000 per year. Research shows its 10 times easier to make a sale with an existing client than a new prospect. So if you're one of those agencies with hundreds of 'dormant' clients on your database, why not start communicating with them?

Deliver fresh, relevant content that is both interesting to your prospects and reinforces your area of expertise. As your customers' awareness of your brand and what it can do for them increases, so too should your sales.

2) Purposeful Website

So by now we all have websites. End of story. Tick the 'Have working website' box and move on to the next marketing initiative. Right? …

Not so quickly.

If you answer 'NO' to any of the following questions, then chances are you've still got some work to do:

  • Is your website's creative design consistent with your offline image and does it portray your brand in the best possible light?
  • Does your content scream 'boring brochureware' or does it educate your site visitors regarding what you do and compel them to act in ways that generate you business?
  • Do all of the pages on your site lead visitors to a final 'sign up' page? The page where you attempt to get permission to communicate with them, send them a product demonstration, get their contact details, book an appointment, sell your consulting services, etc.
  • Does your site offer a compelling reason to stay and explore? And to return again in two week's time?
  • Does your site make it simple for visitors to find the information they've come for (eg. jobs, salary information, hiring trends, etc), and engage your services (eg. apply for a job, view a list of 'Star candidates', submit an inquiry about your consulting services, etc)?

3) Ignite Word of Mouth

Here's some interesting statistics to support investment in word of mouth and referral programs to help build your brand:

  • Research by Northeastern University in the USA shows that 15% of every conversation includes something about a product or service.
  • 61% of those conversations have an impact on the likelihood to buy a brand (Source: TalkTrack™, Keller Fay Group, 2006).
  • A 12% increase in 'customer advocacy' results in a 100% increase in company growth rates. (Source: Word of Mouth Marketing Organisation, 2006).

So what can be done to help ignite positive word of mouth amongst your clients? Simple - ask them to help you. Every client visit you attend, every satisfaction survey you send, every client function you hold, every form you ask customers to complete, every article you write is an opportunity to ask for referrals. When done well, it needn't be a pushy or uncomfortable exercise. Ask any company that has successfully integrated 'word of mouth' initiatives into their everyday business practices and they'll tell you it's an indispensable and extremely cost-effective lead generation channel.

4) Search Engine Optimisation

Put down this magazine right now (go on - just for a minute!). Log onto Google.com.au. Select the "pages from Australia" option, and …

(a) Type: Your company name.
If your company doesn't appear in the first 3-4 listings on page one of search results that's bad news. You have what I call the 'billboard in a basement' syndrome - you have a presence, but unfortunately no body knows about it.
(b) Type: Your category (eg. 'IT recruitment' or 'Healthcare executive recruitment').
If you're not appearing on the first page of search results then it's unlikely that your website receives a high number of visitors and unlikely that your website investment is being maximised.

Brand Building

Concerned by your results? Then its time to speak to a search engine optimisation specialist (and a note of caution - this is usually NOT your web developer). With as much as 85% of all Internet sessions starting at a major search engine, it's wise to ensure that your website is on the radar.

5) Useful information anyone?

It is not unusual for companies to have a wealth of useful statistics, valuable information, interview tips, 'How to' guides, salary surveys, and other interesting content locked safely away on password-protected company hard drives, where no one can see it. Untouched, unused and essentially wasted. I have an idea - why not let it be free? Why not do something radical and post it to your website, e-mail it to your clients, or include it in your next newsletter. Let your prospects benefit from it. Let search engines index it and drive new traffic to your website. Let website visitors share it and discuss it. Let the information reinforce your expertise, and become a valuable source of competitive advantage.

6) Search engine advertising

If I was to ask you for $1 today, and in return offer to pay you $50 in return (paid back to you in regular instalments throughout the year) would you lend me the money? If you have a pulse, I'm sure your answer would be 'yes!' Well that return on investment folks is well within grasp for any of you willing to embrace the phenomenon that is 'search engine advertising'. So irrespective of why you're not doing it now, you need to ensure you don't wait a day longer to give it a try.

Whether advertising to gain brand exposure in a certain niche market, to promote hard to fill roles or to launch a new product or service, search engine advertising has it's place in any modern marketing plan. For as little as 40 cents per click on your ad, you can send prospects that are actively looking for your product or service direct to a web 'information and inquiry' page of your design. There are few better, more cost effective forms of marketing.

7) The Power of Publicity

A recent study concluded that 76% of people don't believe that companies tell the truth in advertisements. So if you want to get your brand name out there, and agree that paid brand advertising isn't always held in high regard (not to mention can be expensive), then what are people more likely to believe? Answer: research-based news items. Find an angle that no one else is talking about and that complements your area of expertise, run a survey on the topic, and release the most interesting elements of the results to relevant press that cover your area of expertise.

Ever heard of Morgan and Banks? How about Talent2? One was a prominent recruitment brand, and one has quickly become one. What is one of the key branding strategies they both have in common? A relentless commitment to researching HR trends, releasing the results to the media, and positioning their people as experts in their respective markets.

Doing Nothing Is Not An Option

If you put your head in the sand and decide it's all too hard, then understand that your target audience will talk and determine their own meaning for your brand (and be warned - you may not like what they come up with). Dire Straits had it right when they sang: "Sitting on the fence, is a dangerous course: You could get a bullet from the peace keeping force." The ideas mentioned above are neither difficult nor expensive to implement. And when done well, they have the potential to generate significant brand awareness. Most importantly, they have the potential to deliver a significant boost to your bottom line.

 

Article Reference:
Written by Paul Quinn, founder and director of specialist recruitment marketing consultancy - Quinntessential. Paul helps recruitment organisations of all sizes with their marketing, branding and research efforts, and can be contacted on +61 2 9232 0172.

Research Sources:
1. J. Walker Smith. President of consulting firm Yankelovich
2. Indy Associates, 2006
3. Word of Mouth Marketing Association, http://womma.org

 

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