Vocus Questions: Jim Joseph on DIY Brand-Building
Jim Joseph is President of Cohn & Wolfe North America. In 25 years as a marketing and branding expert, he’s created brand experiences for Kellogg’s, Kraft, Ikea, Cadillac, Clean & Clear, American Express, Walmart and more. Jim teaches intensive marketing classes at New York University and his second book, The Experience Effect for Small Businesses, is in stores now.
What does becoming a brand do for a business?
It will open up new ways to think about how to attract new customers. A lot of people tend to think of their business just as a business, and they tend to think about themselves as a product, but they don’t think about how they can build their brand by building an emotional connection with their customers, and thereby, growing their business – so we’re going to talk a lot about that.
So what’s the key difference between brands and businesses?
There’s actually a very big difference. A lot of people tend to think about their business very functionally – they think about the functional benefits that they can offer to their customers. But until they start to think about the emotional connection and the emotional benefits they can offer their customers, they won’t be able to become a brand. A brand means that you are a much bigger part of your customers’ lives than just the functional benefits that you offer.
How do we get started?
You have to really think through who you are as a business and how you can offer your customers and emotional benefit. The first step is to really understand your customer. What makes them tick? How do they live their lives? What are they worried about? That’s really the first step towards becoming a brand.
What key questions does a business need to ask itself?
What are you really good at? How can you best define who you are as a brand? You want to do a really good inventory of your skill sets, and figure out what it is that you can be better at than your competition. And then you need to ask yourself who does that best appeal to – who is your best target customer? Then you can start to figure out how your skills as a brand match what your customer needs, and then start to figure out what kind of emotional connection you can build with your customer beyond just the actual product benefits.
What’s so special about this emotional connection?
Rational benefits generally can be supplied by any product within a category. It’s really the emotional connection that differentiates you from your competition. An emotional benefit may be security, or confidence, or feeling like you can get through your day – it really varies by category.
How do you identify what your emotional connection should be?
There is really only one way: understand who your customer is and they need to get through their day – not just from a functional perspective, but from an emotional perspective. That’s when you can start to pinpoint how to build your brand.
Understanding your customer should be an evergreen job. It should never stop. Every day, you should be trying to figure out who your customer is and how they live their lives. It can be done through research online, by following people in social media, on Facebook or Twitter, through surveys, or simply by talking to customers and understanding them.
Does branding have to cost a lot of money?
A lot of the elements of a great brand experience don’t cost a lot of money. Think about a restaurant, for example, and all the elements that comprise its brand experience. The signage, the menu, the tablecloth, the wait staff and what they’re wearing, the website, the Facebook page: most of those things don’t cost a lot of marketing money. And a lot of those things, you are going to be spending on anyway.
Can small businesses compete with the big guys at branding?
Yes. It’s definitely a challenge but small businesses can innovate, understand what their customers want, and give it to them faster. They can respond and connect on a quicker, more real-time basis. They can build an emotional connection with customers faster than the bigger brand.
I think the first step is to understand what kind of business you want to be in and what functional and emotional benefits you want to offer. I always tell small business owners to literally do an inventory of skills – the things that you are best at – and then which of those things are most important to your customers.
Another important step is to prioritize and carve out a certain amount of time that you are going to spend each and every day to understand your customer, define your brand, and make the connection in between. It’s a matter of prioritization: as a small business owner, you can get so caught up in day-to-day fire drills and problems that you need to force yourself to spend some time on your branding.
How can you tell when you’ve achieved branding success?
I don’t know if you ever know, quite honestly. Marketing is one of those jobs that are never done: as soon as you get to one goal, there is another goal as well. All we can do is kind of measure in-between. If you are hitting your sales goals – your ultimate measure – you are on the road to great branding.
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