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The Specialty Imager's Brand

Your brand image should reflect your brand values, and your corporate palette should be the same across all media. The opportunities that a powerful positioning strategy presents can be amazing. But there is one aspect of this strategy that must be understood, and that is authenticity.

By Ed Roach, Brand Consultant, The Branding Experts

It's not enough to say you're innovative or that your service is cutting edge. Saying that is nice, but it certainly doesn't differentiate you from your competitors.

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  • Chances are extremely high that all of you are on trend for whatever is being offered to your customers. My guess is that if we were to take your 10 biggest competitors and your advertising, and mixed up the logos, chances are they're all saying the same thing.

    But the question remains, "If we all sell the same things, have the same equipment and the same skill set, how can we possibly stand out from the masses?" The low hanging fruit is image and slogans and the dreaded lowest price. You've got to target higher in the tree. You've got to extend your reach if you expect to meet your goals. There is an answer and it's branding.

    Your brand is your reputation. Your brand is not your logo. That's just a part of your brand. It's the perception on the street. In today's world, perception is reality. Your brand is the place in your category's mind that you occupy. You have to tell a story that resonates with your customers.

    My approach is to find that "nugget" that makes you the leader in something and brag about it. The nugget that makes you the only choice in the customer's mind if they want what it is that makes you the leader. You have to conquer their heart and soul. When you do this, you begin to remove yourself from being a mere commodity to being a leader service that can command higher fees. You do this in your life. What products do you buy knowing full well that the competitor's prices are lower? Technology, or maybe its a beverage that resonates with you. This magic is what you need to raise your specialty imaging company's brand.

    Position Your Brand Strategy
    Domino's did it with "30 minutes or it's free." Apple did it with design. Enterprise did it with a rental company that "picks you up." If you died tonight, what would your customers miss most?

    A recent customer of mine, an industrial coatings supplier, discovered that the most valued deliverable he offered in his category was knowledge. As it turned out not only would his customers call for advice, but his competitors regularly asked for his advice on any particular coating as well. Up until he started to take his branding seriously, he advertised as typically as any other shop. Now with knowledge as his differentiator he is raising the bar.

    Instead of selling product, he is actively educating his audience. He had built a state-of-the-art training facility inside his warehouse. He is now actively training anyone who is interested. It doesn't take a genius to recognize that once you have their warm body in a seat, you aren't far away from having them become a buying customer. They will immediately recognize the coating supplier as the knowledge leaders. An added bonus, his manufacturers are booking space in the room, bringing outside training closer to customers.

    As a matter of fact, not long after launching this positioning strategy, they were chosen by a company looking to take over their local operation base entirely on the fact that we focused on knowledge as the reason why we are a better choice than the other guy.

    Same goes in the world of specialty imaging. We all appreciate that you can do the job and do it well. Your brand should tell me why you're the only one I should call. Maybe you can put together the entire process you use to determine the needs of the customer, the process you use to define and estimate the project, the production phase and the follow-up service then tying this bundle into a branded package that is proprietary to your company.

    Not only would it be guaranteed, but maybe you will also provide free repairs if it should ever get damaged for whatever reason. How powerful would that be? Can you raise the ante on this positioning to the point where your competitors think you're nuts. You'll lose your shirt. That is where your "a-ha" moment kicks in. Initially brand positions are pretty scary. When that happens, it excites the branding team. That fear means we are close to something great!

    Domino's didn't lose their shirt when they went from focusing on pizza to break into a market, to focusing on delivery. Positioning removes you from the sea of sameness. Sometimes it removes you from your comfort zone and challenges your brand to be great. You are now saying things differently. Maybe the answer is to develop a new focus.

    I have a client who was doing quite well and they wanted to raise the bar even more. They are an oral dose manufacturer (pills and capsules). In branding sessions, I noticed that they, like everyone in their field, spend a great deal of effort going after the large contracts. The motherload if you will. Of course, this position meant that they are just one of any number of manufacturers vying for a small selection of major clients - lots of competition.

    I asked the "a-ha" question, 'What if we took our focus away from the large customers and focused entirely on the small customer, could we still reach and surpass our goals for success professionally and personally?' Yes we can, was the over whelming response.

    Their positioning became 'Suntrition - the leader in small-batch, oral-dose manufacturing.' At the next convention, the client called me from the show floor, telling me how the message absolutely resonated with the small customer as they were flocking to their booth. Up until that point, manufacturers typically gave smaller customers short shrift, and now here was a company talking directly to them. By redefining themselves they have reduced their competition and reinvigorated sales.

    The question at hand is how can you redefine your imaging company? Don't look in the obvious places. Sometimes you might assume a segment of the market doesn't need what you offer. Ignore your better judgment and let them show you how they can use what you do. Don't close that door for them.

    Maybe your solution is online. People love creativity. Maybe it would be awesome if customers could watch the creativity of their signage being developed live-streamed online. Watch the progress. Develop promotions based on projects in the marketplace. Step out from behind the curtain and engage your audience like no one else around you. Take a leadership role. Show customers how it's done. Step away from the "us and them approach."

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    Additionally, sustainability is a huge issue today. Make sustainability from a necessary regulatory compliance to a great thing - a compliance brand. Create your own compliance with its own standards, processes and validations. Package it with its own logo and story and sell it to your customers as an exclusive new standard. Tie this in with some savvy public relations and you will start to show your brand for the responsible industry brand that it is. It proves that you're relevant and community minded. In a nutshell, your brand gives a damn.

    The opportunities that a powerful positioning strategy presents can be amazing. But there is one aspect of this strategy that must be understood, and that is authenticity. It's not enough to claim the high ground. It's not enough to tout that you're the leader in a particular category. Your brand must be authentic. It must walk-the-walk. Branding as a whole expects you to take it to the next level. Whatever it is that you claim yourself to be, you must become that brand. If it means cleaning house and changing the way you do business, then that is what has to done. Your customer expects your brand to live up to its positioning. It's a promise that you're making to them.

    Make Customer Service a Priority
    There are plenty of examples in the marketplace where businesses say one thing and do another. Service is a pet peeve of mine when I examine brands. Have you ever encountered businesses that tout that service is the difference at their shop? Yet they:

    • Leave you holding on the phone for 20 minutes
    • Make you wait several days (sometimes longer) for a quote
    • Embrace voicemail (no human to speak with)
    • Provide no contact phone numbers or emails on their website, just a form
    • Make counter traffic wait while they take care of the person on the phone who just called
    • Only accept one kind of credit card
    • Won't let you comment on their blog.

    If this sounds like your shop and you believe service to be your differentiator, you've got a branding problem. Service is more than getting the job done on time. Your customer is looking at the whole picture, from lead to follow-up. The actions you take throughout this entire process will define how your customer perceives your brand. It might be wise to do a brand audit of your customer service cycle to see just what brand experience your shop is presenting to your average customer. This experience is the authenticity I mentioned above.

    Deficiencies in service, while bad, do offer areas of opportunity to change and offer super service to your customers. What if you made service so incredible that customers become advocates for your brand? Service that is so stellar customers are anxious to recommend you. It is possible, it just takes the will to make it happen. Imagine the brainstorming session at Enterprise Rental when the person who suggested that they pick up their clients because no one else does. You can be sure they snickered at first, and then they seriously considered it. Can we actually do that? You bet they can and they haven't looked back.

    You can also take your brand and make it into a great brand. Where you have the advantage over national brands is the reality that you're a small to medium-sized business operating in one or two markets. Some may be part of a national chain, while the rest are independent. The fact is you're small enough to be flatter than the national players. You can turn on a dime at a moment's notice. The advantage in your market goes to the independent. Nationals have to play by rules set at the head office. You can be great and first to market if you embrace a positioning strategy that you know they can't copy without enduring a lengthy approval process. By that time, you will have established yourself as the originator and leader. You own the high ground. After all these years, everyone still knows that '30 minutes or it's free' is Domino's. That's powerful.

    Implement Your Brand
    Your mindset has to change from being a signage company to being a service company. If it's not service, then whatever your differentiator is, you must become that brand. That's authenticity. Making the customer experience stellar is paramount in branding.

    Additionally, consistency is very important in the delivery of your brand. Your brand image should reflect your brand values, and your corporate palette should be the same across all media. Your brand message should be expressed consistently from the shop floor, to reception and out on to the streets. The business should be wrapped up in a nice tight package, everything working to sell professionalism and your positioning strategy.

    You have the opportunity to define your brand and make it great. To do otherwise will allow your competition to define you, and they'll do that gladly. Lead; don't follow.

    For more than 25 years, Ed Roach has worked with hundreds of successful small businesses by helping them develop unique brand positioning strategies that differentiates them from their competition. Ed appreciates working with companies who see the value of going beyond mere slogans and have a desire to sell from compelling positions.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, September/October 2012 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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