Editor’s note: Bill Massey is Executive Director of Consumer Behavior for R+M, a brand development and brand management agency in Cary, NC. Massey will be speaking at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s (CED) Feb. 8 Entrepreneurs Only Workshop on “Developing and Building Your Brand.” This column is the latest in a series for LTW from the membership of the CED. The Entrepreneurial Spirit is published on Thursdays.

_______________________________________________________________________________________Handing out your business card. Networking at an event. Conducting a client meeting. Whether you know it or not, you are creating your brand with everything you do. The choice is yours: proactively craft and build your brand … or leave it to others to determine what place you will occupy in the minds of your customers.

A well-crafted brand provides a guidepost for your business, bringing clarity for your development … and most importantly … for your customers. Simply, your brand is your business. Start by asking yourself: What business am I in?

Discovering Your True Business

If you answered “bioscience” or “software” or “advertising,” you’re missing the boat … and missing the potential of your brand. To uncover the business you’re in, you need to know: What are people really buying from me? What do they really want from me?

Let’s consider for a moment a typical business school. Are people really buying a $70,000 education? No. Are they really buying a piece of paper that says “MBA” on it? No.

What are they buying? The promise of the enhanced lifestyle an MBA can deliver. This promise transcends logic and captures the emotional trigger of prospective students.

Creating The Brand Promise

Now consider your customers. What are their emotional triggers, desires and needs? How is your company pulling those triggers in a unique and irreplaceable way? What does your brand promise to deliver? Remember: If you are seeking to inform people, you can appeal to their logic. But if you are seeking to persuade people, you must appeal to their emotions.

However, a promise is only a promise if you keep it. Fall short of the promise, and you risk losing customers. Consistently exceed expectations, and build a level of loyalty that nothing can topple.

How do you keep the brand promise? By living the brand through every customer touch point: awareness, purchase, use and membership.

Awareness

Your first opportunity to introduce your brand to your customer is during awareness building. Here, you must “get into their head,” understanding what they are seeking. It’s important to note that, at this stage, prospective customers are in the process of eliminating options … not selecting them. Your goal: stay in the game.

Purchase

Next is the buying experience, the stage at which your customers are prepared to make a selection. You have met their basic criteria, but the battle is not yet won. Is the buying experience easy and convenient? Pleasant and memorable? Deliver a poor experience at this stage, and you damage your brand for the long haul.

Use

Once your prospect is a user, your opportunities to maintain your brand and build loyalty begin. Will the service or product keep the brand promise? If something goes wrong, how will you fix it? Your customers are looking for validation of their decision to buy from you … and reasons to remain your customer or migrate to your competition.

Membership

You’ve landed your customer, but your job is not done. Now you must get beyond their head, and into their heart. Do your customers experience privileges or prestige in ownership? A sense of belonging to a tribe? This is your opportunity to transform a mere user into a champion for your brand: someone who will buy again, make referrals and pay a premium.

A Living Brand

Congratulations. You’ve taken the first steps in harnessing brand power to work for your business. But, for your brand to continue to have meaning … for you and your customers … it must adapt, evolve and grow. The task of branding your company is never complete, but done well it will be one of your company’s most valuable assets.
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Note: For more insights on branding and how it can bolster your business, attend CED’s Entrepreneurs Only Workshop: February 8, 2005 … Developing and Building Your Company’s Brand. Visit www.cednc.org/calendar for more details.

After completing two tours of duty as an Army Ranger, Bill Massey parlayed his leadership skills into corporate success as a sales and marketing executive for global companies including IBM, Exxon, Sheraton and GE. Bill has dedicated the latter part of his career to agency life, including stints at G. Fossella Advertising, McClain/Finlon Advertising, McKinney+Silver Advertising and, most recently, as Executive Director of Consumer Behavior at R+M, a brand development and brand management agency in Cary, NC.