This is a very practical post. While there a longer-term branding issues at play with most struggling businesses (stipulated), there are still some first steps your business can and should take to get back on the path of profitability (or consistent growth).
Problem #1: You don’t stand out from every other company in your industry.
Tip: Make a list of all the things you think are unique about your business. Then go to your competitors’ websites and cross out any items on your list that are the same or nearly identical as what they claim is unique about their business.
Look at what’s left. That’s the start of your work on differentiation. If there’s nothing left, then look at some of your customer feedback for patterns — are there things they’re telling you that weren’t on your original list? If so, then those things are probably the reasons currently why you’re still in business! This isn’t to say you rest on your laurels and don’t continue to innovate on products or services (e.g., your competitors might not be exactly who you think they are), but at least it’s a start that can help your sales efforts become more targeted and effective tomorrow. (For more details, see my posts The Art of Differentiation and What Makes Your Business Unique?)
Problem #2: You’re hazy on the identity of your ideal customer.
Tip: There are deeper questions at play here, of course, and your current customer might not be the ideal customer you want to have in 5 years. However, for the time being, you can identify your best customers, defined as those who spend the most money on your products/services, and use them as a working target persona. You then need to look at why they bought from you at first and why they continue to buy from you. And what’s their world like? This can also help you gain some clarity on problem #1 above. (For more details, see my post Finding Your Target Customer.)
Problem #3: You’re spending money on social media every month and don’t have much business to show for it.
Tip: Raise your hand if you’ve spent over $100 (or even $1,000 or $10,000) on Facebook ads or InMail without anything more to show for it than a bruised ego. It happens all the time to businesses large and small. If you can work through problems #1 and #2 above, you’ll find that you not only know who to target, but also what to say to them that will get their attention. (And yes, this means that posting inspirational quotes on Facebook is not going to do much to grow your business.)
Problem #4: You’re discounting and competing on price (not growing revenue).
Tip: The tips for problems #1 and #2 should help a lot here. In many cases, the reason you’re forced to compete on price is because your customers see you as a commodity, with nothing valuable enough to justify higher rates than your competitors. However, if you can show that you offer your customers some unique value — whether it’s a better experience, saving them time, making them more productive, or so on — you can charge more because you’re more valuable. Remember to focus on the outcomes you enable, because your products/services are only a means to an end for customers. (For more details, see my posts Commodity, Schmodity and Two Lies and a Truth About Pricing.)
Problem #5: You’re leaving money on the table through a lack of innovation.
Tip: This is a difficult problem to address only because it’s a stealth problem. By that I mean that it’s the problem of making a quarter instead of a dollar when you don’t know you could have made a dollar. However, one thing to understand about your best customers (problem #2) is that they want to spend more with you if given half a chance. But if you’re only offering them one product or a lot of inexpensive ones, you’re likely leaving money — possibly a considerable amount — on the table. To address this, consider what premium offerings you could market to them. You might just be surprised at how they react. (For more details, see my post Creating More Value For Your Best Customers.)
Branding is hard work, but it can be enlightening and invigorating work too. Starting with these five tips, you can start to have meaningful brand discussions with your team and take your business to the next level of success.