Brand decay, accidental commodity… what the hell are we even talking about?!
Well, this week I wanted to chat about something that happens way too often to good companies that can end up becoming invisible and destroying their business. (ominous music plays)
Brand decay can happen when you allow things to become outdated.
So, what is it? Brand decay is a de-evolution that happens when a company stops paying attention to its brand positioning/differentiation and focuses only on the features of their products and services. Over time, the essence of the brand (how we are different and why should you choose us) gets muddled and the company starts competing on price more and more. And then they become JUST ANOTHER VENDOR. Yes, those dreaded words that strike fear into the heart of even the longest established contractors.
Ok, so – picture this:
You're busting your ass day in, day out – working hard to keep your customers happy. You've got a base of loyal clients that have been coming to you for years. Your staff is happy, you get on great with them and they get the work done.
Sound perfect? Not quite.
What happens when your biggest client gets taken over by another corporation that brings their own guys in to do your job?
When Bob, your oldest client, retires and shuts his whole place down (or worse still, someone new takes over that is a PIA to deal with), what do you do?
When a new company, that does exactly what you do, but for much less money, opens up in the same town as you, how do you compete? Do your clients leave you for them? Maybe, maybe not, but what about new prospects, to them are you just another vendor on the bid list?
If any of these scenarios make your blood run cold at just the thought of it happening to you, you might already be suffering from the effects of brand devolution.
While working hard and keeping your head down is admirable, you need to work on your business – not just in it.
You need to be hustling – intentionally growing your brand and managing its reputation.
If you don't, your reputation is strong only with your current and past clientele – and once they leave, retire or the business gets sold, that repeat and referral link is gone. And you are left wondering what the heck happened.
And that's when you become JUST ANOTHER VENDOR.
One that looks like everyone else.
One that sounds like everyone else.
One that sells the same stuff as everyone else.
You're not known for your years of hard work. Not known for your dedication to high-quality products. Definitely not known for those back-breaking years of the best customer service anyone's ever seen.
You're judged solely on your price by the people who don't know you.
And guess what? There'll always be someone waiting to undercut you to score that big-name client.
You have a good name and reputation with those that know you. They see how you are different based on past projects, but to the rest of the market, you are invisible. To them, you are interchangeable with every other name that comes up in a google search.
It's at this stage you can pretty much consider your company an accidental commodity.
You've become easily replaceable and easily forgotten – simply through neglect. And all that hard work and those long hours will become meaningless as new clients only care about the bottom dollar because they don't have anything else to measure you.
The word neglect is a harsh pill to swallow because it isn't intentional, you were busy building a client base and delivering on promises. Without a marketing department whose focus is cultivating and distributing the message of who you are, what you do best, and what you stand for, it happens to the best of us.
But, before you throw the towel in – there is hope!
You can save your business from the pits of being an accidental commodity.
How? Work on finding your uniqueness (it is there trust us) and creating a visual and verbal brand personality you can apply to everything. You are more than your products and services. It's the YOU ingredient that is missing and makes you appear like a commodity.
It takes the courage to see that your image has devolved. It really sucks. I've been there. But that is the first step, the next is to hire a consultant to dig in and find the goodies that can be the basis of differentiating and positioning your firm. Mix that with who you were built to serve and you are well on your way.
Say goodbye to random acts of marketing. Everything you do to promote your business should be intentional, honest, and 100% you and focused on the value you provide to clients.
- Do the self-discovery work of figuring out who you really are, who you are meant to serve and why they should care
- Create a strategy of where you want to concentrate your time and money
- What are your broad aspirations and concrete goals for the business?
- Across all the potential markets and industries, where are you going to choose to play and not play?
- With those places in mind, how are you going to win against the competitors there?
- Spend time thinking about how to differentiate your business
- Decide how you want to be positioned in the market
- Rework all of your messaging to be clear, concise and aligned with your core business DNA
- Revitalize your visual identity to align with the new developments and changes in your brand
- Take all the work from the above bullets and apply it to your website and marketing
When you have respect as a company, you get loyal customers (you probably have this already). You get a name in your industry and you get a good brand reputation (you probably have this too but it's limited). This is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. Avoid brand decay but moving branding from being a once-in-a-blue-moon task to part of your core infrastructure.
These things are worth more than any marketing plan!
If you continually work on that brand positioning, you'll have no problem appealing to your target audience.
So when Bob decides to hang up his hat after 40 years, you'll be able to replace his contract with the next generation's version of Bob. Because your company is no longer just a service provider.
When you submit those RFP responses, you won't be judged solely on price – they'll know your reputation as the hard-working, customer-pleasing, badass company you are.
Clients will refer you more as their “go-to” firm because you have provided an easy way to talk about you that is clear. Newcomers to the market will quickly find you, see and feel that you are a real player that must be invited to the table.
Remember, branding is company culture too.
If your staff feels not taken care of, they start to not care about the company and are easily poached by competitors. Customers are often tied to the sales rep, if they go, often customers go with them.
So, if you want to avoid becoming an accidental commodity, think about your brand positioning. Think about your brand from the inside out and the outside in. Actively work on managing your brand. You're never too big or too small to do this.
Shift the power in your buy-sell relationship with your customers by positioning your brand in the market as the leader you are.
I've been helping companies like you do exactly that for over 30 years. Here at Branding & Beyond, we'll help you find what already exists, clean it up and put in an easy-to-understand message. When you work with us, you'll know exactly what's on-brand and what's off-brand, saving you time and money. Shiny objects become less shiny and distracting when you have aligned your business, your brand personality with the appropriate target audience, and marketing channels.
Sound good? Let's chat!
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Tracy O’Shaughnessy Founder / Lead Brand Strategist of Branding & Beyond
Tracy and her team help B2B firms in the construction industry and professional services look and sound credible online and off.
She has been in the industry since the early '90s and is tired of great companies being treated as commodities and competing on price because they don't look and sound as credible as they really are.
You can find Tracy on Linkedin and here on this blog.