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What to do when your market doesn’t understand you

by Kelly Hobkirk

Backward is the way forward

If you’re like me, everything you create, you try to make it great. You do original work, push boundaries, and you are always innovating.

One of the biggest problems entrepreneurs face is people not understanding them. That’s when you see lengthy descriptions of what, how, and why people ought to take notice. The problem itself, however, is often grossly misunderstood. The problem is not lack of understanding.

The problem is lack of attention.

When people are unable to quickly grasp a concept, they typically move on to something else. Once your audience has moved on, all the explaining and proof of concept in the world won’t reach them.

How do you command attention when you have created something so advanced that people don’t yet know they want it?

You go backward.

Getting people to change a behavior they don’t even know can be changed requires gap bridging. This is an incredibly hard step for visionaries because it requires you to create something less grand. Yet, doing just that may just be critical to the marketing of your big idea.

You may have to create an intermediary product, one that bridges the gap between your big idea (where you want people to go) and where they are. And make no mistake, the intermediary offering is itself marketing. It is physical marketing, or showing possibility by delivering a physical product that inspires your market to think well beyond their current habit.

While you are branding and marketing your intermediary product, you can keep the big idea in the back of your mind or in your long-term plans. Once your initial offering gains traction, you can study the numbers to determine when you can launch the big kahuna. The gap bridging you are doing will help people understand your idea much quicker. Then, you can command their attention right when you need to, at the launch of the big one.

Getting there requires the same tried and true marketing methods that have worked wonders for decades. It’s all about visibility and credibility.

1. Float – Gain visibility
2. Swim – Gain visibility
3. Compete – Gain credibility
4. Win – Gain visibility and credibility

Let’s expand that:

Float your intermediary idea as though it is the big one. Get it out there, talk about it, write about it. Connecting with people will help you understand and speak to their needs and concerns. For many people, your intermediary product will seem like a huge step forward. Why is the intermediary offering important? This is all about seeing if people respond and connect with you and your concept. If they do, you are literally inspiring their steps that lead to your grand vision.

Swim with your would-be competition. Brand your company and product so that your marketing can do its job with maximum effectiveness. Identify which marketing methods will most likely yield success, and hatch the simplest plan possible to implement them. Why simple? It keeps your marketing do-able.

Compete for your would-be customers’ attention. Implement your marketing with amazing consistency. Rock it, every week. Stay true to your mission, brand, and vision, and see if people respond to it.

Win by staying true to your market. If your offering really is a game-changer, even the intermediary product will turn heads and manifest the behavior change you seek.

Every step of your marketing is trained on building visibility and credibility. If you do it with consistency, people will take notice and trust you. This is how you become an authority, a market leader.

When you have done the work to become a leader; when you have bridged the gap; when you have gained an audience that knows and trusts you — that is when your big idea can successfully be launched.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • April 11, 2016 • Tags: ,,,

All Marketers Are Romantics

by Kelly Hobkirk

There are two types of brand romantics in the working world, the believers and the paycheckers, and most every organization has both in their ranks, playing the role of inherent marketer.

The good romantics, those who help companies make millions and feel good about it, know how to craft reality into compelling stories people can connect with. The poor ones on the other hand, are romantics who know how to sell themselves in the course of crafting average actions and stories that average people may or may not connect with. The poor ones place emphasis more on making their sale, less on yours.

Internally, every employee is a marketer in one way or another. Employees are either believers or paycheckers. They are working for you because they believe in the company vision and its products, or they are there simply to collect a paycheck. Paycheckers are masters of disguise, while believers are masters of truth. Paycheckers get things done because it’s their job, while believers get things done and constantly strive for improvement because they believe in your brand.

How Paycheckers Drag You Down
The world is full of paycheckers because there are not many truly necessary and compelling products relative to how many workers there are. Paycheckers do what you tell them. They can say that they believe if you tell them to believe, but true belief is in the blood and the bones, and it can’t be acquired with mere telling or employee handbooks.

Paycheckers drag your brand and company down because their dialog is rarely as convincing as it must be, taking an often invisible toll on everyone’s efforts and projecting that outward like a toxic gas.

What people often do not realize about brands is that they are as much related to subtlety as they are about the overt, as much about the verbal as they are about the visual, and as much about the interactions as they are about the buying action. That means everything they do is a reflection of you.

Paycheckers rarely understand the deep significance of this fundamental difference because they are there first to collect a paycheck and second to represent. They’ve got it backwards, and while the difference is subtle, getting it turned the other way round often requires changing their personal core needs, which can be next to impossible without good psychological work (which you rarely can ask people to undertake) and particularly without leading by example, which I will explain further below.

Of course, everyone needs to be paid, but as a core part of their belief in you, believers understand that nudging brand representation in front of personal needs will yield greater brand value and, as a direct result, greater job security and personal well-being. There is a leap in that equation that requires faith in you. Some paycheckers can acquire it and some can not.

How True Believers Support Success
If your product and vision are among the relatively few great, you already have a head start, and if you already have a staff full of true believers, your head start is massive in nature. Not only can you attract talented people who will believe in you, but your people will give you their best efforts every day, always keeping your brand’s value in mind as a priority in everything they do.

Each person on your team will have the capacity to talk about your brand with a convincing tone, and to act as an ambassador for incoming employees, customers, vendors, partners, and anyone else. They are true believers who understand and believe in your vision and products, and they work every day to help you maintain and improve it by being true.

Believers can’t be caught out because they show their belief in every effort, every communication, every interaction, whether or not the effort is a success, a failure, or somewhere in between. Everything they do and say reflects the romantic side of their personality, literally that professional ethic inside of them, the feeling they have for their own motivation and actions, and how they communicate with the rest of the world about your brand.

How to Convert Paycheckers into True Believers
You might have some paycheckers on staff who you really like, you want to see them succeed, and you believe in their ability to help you succeed. They have done some good work, but you feel like you’re not getting the fullness of their capability. That can mean they have a doubt that needs to be fixed by a better experience, something they need to see and feel in order to develop that critical intrinsic belief about you.

The good news is that some paycheckers can be converted over to true believers. All they really need is to have those parts of their psyche that contain fears and doubts born of interactions reinforced with new interactions that overwrite current beliefs. For some it will be a quick conversion, born of one or two small changes. For others who possess more doubts, it may take time.

Converting paycheckers into true believers is all about making sure everyone around them is leading by example, representing your brand in the truest manner and with complete consistency.

Why You Must Lead Believers by Example
People believe in brands when they believe in the people who create and run them. That means you have to be at your best whenever possible, and you have to be real. You have to embody the positive qualities that people hold dear to their own happiness and well-being. You have to possess an understanding of those factors within your company, manufacturers, distributors, and customers, and you have to be able to represent them in a way that is true to your beliefs. You get out what you put in. You have to trust people, and when you do, they will trust you. Two-way trust results in people giving the best parts of themselves to their work, which shows they love what they are doing in helping your brand succeed.

This is where objective introspection becomes paramount. If you are a leader who is lacking in some subtle way, you may be unaware of how your smaller actions and words effect others. For instance, if you lack trust, or have a habit of utilizing belittling words, or over-share your personal problems, that can have a direct effect on people’s confidence in you and your organization. And maybe it’s not you, but rather your brand’s lack of outward character that is undermining their belief in you. Remember, your brand is a direct reflection of you.

A strong brand starts at the core, from within you, then extends to your organization or team, and radiates outward to consumers. It is critical to start at the center and build out belief in a radiating manner. When you do that, you can see the brand grow organically, which in turn infuses your marketing with a healthy core, keeping it true and believable, which helps people easily connect with your products.

Here is an example that many business owners overlook: As inconsequential as it may seem, if you have a dirty office, that internally reflects on your brand because it subconsciously speaks to how you regard the people who work for you. It gives people a degree of doubt right at home, at the core, something extra to think about (in a negative way). A quick daily cleaning shows people that you keep a clean house. A clean house equals a clear mind. Brands have a tendency to grow when everything radiating from the core is clean, clear, and overtly positive.

More obvious places where your brand can inspire confidence include your product quality, brand identity, marketing communications, social media interactions, and customer service. All of these are directly influenced by you and your team.

When you bring the same awareness to the all aspects of your brand, from the smallest through to the most visible, people notice it, and it comes through in everything they do, talk about, and buy.

We are all romantics, all marketing to ourselves. When you give people every reason to believe, you appeal to their romantic side, and it will come as a welcome reward that they place their belief in you.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • February 8, 2015 • Tags: ,,,,

Our different approach to guaranteeing brand success

by Kelly Hobkirk

Is it possible to guarantee brand success? Yes and No. Our branding process works. When we are hired to brand a company, service, or product, we know that the process we use has yielded a whole lot of success and happiness. But we can’t control factors outside of our process. All we can realistically do is follow our process and encourage sound business practices for the rest.

Lately, I’ve been rewriting business letters for some clients to help improve one of the factors typically out of our control, and it’s working. They are getting results. (Over time, my hope is that osmosis will occur, and their written communications will improve. When your writing improves, verbal communication often follows suit.)

My approach to successful branding is a simple process:
1) Plan as much as possible, making sure you get all of the basics down on paper.
2) Design the brand to inspire and connect, while adhering to the plan.
3) Market with integrity, staying true to market needs and brand characteristics.

Does this formula guarantee success? Nope, however, I guarantee that if you don’t do these things, your chances of failure will exponentially increase.

People ask for guaranteed brand success, but a guarantee of success is impossible because there are factors outside our direct influence. For instance, we can’t control how a company does business, how they follow up with customers, or product quality, yet all of those and more factor into overall success of a brand.

The big surprise is that many companies fail to do all three of the above critical steps as described.

• They may do some planning, but not all of it, or they may skip a critical step of planning such as brand positioning.

• They may steer the design towards personal preference rather than strategically connecting it to the market. Of course, we have ways of steering it back on course.

• Companies often market without integrity, creating fictional (let’s say ‘hopeful’ or ‘wishful’) stories rather than compelling truths. This is why people are now suspicious of advertisements.

One truth that reigns supreme in branding and marketing is that repeating what has previously failed will yield failure, but following a proven process that works stands a great chance of manifesting brand success.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • January 21, 2015 • Tags:

Attention half-life

by Kelly Hobkirk

Any foods and drinks you consume have what is called a half-life, or the amount of time it takes the body to metabolize and purge half of the substance. Imagine if your attention span had a half-life, the amount of time it takes for your mind to accept and process what it is taking in. The truth of your brand and your advertising directly effect attention half-life, or the time it takes for your prospects to trust or reject your story.

Accepting your concept is a stretch for some and a natural for others. To tip the scale towards acceptance winning the moment, all you have to do is tell the truth in a compelling way. Which is easy for some people and their companies, and truly difficult for others.

If we can agree that everyone wants to tell the truth, we can also probably agree that many people are convinced that the truth is so boring that they won’t capture anyone’s attention. It’s why we have superheroes, Barbie, talking teddy bears and old men endearingly squeezing toilet paper.

Maybe we can agree that for every product there is a compelling, truthful story waiting to be told, but it’s buried under so many years of fictional advertising tales and waxed brand characteristics that even the powers that be have forgotten the plot.

The more you tell half-truths, the shorter the amount of time it takes for people to reject your marketing stories and move on to something they can believe in. On the other hand, people have a sixth sense about truthful tales. They accept and connect with you when you gain their attention by telling your truth.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • March 7, 2013 • Tags: ,,

The important differences between brands and branding

by Kelly Hobkirk

Businesspeople often get confused when talking about their marketing, particularly with regard to brands and branding. Items and actions in the English language often have niggling little differences that fail in some way to provide clarity, instead causing confusion. People who know and use the words each day know their meanings like the back of their hand, but people who don’t know them use the words in confusing ways that limit everyone’s understanding and learning.

The confusion of branding, illustrated
I was checking out a newly rebranded Seattle bank a couple years back, and watched a manager trying to help a woman understand the differences between personal and business accounts. As the prospective customer asked her questions, the manager handed the bewildered woman a brochure, saying “Here, let me give you a copy of our new branding,” and walked away leaving her to figure it all out on her own. (The woman placed the brochure on a table and left without opening an account.)

Brand is not branding

The difference between brand and branding is that one is a marketing tool and the other is an action.

Perhaps the biggest mixerupper I hear in business is the use of brand and branding as interchangeable words. Some people also call advertising branding (it’s not even close). Branding is about defining, while advertising is about promoting.

The fact that many graphic designers don’t know what branding is or how to accurately describe it, makes matters worse, particularly because businesspeople expect them to know. Some designers use brand and branding interchangeably, reinforcing confusion instead of providing clarity.

A brand is a thing (noun). Branding is an action (verb). This is more than just persnickety semantics—it’s about fundamental understanding of a core marketing tool.

What is branding?

Branding is the act of creating a brand. The process involves positioning your company or product in the market (carving out your own place), devising brand strategy (how you will reach your goals), creating your name (your verbal identity), designing corporate identity or product identity (your visual identity), writing brand messaging (verbal and written tone), and setting brand standards (how you keep your brand consistent and strong).

When branding (also called brand development) is completed, most businesses (when they’ve worked with an experienced professional) will not have to undertake the branding process for roughly 10-20 or more years. In the life of a 50-year business, branding the company occurs only 2-3 times total.

When a company’s brand becomes outdated in 20 years, then you may once again need to take on the branding process. If you create new products or launch new companies, you get to enjoy the exciting process of branding on a more frequent basis.

Once the branding process is completed, the word ‘branding’ has no continuing relationship to your brand (unless you work with cattle).

What is your brand?

Your brand is the result of the branding effort. Your brand describes who you are and what you do by use of visual identity, verbal dialog and tone of actions. It is utilized for virtually all of your marketing communications. It is how people identify, know and remember you.

How knowing the distinction helps your business

A critical branding concept to embrace is that we are not creating a made-up story or spiel. We’re creating a real marketing communication tool which, when wielded articulately, can empower your entire organization to communicate with greater purpose and clarity. Knowing this enables people to be well-informed, and to impart better understanding, which leads to less confusion, clear communication, and better customer service.

Understanding the difference between brands and branding helps you net a stronger brand because you will be more personally invested the brand development process. Your understanding also helps your employees grasp the full significance of the brand, so they learn how to best utilize it in marketing, selling, and supporting your goals and initiatives.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • March 9, 2012 • Tags: ,