Originally created 07/18/04

Strong identity can separate business from its rivals

"We don't actually have a brand, as such," a CEO told me at a recent seminar. "We have a logo and a marketing tag line, but we don't really think we are big enough for a brand."

If you define corporate or brand identity as only a logo and tagline, you don't understand the essence of creating a strong identity, or how critical it is to the effectiveness of your marketing. Here's a quick test: Substitute your competition's name and logo into your last ad. If you think it works for them, it's not working for you.

Most companies naively bore their audiences with the obvious. They boast how wonderful they are. What great service they provide. They claim to be the ultimate solution providers. The problem is the competition is making the same claims.

Dale Carnegie once said, "People aren't interested in you. They are interested in themselves." The same is true of companies. If your story is "we do it better than our competition," you are fighting a losing battle. "Better than" claims lack of credibility. They also bore the audience because everyone is saying the same thing.

Approach the dilemma from this perspective: Nobody cares about your company. Nobody has time to listen to your story. Now, how are you going to get their attention? Only with a clear, unique identity, and here is the key: Less is more.

That's the secret to brand identity. Sacrifice. Find the one value your product or service offers that is most meaningful to your target audience and build your brand around it. The more you are willing to sacrifice, the greater the impact of your message.

What's the thickest ketchup? The fastest overnight delivery company? Heinz and FedEx sacrificed all the other worthy attributes of their product or service in order to magnify the impact of the most meaningful one. They built their identity around this essence. In the late 1990s we had a client who had started an innovative business in the health care industry. It was a service firm that not only had great knowledge about the technical part of their service but also had employees who were all nurses so they understood how hospitals worked.

When my client and I first met, I reviewed the company's sales information and found it listed more than 20 consulting products. The strength of its offering was the understanding of Medicare billing regulations, but the company buried that in all the other products. At the same time, one of the largest private medial school hospitals had just been fined more than $50 million dollars for Medicare fraud.

We simplified the company's name, the product list went from twenty to one product and we advertised one simple theme: "There is something you can do to keep from being sued by Medicare." Every major hospital knew who we were and what we did. We were different than the competition and gained a major regional market share in less than one year.

We shed all the other products and focused on the one we knew best and the one our clients needed the most.



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