Why asking people what they think of your brand is important
We often advise our clients ‘your logo is not your brand’. It’s a distinction we try to make very clear when we embark on our brand strategy work with them, particularly if they spend more time on their business than their marketing (which is almost all of them, and also how it should be).
While the logo might be the most visible aspect of a brand, it is merely the handle, the vessel that contains the meaning of the brand (in Bachelor of Arts terms, we’re talking the signifier and the sign).
A more prosaic explanation might be: your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. This applies equally to a multinational credit card company just as much as a freelance graphic designer working by remote from the Byron hinterland. So how do you listen in on a room you’re outside of?
Asking is straight up the easiest (and hardest) way to gather intel about any brand, intel that you’re going to need if you’re going to impact the way the market perceives and values your product (or you).
Here’s the answer to your next question: when is the best time to ask what people think of your brand?
1. When you’re asking about your people
For a service business, especially a consultancy, the company brand is inextricably linked to the people. At Wordsearch, we sought feedback on our people, as part of the performance management process (notice I didn’t say performance review. That’s something I learned from Simon Lusty of Firebrand, in this discussion).
This process pulled double-duty, helping us build a fairly accurate picture of what our brand was known for and where gaps had grown between what clients valued and what we offered. Closing the loop became a fairly straightforward process of guiding our team to focus on the things we’re known and remunerated for as a brand, adjusting some of the responsibilities and looking at adding skills in some areas.
2. When you ask your clients about themselves
Our 3D Brand Strategy process starts with a fairly analogue discovery phase – the personal interview. Amongst our questions, we always ask our clients what they do and don’t like about dealing with agencies and consultancies. These category brand stories, (or stereotypes even), tell us what our customers already expect from our brand before they’ve had a chance to experience us first hand.
Anything, even the smallest thing, we do that matches these expectations will cement our brand position by playing to confirmation bias. Conversely, we’re going to have to work a lot harder if we want our brand to be known for something they tell us they simply don’t value, or think is irrelevant to them. In those cases, you’d have to stop and wonder why you’d keep trying – people rarely pay more than is strictly necessary for things they don’t value highly.
3. When you ask for help
The assumption with customer feedback and client sat scores is that the results are going to be negative. And, as humans (assuming we’re all more or less human), we generally don’t want to hear negative things about ourselves. About other people? Tell me more. About me? Maybe another time.
Assuming your client is not a psychopath, they’re probably reluctant to give you truthful negative feedback directly anyway. In this case, re-frame the question as a request for help. Ask them about what they liked, what they didn’t expect, what they want to see more of. Let them know their opinion is valuable and their suggestions are likely to be acted upon. Not only will the answers be more truthful, but the intel will be far more actionable.
4. When you ask someone to ask on your behalf
We’ve been doing it since high school when we asked our friend to ask the friend of someone we liked if that someone also liked us back. And we’re still doing it today – larger firms hire third parties such as a market research firms, mystery shoppers or pollsters to get a sense of their brand’s standing.
You can simulate that by sending your clients with a simple feedback form after a project. The trick is to make it look automated (better yet, automate it). MailChimp, Survey Monkey, Google docs etc all offer simple tools for collecting general feedback, allowing clients to remain relatively anonymous and taking the interpersonal high-stakes drama out of the ‘Ok, what do you really think of me?” conversation.
You can also use your network of referrers, partners, suppliers and contractors to make (subtle) enquiries on your behalf or to simply ‘keep an ear out’ for what the market is saying about you. Again, let them know why you’re doing it, and don’t forget to ask their opinion, also.
In a classic case of the mechanic’s car, we realised we were overdue for some brand maintenance ourselves, so we re-ran our 3D Brand Strategy process on our own brand recently and made some subtle but important adjustments to our story.
It’s important to make sure that what you’re saying to the market aligns not only with what you’re offering but also with what your clients want to hear. And how do you discover that? You just have to ask.