Just because you love your business doesn't mean it's always easy to tell your company's story to the world. Good branding is part art, part science. For our second installment of our new advice column we tackle how to position a unique company to stand out from the competition.
This reader question comes from Jacob from Charlotte, NC, and is answered by CMO of Gannett Maryam Banikarim and CEO of Wolff Olins, Karl Heiselman:
My wife and I have a yoga business that is more oriented to public and behavioral health. We are critical of mainstream yoga, and we try to differentiate ourselves in terms of the types of programs we offer and how we run them, but it's an uphill battle because people have a certain perception of what yoga is.
We are thinking of changing our name to something like "integrative health" but that doesn't really capture what we do because we do implement many aspects of yoga traditions. Any suggestions for how to market and brand our business so we stand out among our competitors and the public can understand what we do?
What’s great is that you and your wife are challenging the norm of the yoga business. But before tackling the naming challenge, let’s take a step back and think about some fundamental things every brand needs to get right.
Because of the way that technology has affected people, brands and society the most critical thing you can do is define your purpose. Once you’ve nailed it, your purpose will provide a roadmap for the ride ahead.
So sit down with your wife and ask yourselves some tough questions. Why do we exist? What do we stand for? What role will we play in people’s lives? What impact do you want to have on the world? By answering these questions you should be able to start to define how people experience your business.
Think about the last brand you recommended to a friend. The chances are it gave you the right level of service at the value you were looking for in that moment. This is what your new brand needs to do. Brands are defined by the experiences they create and curate. Better experiences help businesses attract new customers, keep them for longer, and stretch into new areas to create value for them.
Though I don’t know about yoga, I do know about businesses with ambition. I think you have a clear opportunity to think of yourselves less as a business and more as a health and wellness movement. Could you, for example, reimagine your business as a media business that creates content that educates, informs, and engages people with your philosophy on wellness, and offers yoga classes as part of that experience? Perhaps you can partner with other businesses to provide those extra services?
As for naming, a topic we’ve been thinking about lately, it’s often misunderstood that the name has to do all of the work. You have other tools to help you communicate your purpose other than your name. You could for example, have a name that is not descriptive but simply sounds good and include a descriptor that clarifies and excites people about your purpose.
It sounds like you feel you have a niche that sets you apart from your competition, and making that clear to others, in a way that is easy and quick to grasp is the key to successful marketing. The most successful brands are the ones that can articulate their value proposition to a third grader or their grandmother and have them really understand what they mean.
To get some clarity—and to be honest you need some clarity—here are some steps you might want to take:
Who are you? Who is your target audience? How are you perceived in the marketplace? Who is your competition? It does seem like yoga is a crowded marketplace. You got to be crystal clear about what you are offering and how that’s different without being complicated.
When you say the word yoga I have an image. When you say the word integrative health I’m fuzzy. I don't know what the right word is because I don’t know enough about your business. But you do. So try to pick it all apart until its super clear—and focus on the benefits.
Remember you should have an elevator pitch: you have someone captive for 10 floors. They ask you about your business. Quick what would you say to get them to come in or want to learn more?
To (target audience) I am (x) because (the reason why). Read it out loud. How does it feel when you say it? How right is it for your audience? Does it set you apart from the competition? Brands with clear positioning do not leave us lukewarm. Hate them or love them—either way you feel something for them. So try this exercise out multiple times, then test it. Would the third grader understand?
Now to the marketing:
- Develop and execute a marketing plan.
- Put a plan together that helps you reinforce your brand positioning.
What kind of materials do you need to let people know about your business? Think of everything—your business card, website, physical space. These things are all part of your marketing. Everything you do or say is saying something about your brand. So sweat the details and make every decision a conscious one.
Think of partners that you think would make sense to align yourselves with. Are there health professionals that believe in the same things as you, and if so should be you being part of a referral network? Who refers someone to you is key and vice versa. If you trust someone, then his or her word of mouth is worth a great deal. So make sure you align yourselves with the right people.
What kind of events should you hold? And what do you want people who come to these events to say about the experience when they leave? While I don’t know a great deal about your business I would venture to guess that you would want folks who leave an event that you hold or are associated with feeling like they learned something, that they are more relaxed and healthier. Think of your three core values and make sure every event you are doing reinforces these values.
If a reporter wrote an article about your business what would be the headline of the piece be? What three things would you want them to highlight? What type of media outlets would makes sense for your story? I find it helpful to go backwards when it comes to communication. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are pitching. How does what you have to pitch fit into what they do? Did you look at what kinds of stories they have written or aired? And does what you have to pitch fit in with those? If not, this is an uphill battle you will not win.
It sounds like you have a product you believe in and that you think has benefits that set it apart from the rest of the marketplace. Now it’s your job to get others to see what you see. I wish you lots of luck.
If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or Tweet us a question using #AskFC.
[Image: Flickr user Nina Matthews Photography]