I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life.
My first business was an ice cream truck when I was 16. My second was a photography business in Paris when I was 20.
My best business lesson came a few years later at dinner with a friend’s father who owned a ritzy Ferrari dealership in Versailles, and his wife’s father who had just failed in a real estate venture.
The failed real estate entrepreneur was musing that the reason he had failed was that he was undercapitalized.
My friend’s father shook his head with a knowing frown and muttered “no” under his breath. My friend’s father had immigrated from Spain. He slept under Pont Neuf and worked as a mechanic, eventually saving enough to buy the garage and turn it into a dealership to sell cars to people with “real” money.
“The reason you failed is that you didn’t have customers,” he said.
This lesson stuck with me for the rest of my life. I just read an article about how business consultants use a tool called “the whale” to convince clients they can miraculously save their failing businesses. The real name for this tool is a cumulative customer profitability graph. Per the author of the article, who started his career at a very well-known management consultancy, they helped turn around some of the businesses they worked with, but most failed. And no matter what “the whale” showed, they always recommended the same thing: cut staff and give their work to the people who remained.
Reading that article made me think of that dinner in Paris. What these companies really needed was customers. All of the most successful brands are swimming in customers. Even companies that are plagued by their share of internal issues — think Uber — are swimming in customers.
That’s why, instead of relying on the whale, I use what I refer to as the BOCA curve. It stands for branding, online presence, content, and advertising. It focuses on acquiring customers, not cutting valuable resources. To understand where your own company falls on the curve, ask yourself the 20 questions below. The first five are about branding, the next five about online presence, the next five about use of content, and the last five about advertising.
For each question, assign yourself red for poor, yellow for ok and green for good. Then you’ll be able to easily understand where you fall.
1. How well do you know your competition?
2. Do you have a solid value proposition?
3. How memorable is your company name?
4. How effective is your slogan or tagline?
5. How memorable is your logo?
6. How clear is your shameless goal?
7. How clear is your brand voice and messaging?
8. How focused is your content strategy?
9. How effective is your website’s home page?
10. How long do people stay on your website?
11. How well is your website organized?
12. How delightful is your customer experience?
13. How appealing are the images you use?
14. How well do you use video?
15. How is your website traffic?
16. How excited are people about your product or service?
17. How fast is your business growing?
18. How is your advertising performing?
19. How is your social media performing?
20. How influential is your organization?
By completing this exercise, you’ll come away with a roadmap for improvement: You simply move from left to right and change the reds to yellow and the yellows to green.
This is the beginning of evolutionary branding. If you have some customers and you know how to attract more, everything else works out.
David Gaz is Founder/Creative Director At The Bureau Of Small Projects – Big Brand Experience Put To Work For Small Businesses, Startups and Nonprofits.