Once you’ve identified the key communities you think it is important to engage with, the next step is to identify the people you’d like to represent your brand within these communities. For simplicity, I like to refer to these folks as brand ambassadors.
How to find brand ambassadors
Start by identifying the people inside your organization who have the best relationships with each community. These people are the best candidates to become your brand ambassadors. The ideal brand ambassador is already an actual community member, actively participating in conversations and projects with other community members.
While an employee of your organization, this person shares common values, interests, and experiences with other community members. It is less important what position they hold within your organization and more important how they are viewed by the community itself.
After you’ve identified possible brand ambassadors, reach out to them to see if they are willing and interested in expanding their personal roles in the community to include being representatives of your brand as well. Some might already be playing this role, others might be playing this role and not realizing it.
Don’t force or pressure people. The ideal candidate will be excited to be considered and will be passionate about the opportunity, so if your best candidate doesn’t seem interested, try to find someone else who is.
Creating brand ambassadors from scratch
If you don’t have anyone in your organization who is already a member of the community, you’ll need to have someone join. Choose someone who understands your organization’s story and positioning well but also already shares interests, values, and experiences with the community in question.
Have this person attend meetings, join mailing lists, participate on forums, and otherwise begin to contribute to the community first as an individual. It will take a little longer to get started, but it will be worth it if your brand ambassador has a deep contextual understanding of the community before they dive right in officially representing your organization.
Brand ambassadors as faces of the brand
You should ensure that your brand ambassadors deeply understand your brand positioning so they can live it (not just speak to it) in their activities within these external communities. If you are developing many brand ambassadors at once, consider hosting a brand ambassador bootcamp where new ambassadors can practice telling the brand story and get aligned on the overall positioning of the organization. Also use this as an opportunity to emphasize the key role of these ambassadors in developing the brand experience and keeping relationships with the community healthy and productive.
You may have some communities where there is a whole team of ambassadors, not just one. For example, at Red Hat, a large team of developers represented Red Hat (and themselves) in the Fedora community. Invest as many ambassadors as you need in order to provide the best possible support for and adequately communicate with the community.
As you recruit brand ambassadors, you extend the internal core of the brand. Although it is wonderful to see your core group getting bigger, extending your reach is also an important time to ensure consistency. Be very careful to take the time to educate all brand ambassadors well so the entire brand orchestra stays in key.
Brand ambassador philosophy
Wikipedia defines an ambassador as “the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization.” Usually an ambassador lives and operates within the country or organization where he is assigned.
Your brand ambassadors should channel the same philosophy. While they are members of your organization, they should “live” within the communities they are assigned to as much as possible while representing your organization within that community.
Great brand ambassadors are loyal to the organization and to the community at the same time. They develop relationships of respect, honesty, and trust within the community, which allows them to clearly and openly communicate the priorities, desires, and needs of both sides.
Brand ambassadors are not just mouthpieces for the organization, but should also maintain their own personality, interests, and opinions in the community—often distinct from those of the organization. In places where they are representing their own opinions and ideas, they should provide the proper disclaimers. With a little practice, this is not nearly as difficult as it might sound. The key is maintaining an authentic personal voice while being open, transparent, and human in their communications.
Don’t think someone in your organization has the right makeup to be a good ambassador based on what you see here, even if he or she has good relationships within the community? Don’t make him or her an ambassador. The brand ambassador is a representative of your brand to the outside world, and the job carries a lot of responsibility and requires a high emotional intelligence and diplomatic sensibility to do well.
So take the time to find, train, and support brand ambassadors within your organization. With some attention and focus, you may soon find that your network of ambassadors becomes one of your organization’s most valuable assets.
If so, you can find more tips about how to extend your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).
I tend to read a lot of business and marketing books (stop laughing at me) and over the past few years, I’ve noticed one important group that I don’t think is being served well by the existing books out there: small business owners.
Some branding books are too theoretical or philosophical, with little in the way of practical tips or tangible projects. You end up nodding your head a lot, but have no idea what you should actually do when you are finished. Other brand books are too technical or jargon-y and require you to already have an MBA and twenty years of marketing experience to understand them.
Yet branding and positioning are critical tools for anyone with a small business to master. If there are 10 other dry cleaning chains in your town, how do you ensure yours stands out? If you are about to open the fifth Mexican restaurant on the street, what makes you different or better than your competitors?
I believe that the rise of Groupon and other deep-discount social coupon services are a direct result of small businesses grasping at straws because they are struggling in tough times, looking for answers, and don’t understand the basics of branding and positioning that could really help them stand out without destroying their margins.
The Ad-Free Brand was a direct response to this dearth of branding books that spoke to small business owners. My goal was to write a book that provided a clear, simple process that anyone could follow, filled with plenty of tips and the absolute bare minimum of marketing jargon. My hope was that it would be just as understandable and useful to someone with no marketing experience as it is to a brand professional (if you’ve read it, let me know how you thought I did).
Out of all of the branding books out there, I have seven that I recommend regularly to small business owners who are interested in going a little deeper into branding issues. I thought I’d share the list with you here.
1. The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier: This is probably my favorite simple branding book of all time. It is very visual, can be read in an hour, and is great for sharing and discussing with colleagues.
2. Zag by Marty Neumeier: Another great book by Marty Neumeier, Zag is also a quick read with plenty of ideas that will help you think about how to differentiate your business from your competitors.
3. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries: This is the book that defined the art of brand positioning, still just as relevant as it was when first published 30 years ago. In fact, in The Ad-Free Brand, I drew inspiration from the thinking of Trout and Ries, just updating the way positioning is implemented for a post-advertising era.
4. Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout: Another classic, in my view the best of several other positioning-related books published by Jack Trout over the years. An easy read.
5. Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler: This is the guide to building out the brand identity for your business. It is an elegant and beautiful book, filled with useful case studies—you may be able to find an example in here that you’d like to emulate for your business.
6. Brand Atlas by Alina Wheeler and Joel Katz: Alina Wheeler’s newest book is an overview of many of the most important issues in branding today. Simple descriptions of the key concepts, featuring quotes and insights from leading practitioners, are paired with simple, beautiful diagrams and illustrations by Joel Katz.
7. Strategic Brand Management by Kevin Keller: When you are ready to move beyond the basics and want to attempt a graduate-level curriculum in branding, head directly for this book. It is the textbook used on college campuses around the world for brand management courses, and it is about as comprehensive a guide to brand management as I have ever encountered.
I’ve also compiled these books into a guide on Amazon here in case you want to buy the whole library (just for convenience, I don’t get any commission since Amazon doesn’t like North Carolina, my home state).
It has become a truism in marketing that you should stay focused on your customers. In most of our organizations, we are attempting to sell something to make a profit. We need customers.
But I often use the word community in places where most people would use the word customer. Why? Am I just being naive about what pays the bills for our organizations to continue to thrive? Am I committing heresy by not staying focused on just customers?
I don’t think so.
I believe that the dogged focus on marketing to customers alone has created a myopic view that makes us ignore many of the important people who interact with our brands.
Customers are important; most organizations couldn’t exist without them. So what is the issue?
Customers are not just listening to us anymore.
When organizations focus on only interacting with customers rather than taking a holistic view of the entire brand community, they forget that in the twenty-first century, the version of the brand represented by the organization might only be a small percentage of the brand the customer sees. Where is the rest of the story coming from?
Everyone else who interacts with the brand: the brand community.
When rolling out brand positioning, ad-free brands understand that it matters what everyone thinks about the brand—not just the customers. By understanding and planning your interactions with all of the communities around your brand, you have a chance to impact the customers’ views of who you are in a much deeper way than if you were just speaking to customers directly through marketing and advertising.
And that’s just if you are only concerned with the success of your business itself. If you are a nonprofit or a member of the growing breed of socially responsible businesses interested in benefitting the communities they serve while remaining for-profit, you’ll see even greater benefits from this approach.
So should you be focused on customers? Absolutely. But just remember that you aren’t the only folks talking to your customers about your brand. When you build a brand strategy that ensures the positioning resonates with all the people around your brand and not just customers, you’ll be on the path to much deeper, more fulfilling relationships with the communities surrounding your brand–and you’ll probably be heard by potential customers who would have never given you the time of day otherwise.
This is the eighth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.
In an earlier post, I highlighted one of the key concepts behind the ad-free brand approach: building your brand from the inside out, starting with the folks who are likely to know and care most about the brand—the employees.
When building the brand from the inside out, the goal is to embed the core positioning deeply within the mind and actions of each employee of the organization so that it comes out consciously and even unconsciously in their interactions with the external brand community.
This is very hard.
You can’t force people into “living the brand.” No one likes to be told what to do. I certainly don’t.
Ad-free brands work from the core principle that those who are not invited on the journey will usually reject the destination. So, broad participation in the brand-building process is often a prerequisite for the brand positioning to really take off. Unfortunately, the larger the organization, the harder it is to achieve consistency in the way the brand positioning is rolled out.
I like approaching the internal rollout of brand positioning by channeling the mindset of the conductor of an orchestra. An orchestra conductor is able to create amazing, complex, and beautiful music just by using a tiny baton.
The conductor’s role is to organize, motivate, and inspire a group of people to make music together. The conductor chooses the piece of music, interprets the piece, gives every person in the orchestra a part to play, and helps each musician rise to the level of his or her talent or experience.
An orchestra in which every musician plays the same notes would be boring, to say the least. In an orchestra, the diversity of instruments—woodwinds, percussion, strings, and brass—allows for the complex and beautiful expression of music. Yet many organizations attempt to roll out their brand positioning by expecting everyone to toe an explicit company line, sticking to a rehearsed speech.
This kind of approach does not play well for ad-free brands.
To me, the rehearsed expression of the brand positioning comes off as canned, corporate BS that most people will ignore. To be effective, ad-free brands take advantage of the talent and voice of each employee, allowing each person to utilize his or her own strengths, interests, and passions to explain or begin to live the brand positioning.
The goal is not getting everyone to play the same notes—it’s getting everyone to play in the same key.
Different people prefer the sounds of different instruments and types of music. One of the benefits of having many people playing in your orchestra is that you are likely to create music that appeals to all types of people, which will in turn attract even more people. When you create a situation where many people are communicating and living the positioning in their own ways, you increase the chance that other people will begin to hear, understand, value, and live it themselves.
And that’s when the brand has a chance to really shine.
This is the seventh in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.
My publisher recently filmed a series of short video interviews where I discuss my new book The Ad-Free Brand. This is the third in a series of tips from the book, entitled “The Community is More Than Just Customers.”
My publisher recently filmed a series of short video interviews where I discuss my new book The Ad-Free Brand. This is the first in a series of tips from the book, entitled “To get the brand out, get the community in.”
My publisher recently created a series of short video segments where I discuss The Ad-Free Brand. They were filmed in our New Kind office with a laptop internal video camera and Skype connection, so keep your expectations low (and certainly don’t confuse these videos with the kind of expensive advertising I rail against in the book:)
Today, I’ll share a five-minute overview of the book itself, and next week I’ll feature three separate Ad-Free Brand tips.
In my last few posts (here and here), I shared some tips for collecting and synthesizing the brand research you will use to design positioning for your brand. In this post, I’ll share three approaches to designing brand positioning I believe will work for the majority of brands:
• The lone designer approach
• The internal community approach
• The open community approach
Each of these approaches has strengths and weaknesses, and they can also be mashed up into a hybrid that better suits the culture of your organization.
The Lone Designer Approach
Are you a small organization or an organization of one? Perhaps you are attempting to position a website or simply get a small company off the ground on a foundation of solid positioning. If you found during the research phase that you were doing most of the work yourself and don’t want or can’t afford to bring others into the positioning process, you may be a good candidate for the lone designer approach.
The lone designer approach is exactly what it sounds like: a positioning process run by one person alone or by a very small group. The advantage of this approach is that you have complete control over the process. You won’t have to spend much time arguing with others over the exact words in your brand mantra; you won’t need to conduct time-consuming collaboration sessions; and you will only go down rat holes of your own choosing. The lone designer approach can be very efficient and is the least resource-intensive of the three approaches.
The downside of the lone designer approach is that it gives you no head start on rolling out your positioning to your brand community. By making your positioning process a black box and revealing only the finished product, you are taking some risks. First, the positioning you design might not resonate or, worse, might be ignored because you didn’t include input from others beyond the initial research. Second, you may have trouble getting others to help you roll it out or take ownership over its success because they had no role in creating it.
Usually I recommend the lone designer approach only to small or new organizations with no access to a preexisting community of employee or community contributors who care about the brand. If you already have a community of supporters around your brand—even if it is small—strongly consider one of the other two approaches (internal community or open community).
The Internal Community Approach
You understand the powerful impact that engaging members of your brand community in the positioning process might have on your brand. You believe your organization is progressive enough to allow employees to help with the brand positioning process. But you just don’t think your organization is ready to open up the brand positioning process to the outside world. If this sounds like your situation, the internal community approach might be the best option for your brand.
The internal community approach opens up the positioning process to some level of participation from people inside the organization. It may broadly solicit contributions from every employee, or it can simply open up the process to a hand-selected group of people representing the employee base.
The internal community approach to brand positioning is a smart, safe approach for many organizations. It makes brand positioning a cultural activity within the organization, allowing you to collect a broad range of interesting ideas and begin to sow the seeds for future participation in the brand rollout down the road. In addition, it can become a compelling leadership opportunity, helping develop future leaders of your brand as well.
While this internal approach is still community-based, it is usually perceived as less risky than an approach involving external contributors. You might find it easier to sell the internal approach to executives who fear opening up the organization to the outside world or think doing so will give the external community the perception the organization is confused or doesn’t know what it is doing because it is asking for help.
The Open Community Approach
Even though I’ll be the first to admit that it is not right for every brand, the open community approach is by far my favorite approach (as you can probably tell by now) and is a very effective one for ad-free brands. The open community approach opens the positioning process to contributions from members of both the internal and external brand communities. Running an open community brand positioning project is similar to running an internal community one. Both approaches have the advantage of bringing in a variety of viewpoints.
Both can create valuable brand advocates who will be helpful down the road. The open community approach just takes things as step further and allows people outside the organization to contribute as well. The benefit of this approach is that it can usually form the beginning of a constructive dialogue with all the people who care about your brand—not just those who work for your organization. It can help you build relationships based on trust, sharing, and respect with people in the outside world. And it can save you money and time by revealing flaws in your positioning much earlier in the process.
The downsides of an open approach? If the project is poorly organized or badly communicated, it really will realize the fears of some executives and show the outside world you don’t know what you’re doing. An open positioning approach requires a deft, highly skilled, effective communicator and facilitator. It requires coordination between different parts of the organization that are in touch with the outside world to ensure communication is clear and consistent.
But although the risks of opening up your positioning process to the outside world are higher, the rewards can be much bigger as well. By transparently opening a relationship between your brand and the outside world, you are embracing the future of brand management, accepting the role of your brand community in the definition of your brand, and proactively getting your community involved in a positive way.
You are beginning a conversation.
In my last post, I shared some of the sources of data that you can use to inform your brand positioning. But once you’ve collected all of the information you can get your hands on, what do you do with it? In this post, I’ll share some tips for how to synthesize your brand positioning research so you can begin to draw some meaningful conclusions from it.
My advice? Get a room. No really, try to find a dedicated space inside your office where you can begin to hang materials on the wall, sort them into piles, and write up your ideas. The physical act of organizing materials often helps you draw connections between them.
You might want to create a wall like the one we created for the Red Hat brand inventory. Here’s a picture of it:
Consider hanging things by where they were created, or how old they are, or whatever other variables are important to you. You might want to reorganize them multiple times in different configurations to see if that gives you new ideas.
If you can’t afford the space or don’t want to create a big messy room, you can create the equivalent on your computer. Organize your research into folders, one folder for each of the four key questions. Make duplicate copies of or shortcuts to research that informs the answer to more than one question, and put one in each folder that applies.
Once you have all the research that informs the answer to each question in one place, it’s time to start doing some analysis. If you are like me, you aren’t starting from scratch, but have been beginning to analyze the data and information as you’ve collected it. But looking at all of the data at once will help you see it differently, making new connections and revealing things you might not have noticed before.
At this point, your goal is to synthesize all your sources of information into the clearest, simplest possible answers to the four key questions. Are the data points revealing common themes, ideas, or opportunities?
In a recent post, I highlighted the four key questions that your brand positioning research must answer. And I promised a followup post showing you some of the places you could find data to help inform your brand positioning. Here it is!
To review, great positioning is found at the intersection of the answers to the following four questions:
1. What does the brand community currently believe about or value in the brand?
2. What might the brand community believe or value about the brand in the future?
3. What does the organization currently claim about the brand?
4. What would the organization like the brand to become down the road?
So to make things as simple as possible, I’ve made a chart below that will show you many of the places I look first for data to inform brand positioning. At the top of the chart you’ll find many things you probably already have access to and just need to analyze through a brand positioning lens (like marketing materials or website copy), while at the bottom of the chart you’ll find some more complicated research sources that will take a bit more work (like surveys or interviews you’d need to conduct, for example).