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Branding – Positioning your business and yourself

Brand Called You, FastCompany, Aug/ Sept 1997 (screenshot)
Alexander Richter 1 Oct 2018

The role of branding in positioning our business, products and services, but also us as a person becomes more and more important. It is therefore crucial to open your eyes and learn from your surroundings, your competitors and beyond.

Thinking of a brand, one thinks of the “favourite” hazelnut bread spread, the “trusted” fast food chain, the city-named cream cheese, but there is more to branding and naming a product, as described by John Williams in Entrepreneur. He describe branding as the most important aspect of any business, and making the argument that the right strategy on branding provides an edge towards competitors. But what does this promise to the customer through the brand mean? It creates an expectations on the product and services and creates a certain differentiation from the offerings of competitors. “Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.” So in many ways we connect branding with either a company, a product or service. But there is more to it.

While in university in 1997, I stumbled across an article by Tom Peters in Fast Company, called “The Brand Called You“, which at that time I thought was hugely inspirational. Tom Peters, as a marketing guru, clearly understands branding – his presentation style clearly shows a certain craziness – at least in the traditional sense of presenting – it creates a brand of him as a thought leader thinking outside the box – or as he describes “beyond the box”. The “craziness” sells the notion of him being different. And the differentiation is exactly what he is referring to in the branding that also defines us as a person. This either as an employee in a company, or as an individual towards the outside world – be it in family settings or as a freelance consultant – the latter part a very familiar story to myself.

You are a brand, the earlier you understand this the better you can work on the perception other people have about you. Are you defining yourself over the company you work for? Is it your job title, your skills – or is how you dress giving a certain impression. In any context – you are always finding yourself in a competitive or at least comparative situation. So start “by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors — or your colleagues.” … define your “feature-benefit model” that the brand called You offers. (Tom Peters).

The brand further concerns the visibility aspect. When promoting a brand (you, your company, your product/ service) – define what communicates the value and character of the brand. For your company, the choice of logo, colour themes, typography, presentation style etc are all part of the overall branding experience and brand your business. This Corporate Identity through branding essentially creates an experience. And the same can be said about your “personal brand”. How do you communicate internally, your writing style, your emails, your presentation style in meetings, your activities and messages via social media, how do you engage with the outside world, how carefully do you design/ style your presentations or documents … all create an image of you, your capabilities, your visual identity – just as a corporate brand does.

So looking at the overall “branding experience”, there is a fantastic overview created by Fridrik Larsen of LarsEn EnergyBranding. It describes the Brand – in the context of energy branding, with the key elements – marketing, sales, products & services, customer service and corporate communication. All these elements – and their detailed sub-elements – define your brand. Check out the “Branding Wheel” here: larsen.energy

But coming back to the general branding in the business context, I want to talk about an annual event I have been attending for the last three years, The CHARGE – Energy Brandingconference organised by Fridrik Larsen. Specifically focused on branding for energy companies, the event has been hugely inspirational. While seemingly so far fletched from my daily work on geothermal energy through the news platform of ThinkGeoEnergy that I founded now nearly 10 years ago, my non-profit work for the International Geothermal Association and consulting in the geothermal sector, it actually is much more closer to my work than people likely imagine. The challenges faced by energy companies in the public perception, are similar perceptions faced by geothermal energy companies and those that serve the sector.

Having specialised in branding for energy companies, Fridrik Larsen has positioned itself in a sector that stands at crossroads. In an article published recently in Utility Week, he describes why energy and utility companies face big problems.

Energy companies are perceived as faceless, heartless entities. To put it mildly, customers hate them.” so Fridrik Larsen

The main problem is the lack of attention companies in the sector have so far paid to branding. Branding has not been part of the DNA of companies and often seen worked on hidden within the marketing and communications departments, with the actual work then outsourced to advertising and marketing agencies. So while a certain image is created and promises are made, “there must be a balance between promises made and promises kept.” So while energy is a commodity – perceivably hard to brand – a commodity is the same, no matter “if it’s a frozen orange juice, pork bellies or an energy futures contract.”, so Fridrik Larsen. Electricity can be differentiated right at the source and selling green energy becomes an important attribute of a brand. At the same time the service level has to live up to that kind of branding as well.

So specifically focused on energy companies, how does this connect to your business. Well, out of my experience, with an open mind and looking at this creatively, there are so many things we can learn. So from an article I read eleven years ago to the energy branding conference of Fridrik, for me there have always been elements of learning. Essentially it is about the value proposition, how we communicate it through visibility, media and public engagement and specifically to the consumer or customers that is to buy our product or services. So you can learn from a company selling orange juice as much as you can learn from the competitor in your industry, or – to look at the personal brand – your colleagues, family or competitor.

Seeing how big firms are having to redefine themselves, their business and live up to customer expectations, is rather interesting. From spinning out their renewable energy business, to putting lipstick on a pig, the spectrum of what is done is wide. As societies are changing, so is the maturity of markets and the demand by the consumer or other stakeholders. So efforts on brand strategy, image and perception are a lively task and you cannot stand still. Your logo, name and corporate identity are only a part of your branding efforts, so stay alert and creative and explore in but also beyond your industry or peers. With an open mind, you can find the most incredibly inspiring things – like I do every year at CHARGE and elsewhere. Applying these elements to your efforts either for you or your company can help you in your branding efforts. But consider the below.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

In an article back in 2017, I wrote in more detail on the branding of geothermal energy, but this was more in the context of branding geothermal energy as such in the context of positioning it towards the other renewable energy technologies. See here.

In a next article, I am going to write about my personal experience and challenges for my business and myself in the context of branding, both in the wider sense but also in the marketing and sales specific sense. So stay tuned.

Sources:

Originally posted on LinkedIn