Branding Beyond Logo

National LogosEarlier this week, adweek released it’s list of Best-Perceived Brands of 2013.  According to the website, the list (which included national brands like Amazon, Ford and V8)  is created by asking people if they’ve heard anything negative or positive about the brand.

While looking at these logos, I noticed a few had a level a business model that included a level of customer service.  Two particular examples are Lowe’s and Walgreens.  Both companies are traditional brick and mortar businesses that sell products to people and hire a staff that must provide customer service.

This line of logic is a strong reminder that “Branding” goes beyond just a logo and successful branding is more than a pretty logo and eye catching commercials.

In order for a successful service-based brand to succeed, a business must focus on the staff it has.  A business can have a strong brand if it provides the team with product knowledge, customer service skills and company culture.

Product Knowledge

Homer dohEver walk into a store, ask a cashier about a certain product and get an answer similar to this:

I don’t know.  I just work here.

Drives you crazy, right?

Or have you ever been to a restaurant, asked the waiter about something on the menu and get the answer:

I don’t know.  I’ve never tried the salmon.

Drives you crazy, right?

It is impossible to train your staff to know every question that a customer can ask, but you can at least equip them with enough knowledge to know the basics.

  • Know What You Have: Educate your staff on your products and/or services.  If you’re a restaurant owner, make sure your staff tastes all your food.  If you own a pharmacy, make sure your staff knows the layout of the store and where products are located.
  • Create Study Notes: Be sure that your products and/or services are listed somewhere in writing so your staff can access it in case they need help.  For example, the bank I work at provides a list of services on our Internal website, our external website and printed brochures.

By providing the right training to your staff, you not only prepare them to answer customer questions, you are strengthening your brand and building a strong foundation for repeat business.

Customer Service Skills

jerry_brown_crossed-armsIn addition to product knowledge, your staff also needs to know how to communicate to people.  If you have a knowledgeable team member, but they are a complete jerk to people, odds are you will not have repeat customers and your brand will be tarnished.

  • Soft skills: The last thing you want is to make your customers think they are not welcomed at your place of business.  Make sure your staff understands the importance of making people feel welcomed.  Making eye contact with people and smiling are just two easy examples of soft skills.
  • Courtesy: Simple acts like saying, “Thank you” and “My pleasure” go a long way in service.  Think of the last time you had a positive interaction with a customer service rep, and I bet you the customer service rep used at least one of those two phrases.

These two steps may sound like common sense to you, but not all people are wired the same way and may need some guidance.  By making sure your team has a great set of customer service skills, it will add value to your brand, which will have a positive effect on your company’s success.

Know the Culture

toy robotBe sure your staff understands your company culture.  I’m not suggesting you create a group of robots who say and do everything the same way.  Instead think about a band; everyone is performing the same song, but they have individual parts that make the song complete.

  • Purpose: Be sure your staff knows the purpose of your company.  Some organizations call this their Mission Statement; while others may call is a Company Vision, but whatever you call it, make sure your team knows it and understands why it is important.
  • Goals: Set goals around the purpose of your company and make sure the goals will lead to your company’s success.  This will allow buy in from your staff and they will know they are part of the bigger picture.

Creating a strong culture that focuses on the success of it’s customers and staff will translate to strong profits for a company and lead to a strong brand.

All of these steps sound easy, but they are not.  If they were easy, there would be an infinite number of successful brands.

What brands do you like and why?  Have you ever had a bad experience with a company that has made you stop using a brand?


What’s in a name? More than you think.

Still_ResearchingA recent court case got me thinking.

In Cocke County Tennessee, a judge recently ruled that a baby couldn’t be named Messiah.  Not sure if I’ve ever heard of a ruling like this before and am wondering where the judge was when Kim Kardashian and Kanye West named their child North West.

In an earlier post, I wrote about name recognition and customer service, but what about the names of the products and services your company offers?

What if the iPhone would have been named, High-Tech Phone?  Doesn’t have the same ring as the iPhone, but that is essentially what the iPhone started out as, a high-tech phone.

Can a Name Limit a Product

XBoxWhat if the XBox was named Extraordinary Gaming Console?

At the time of its release, the name would have made sense.  The XBox was released as a video gaming machine, but look at it now.  You can stream different types of media, share information on Social Media and watch movies with Netflix.  In fact, my wife now uses our XBox more than me and she doesn’t even play video games.

Would the XBox have this much success if its name solely focused on video gaming?  Probably not, but Microsoft had big plans for the XBox and knew the name needed to match their idea of what the XBox would become, a fully engaged entertainment system.

Does a Name Touch Your Audience

QuestionA name may sound great to you and your co-workers, but does will it jive well with your audience?  Working in the banking industry, this has often been a challenge.  Early on in my career I kept running into an issue; we would gather a team together to create a new product or service and end up naming the new product or service a bank jargon driven name.  To avoid this, I would either:

  • Ask the team to pitch the name to a new hire that were also new to the banking world
  • Have our commercial lenders or branch managers ask their customers about the potential new name

Sometimes the name passed the test, but usually we had to go back to the drawing board.

Is the name unique

BeersWill the name of your product compete with another name in your industry?  Here’s a real life example…

A few years ago, a brewery opened in Knoxville and, in a short period of time, established a brand name that most craft beer drinkers in Knoxville embraced.  The name tied to the history of Knoxville and the beer was good.  There was only one problem; another beer company had a very similar name.  The brewery tried to fight it, but eventually had to change the name of their company and brand.  Fortunately the brewery is still in business and producing great beer.

The moral of the story: It’s important to research the name.

  • Perform a Google search for the name
  • Search to see if the name is being used as a website’s domain name

Two easy ways to get started with research that can prevent a future headache.

Wrap it up

These are just three ways to get started with naming a product or service. There plenty of other steps and processes out there, some easier and some more complex.  The important thing is that you create a name that will help start a conversation that leads to a successful sale.

What steps have you used when selecting a name for a new product or service?

What advice would you give others when choosing a name?

Human Touch

TouchingScreenCommunity banks are faced with a tough situation. Due to mistakes made by large mega banks, all financial institutions, including community banks, are encountering increased federal regulations.  The increased federal regulations bring increased operating cost and causing banks of all sizes to cut cost in other areas.

One way mega banks are trying to decrease expense is by replacing tellers with self serving kiosks. These kiosks are high tech machines that are similar to kiosks at airports.  These kiosks can do virtually anything:

  • Handle cash and check deposits
  • Withdrawal cash
  • NCR scanning capabilities

JPMorgan Chase is currently leading the way with these kiosks and have already added several of these machines in their branches.  The organization has stated customers enjoy using it and plan on expanding the service throughout the entire company.  This is causing other financial institutions, including community banks are looking to follow suit.

But if community banks follow this trend, will they be shooting themselves in their foot?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to build a debate against kiosk or even suggest it’s a bad idea for mega banks.  Heck, I have used kiosk before at airports and have been satisfied with them.  But is this the approach community banks should use?  After all for years community banks have prided themselves on customer service and personal touch.  Community banks can avoid a negative perception by considering other technology alternatives.

Negative Perception

Banks are already seen as emotionless and robotic.  Why add fuel to the fire by phasing out tellers with a kiosk?  Why not focus on building up your staff.

  • Education and Development: By providing training to your staff, you can start building your team internally.  Product knowledge, soft skills training, and learning how to uncover needs are three education programs a bank can start implementing. Another approach is teaching your tellers how to open accounts so that when the time is necessary, they can assist customers with that need and eventually be promoted.
  • Cross Selling Opportunities: How effective is a kiosk with cross selling?  People who constantly interact with someone will get to know them overtime and can offer solutions that a kiosk may not be able to uncover during a transaction.
  • Customer Service: When you need help solving a problem, what makes you feel more comfortable: speaking with a knowledgeable person or typing into a kiosk and searching for an answer?

Other Technology Alternatives

I understand the need to cut cost, but why not look for ways to cut cost and provide an outlet to communicate to customers.  Here are two examples that not only allow you to enhance customer communication, but can also provide direct advertising opportunities.

Electronic Statements

Electronic statements are a “greener” way to deliver information to your customers, while reducing expenses.

  • Cost Benefit: Save the cost of printing paper and paying for postage.
  • Customer Communication: When sending the email notification to your customer, add customized text that can promote a service or upcoming event at your office.

Mobile Banking

Depending on what type of mobile banking service you offer your customers you can receive a number of benefits.

  • Cost Benefit: Potential to reduce “account balance” phone calls to your offices; which allows staff to focus on other task.
  • Customer Communication: Provide push notifications about account balances, upcoming transactions, or special product pricing.

Finding ways to cut operating cost is essential in any business.  Just don’t loose focus on customer service when reducing cost otherwise you may end up reducing the number of profitable customer you have.

Customer Service vs. Customer Respect

Rodney Dangerfields Board GameWhen it comes to serving your customer, do you give them respect?

In sales, the most important aspect is getting the sale, but what happens afterwords is just as important.  Making sure your customer is treated well after the sale can lead to additional sales from the customer and create a strong referral source.

So, what do you do after the sale is done?  Most will answer with,

Give great customer service.

But what is great customer service?  A great answer will, at least, include the following these three items.

  • Customer Acknowledgement
  • Customer Resolution
  • Customer Appreciation

Each item is just as important as the other and together proves to your customer that you respect them.

Customer Acknowledgement

Do you call your customer by name?  Do you know what your customer does for a living?  Customer acknowledgement starts with knowing your customer’s name but goes way beyond that.  In banking, we use the term know your customer.  This means exactly what it says and, when done correctly, has a positive impact on customer service.

  • Compliance: When you know your customer you have done your due diligence by finding out important information.
  • Marketing: When you know your customer you can create target marketing and cross selling opportunities that have a higher Return on Investment value.
  • Service: When you know your customer you can provide extra services like Cash Management, Remote Deposit Capture and Mobile Deposit.  These services have a higher risk than standard bank services, but when you know your customer you can limit the risk factor while providing exceptional customer service.

Even though these examples come from the banking industry, it doesn’t mean they are exclusive to banking.

Customer Resolution

Regardless if you are selling a product or a service, a customer is going to run into an issue or problem.  What you do at that moment can have a lasting impact on future sales and successful referrals.

  • Speed: How quickly do you resolve the issue?  Quickly resolving the issue goes a long way for a customer, but “quickly” can mean different things.  Be sure to define what “quickly” is for your customer and get to it.
  • Accuracy: Does it take only one time to resolve the issue?  Issues that are often repeated can cause a headache for a customer.  Do your best to solve the whole problem the first time, so there won’t be a next time.
  • Empathy: How do you empathize with your customer?  Showing empathy is just as important as speed and accuracy.  Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand why the problem is such a pain.

These three examples in customer resolution ultimately boil down to communication.

Customer Appreciation

Everyone loves being appreciated.  Here are just a few examples of small tokens of appreciation.

  • Cards: It only takes a few minutes to mail a thank you card, a birthday card, or an anniversary card.
  • Meals: Taking a customer to lunch, hosting a lunch and learn or host a cookout at your office.
  • Gifts: A gift during a special occasion or holiday.

Of course there are other ways to show appreciation.  Just remember to keep your customer in mind by doing something they would see as appreciation.

So, do you give your customers respect, or do you leave them feeling like Rodney Dangerfield?

Zombie Business

Are zombies lurking around your business?

Last week, while attending a webinar hosted by Lee Wetherington from ProfitStar (@leewetherington and @ProfitStars) the term, Zombie Branches came into play.  The phrase Zombie Branches has been used for a while in the banking industry and is used to describe a bank branch that consistently losses money and drains profits from the entire bank.  Here are a couple of signs a branch has joined the undead:

  • A branch is paying out high interest rates for deposit accounts like CDs or interest bearing checking accounts, but does not have any loan customers.
  • A branch may be busy with customers all day, but the customers are cashing checks or performing a non-income transaction.

Thought this is quiet an illness, banking is not the only industry that suffers from this epidemic.

  • It’s the same plague that ended Blockbuster
  • Circuit City also collapsed under this dead pressure

Essentially all retail businesses can be exposed to this toxic disease.

The good news is, unlike the monsters on The Walking Dead these zombie branches (or zombie locations) can be cured.  Here are four examples with a financial institution point of view.

  1. Increase Foot Traffic: Start a special sale at the zombie location.  Sponsor a lunch and learn focused on a common need.  Host a fun seasonal event.  Better yet, do all three!  Just be sure you and your team are equipped with the right tools to make this a success.
  2. Cross Sell: Maybe foot traffic isn’t the problem.  As previously stated, some zombie locations currently have people coming in the door, but they are not driving income.  If the same person continuously enters the branch, find out who they really are.  Maybe they’re a small business owner in need of a new merchant services program.  Maybe they’re a person who needs a safe deposit box.  Either way, both are great services that can produce decent fee revenue and really help out a person.
  3. Increase Sales: If options one and two fall flat, maybe it’s time to work on selling.  Short term solutions like hiring a seasoned sales person mixed with a long term sales training & coaching program can shift the office in the right direction.  Throw in an incentive program for extra motivation and your team will be cooking in no time.
  4. Innovate via Technology: Take a very close look at what you are currently offering your customers.  Are you missing out on any services that can help them (and you) succeed?  Prepaid cards, mobile apps and remote deposit technology are three ways the banking industry is taking a problem and turning it into an opportunity.

Even thought these examples where examined in the eyes of a banker, the main points can be applied across several different retail and B2B companies.

So, before you decide to figuratively use a blunt object to kill the zombie (aka closing a location), remember there are other options available.

Rebranding vs Repositioning

When companies decide to perform a makeover there are a couple of ways it can happen.  Simple makeovers like rolling out a new service, can be subtle, while other makeovers can bring dramatic change.

Take the two following companies: JCPenny (aka JCP) and Taco Bell.  One company appears to be going through a rebranding metamorphosis while the other is hoping to upgrade their image into a higher class restaurant.

JCPenny (aka JCP): Last week I was having a conversation with someone and was quickly corrected when I said, “JC Penny.”  The person stated, “No, it’s now jcp.”  Later in the week, I saw one of their new commercials in which the company refers to itself as jcp.

The company has done more than just update their logo and shorten their name, in fact two of their most recent removals have caused some buzz:

  • Goodbye Coupons: No more coupon cutting to get deals at jcp.  The company decided to stop coupons and embrace a simple pricing scheme for sales.  This also included the removal of .99 cent pricing and “Every day” low prices.
  • So Long Cashiers…sort of: The idea of a cashier behind a cash register is being removed from the new jcp.  The staff at jcp will start carrying mobile devices that have credit card readers.  This will allow customers to check out anywhere instead of waiting in designated lines.

Both of these ideas stem from jcp’s new CEO, Ron Johnson.  Mr. Johnson found success with this with his former employer Apple, and even though Apple has seen success with this in their retail stores, these two changes at jcp have been criticized by competitors and long-time jcp customers.

On a positive note, not all changes have been cloaked with negative feedback.  In fact, one change has caught the attention of competitor Macy’s.  In September, Business Insider reported that Macy’s liked the idea of jcp “transforming itself into a into a collection of 100 shops within its large department stores.”

Let’s hope the short-term pains will result in long-term success for the clothing chain.

Taco Bell: For the past few months Taco Bell has been taking a stronger approach to shifting the image of their food.  “Fast Food” in general has a negative impression that it is not a high quality meal nor do people perceive the food as healthy.

Taco Bell has taken a two-punch combo to address these two impressions.

  • The Fresco Menu: People may not realize it, but Taco Bell has had a healthy choose menu they call Fresco.  The Drive Thru Diet® has been available for a number of years, but now Taco Bell has increased it’s in-store and drive-thru advertising of this menu line.
  • The Cantina Bell™ Menu: Taco Bell has kicked it up a notch by hiring celebrity chef Lorena Garcia to create and promote their new gourmet line, the Cantina Bell™.  Currently there are only three items on the Cantina Bell™ menu, but Taco Bell plans on expanding it due to it’s success and popularity.

Taco Bell hopes this will help position them to compete with Chipolte, and so far, it appears to be working.  In fact, investor David Einhorn has added Chipolte to a short sale list due to Taco Bell’s aggressive movement into the high quality/gourmet approach.

Hopefully these two companies will see long term success with their different approaches to shake up their organizations and their respective industries.  Who knows, maybe Taco Bell will become one of the shops in jcp…as long as your bean burrito doesn’t ruin any unsold Levi jeans.

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