Is There Life After Branding? | Bruce Turkel

A few months ago I made a presentation titled Building Brand Value to a group of industrial service providers. While I spoke there were about 300 people in the room furiously scribbling notes. As soon as I finished talking, a bunch of hands went up and the crowd peppered me with questions.


It was the last comment of the morning that got me thinking. A middle-aged man in a green and white golf shirt stood up. He was obviously nervous but was concerned enough about his issue to get up in front of the whole room. “I think your ideas make a lot of sense,” he started “but what you probably don’t know is that even though we’re all from different states, we compete with one another for the best projects around the country.” He looked around the room and spread his arms wide to indicate he was talking about the whole crowd. “If we all follow what you say, we’ll all do exactly the same thing and it won’t benefit any of us.”

He looked at the floor nervously and sat down.

I answered something about different people doing different things and even though they had all been given the same instructions, they’d interpret them in different ways. But that wasn’t the whole answer.

While my last questioner was correct that all 300 attendees had heard the same thing and they did indeed compete for business, he was wrong when he said that they’d all do the same thing and therefore it wouldn’t help any of them.

The sad truth is that if we go back and poll the group a year from now, what we’ll find is that very few of them actually implemented many of the things we talked about. Sure, they were excited and energized when I got done talking but let’s face it, once they got back to their offices the daily grind took over.

The truth is while all 300 people in the room heard my message, only a very small percentage will actually put the message to good use. And it’s the implementation — not the learning — that creates success.

Think about the unfulfilled aspirations you may have had when you were in college. Whether it was to learn to play the guitar, be a better tennis player or get a black belt in karate, if you had started working on your dream back then you’d probably be pretty good at it today. But as John Lennon sang: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” And so life got in the way and it was easier to do what you wanted to do or needed to do or liked to do rather than buckling down and putting in the hard work and practice it takes to be successful at most endeavors.

I remember when I first decided to write a book. I though about what I wanted to write about, I dreamt about what I wanted to write about and I told everyone I knew about what I wanted to write about. The only thing I didn’t do was write.

Even though I wasn’t actually working on my book, I still believed I would write it. Steven Pressfield, who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance says that’s because “we don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.'”

One day a friend of mine who had published a few books of his own asked me how my book was coming. I was about to launch into my standard pitch about all the thinking I’d been doing when he stopped me. “You haven’t ACTUALLY started writing, have you?” he asked.

I shook my head slowly.

“You know,” he went on “if you just write a page a day, that’s a book a year.”

That little piece of advice was all I needed to get started. After all, writing a book is a scary and intimidating goal. But writing a page a day? Anyone can do that. Heck, I figured on a good day I could probably write two or three.

Building your own brand value is exactly the same thing. While it may be intimidating to look at well-established brands and wonder how you’ll ever create such notoriety, it’s not nearly as difficult if you break down the intimidating whole into lots of little manageable bits.

Perhaps your boss won’t approve US$50,000 a month for an entire social media program. Well, you can still start building an active following on Twitter. Maybe you don’t have the budget for a comprehensive in- and out-bound telemarketing program. You can still walk down the hall and talk to your receptionists about how they answer the calls of people calling about your company.

I was in a meeting with my favorite health care client the other day and we were talking about how they answer the phones at their health centers. It seems that they were trying to impress upon their employees the importance of dealing with health care problems as quickly as possible. The problem was that if a potential patient was told they couldn’t see a doctor for two or three weeks then that patient would either go somewhere else or would simply ignore their condition until they wound up in the emergency room with a very serious, and expensive, problem.

And so my clients instructed their receptionists to begin answering the phones this way: “Welcome to MetCare. Do you need to see a doctor today?” What they found was that not only were their patients delighted with the considerate question but that their employees quickly figured out how to implement the scheduling programs necessary to accommodate the expedited appointments. Not only that, but the customers who didn’t need immediate treatment were willing to be much more flexible with their scheduling demands because they felt comfortable that when they did have a more pressing problem they’d be treated as quickly as possible.

Let’s face it — there are only so many practical, affordable, and doable branding techniques. And if everyone used them, there would be some repetition and monotony. But knowing the techniques is not the same as employing them. And as long as you can count on others’ inertia to hold them back, you can always move your brand forward towards increased success.

As George Eliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” All you have to do is get started.

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