Not long ago I had lunch with a fascinating and genuinely nice guy who also happens to be an internationally recognized expert on branding. I was lucky enough to catch him in the office between plane trips to Germany, Spain or some other far off (and exotic sounding) place.
Karl Speak has been helping people and companies build their brands for 20+ years and he’s very good at it. But that’s not what sets him apart from others in the marketing and branding world. Karl and his firm do branding like no one else does. He has developed a philosophy and he’s turned it into a system that is unlike any other approach to branding I’ve seen.
The focus of our meeting was to get Karl’s advice for people who want to grow their businesses. So, I asked Karl to share three things he would advise people to do to grow their businesses more effectively.
His first suggestion is to “know what makes you distinct”.
This does not mean being different. It means your company should be what it is, based on its values and beliefs. “Your beliefs and values and skills are what make you distinct” he said.
Being distinct means knowing what your company’s values are and then acting consistently with them. Your behaviors need to be consistent with your values and beliefs because those are what people experience. And this is true for both people and companies.
For example, let’s say you own a dry-cleaning business. If your customers experience slow service, then fast service, then moderate service, they’ll never know what to expect. As a business owner, you might have a value that says you want to provide fast service to your customers every time. But, your customers will not know that’s your value unless you show it to them. And you have to show them every time until they believe you.
Each experience your customer has with you is based on the actions of you or your employees. The sum total of those actions are what create your brand. And your brand is walking around inside the head of every person who has ever had an experience with your company.
Or as Karl says: “A real brand owns a tiny but important piece of ‘real estate’ in a consumer’s mind.” That piece of real estate is developed by what and how your company does things.
Karl’s second piece of advice is to “be relevant”.
Relevance is all about being important to others. It’s about connecting our values (and skills) to what our customers think is important. Karl says it requires a skill he calls “thinking in reverse”. He says “if you want to be considered valuable to others, you must first move out of your world and into theirs.”
In other words, you need to know what your customers want and then you connect that to your values and skills. Use your “distinctiveness” to help them get what they want. Karl said that’s how being relevant helps you focus on the right customers. You need to “know who your customers are not” he said and know that “you are not for everyone” he added.