Small businesses are taking the brunt of this very challenging COVID-19 environment. Though the future may be unclear, business owners nevertheless need to make efforts to move forward; otherwise, they’ll never see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. One way to start is branding, and in this special episode, Gerry Foster is interviewed by September Dohrmann, the president and CEO of CEO Space International, on her The Business Acceleration Podcast to talk about what small businesses can do in positioning their brand in the marketplace for survival. Gerry shares the key things we all need to be paying attention to, as well as what we need to communicate to our audience while pivoting and elevating our brand at the same time. Tune into this great conversation to learn the action steps we need to ensure so that our businesses and brands can outlast this pandemic.
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Positioning For Survival With September Dohrmann
I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a woman named September Dohrmann. She is the President and CEO of an organization called CEO Space International who according to Forbes magazine puts on one of the top five business growth conferences here in America. They put on that conference on a pretty regular basis. I’m proud to say that I have been their primary branding trainer since 2009. She asked me to be a guest on her show because she wanted to have a conversation around what can small businesses do with their branding to move forward during this COVID times, these very challenging, difficult and crazy times that we are all experiencing around the world. Sit back, check out the interview and enjoy.
For a lot of business owners, it’s a very challenging time with learning how to pivot. What to pivot? What are the new changes that we need to make? How do we serve our customers better? What new products can we put in front of them? While we’re making all of these decisions, we need to be mindful of our brand because at the end of the day, that is what we’re building. In this episode, Gerry Foster, branding strategist, shares with us those key things that we need to be paying attention to, and that we need to communicate to our audience while we’re pivoting and elevating our brand at the same time.
Gerry Foster, this is the second time we’ve had a show together. I enjoyed our first one. I always walk away feeling very energized with the Gerry Foster vibe and what you convey through the waves. I’m looking forward to what you have to say. We’re talking about a lot of business owners are shifting and in that shift, we need to be mindful of what it’s doing to our brands long-term, because at the end of the day, that’s exactly what we’re building. It’s a brand, that’s our asset. What insight can you provide business owners that are on both sides of the scale? One is saying, “This is a great opportunity. I’m so excited. My business has never been better.” There are other customers who are saying, “I don’t know what to do. My business is not thriving during this time and I’m trying to figure it all out.”
The best advice I would give them is to not put a mask on your brand. Times are crazy right now. We know that and because of COVID-19, social distancing, staying at home as much as possible, regularly washing our hands, wearing a mask every time we leave the house have all become the new norm depending where you live in the United States. While those new norms may remain the best strategies for obvious reasons and from a health standpoint and certainly wearing a mask is going to help slow down the spread of COVID-19 and protect us against it. However, putting a mask on your brand is not only a poor strategy, it’s also a bad idea. The best advice that I could say when I say don’t put a mask on your brand is don’t slow the spread of the amazing unique value that you have to offer.
The unique value is changing for a lot of business owners. It’s certainly changing for us. We used to be a live-only event company, and now we’re not. What is that lens that we need to look through when it comes to being mindful of that as we make our shifts?
The biggest shift is to look at what people are buying from an owner. They’re not buying their services. They’re not buying their products. What they’re buying, if we want to call these deemed essential to stay within the vernacular of that word is in right now. What is deemed essential to an owner is, what problems can you solve? What incredible results can you produce for your customers? What miracles can you perform? What is that emotional benefit going to be if you’re out there making the lives of your customers better? I think that if the world is turned upside down right now, as we all know, spinning all around. Every owner reading this has to understand that your brand has a greater chance of being seen, heard and purchased if you’re looking for unique opportunities to provide unrivaled value in these not normal times. What that comes down to is don’t be too promotional.
You had said something to be clear about the problem that you’re solving. A lot of people, we are still solving the same problem. We’re just having to package the delivery of how we’re solving that problem a bit differently.
Consumers always want to see how your brand can help. How it can provide them some kind of experience that they’re looking for? How can your brand help a business that may feel that they are in some kind of forced isolation? What value does someone offers, especially if their budget is tight because of the economic impact all of this has had? We all know about that. When someone has only so much money to spend and they want to get the biggest bang for the buck, then they’ve got to emphasize that they’ve got something that is relevant to their concerns. It may have more to do with safety, security, assurance. If you’re an owner and you want to package and present something that people can get excited about, talk about how your brand can help them in terms of feeling safer, more secure, and more assured about what it is that they’re doing so that they don’t feel scared that they may not be in business months from now.
It’s definitely another layer of the pain that we as consumers experience that we look for solutions, but you’re right. I don’t know if leveraging the fear is the right way to say that because it doesn’t feel right to say it. I think being mindful of the fear that people are facing and speak to that with the solution that you provide.
I’m not saying that we should be out there trying to capitalize on a crisis. What I’m saying is this is a golden opportunity for any owner to gain more attention, to stand out more, be remembered more, and desired more. If they come at it from the angle that the value that they’re offering is designed to not only educate and help them to be better in terms of their own success, but to understand that they as an owner should be thinking about how can they give and not get. We’ve got to have a servant’s heart. We’ve got to be thinking, how can we give to people? To your point, the platforms, videos, a strong website, online marketing, social media, all of these tools becomes important now. The content of what people are putting out there should be focused more on helping people, uplifting people, empowering people, and giving the people. Don’t be focused on, “I’ve got to make a sale.” Speak more to how you want to add incredible value to someone’s life. That owner has to define what their value is, which is another compensation because a lot of owners have not nailed down their own uniqueness. There are 1.7 billion websites on the world wide web.
This is a consistent conversation that I have with a lot of experts. Know the problem that you solve. Know who you solve it for. Know why you’re the authority to solve that problem. Why are you unique speaking to that element? It’s fundamental. It’s at the core of every business. It should be there and when it’s not there, it’s like having holes in a bucket. You’re leaking out opportunities, relationships, and revenue. There are a lot of leaks in that if you don’t have that nailed down to a degree.
You’ve got to drive customer engagement. If you want to drive customer engagement and increase sales opportunities, then you’d better offer something that not only your customers value, but it’s got to be something that your competition doesn’t provide. As an owner, they have to get in touch with the unique capabilities of their brand. What is it that is being offered by that owner that is not being offered somewhere else? At the end of the day, if people don’t feel you offer something that is different and better than other choices, then you are now being labeled as a commodity. That’s where a lot of owners fall short.
Survival Positioning: Be mindful of the fear that people are facing right now and speak to that with the solution that your business provides.
Back in the day, before the internet, businesses would differentiate themselves by talking about stuff like, “We offer free shipping, 24/7 customer service, the highest quality products, quantity discounts. The more you buy, the more you save. We’ve got a 30-day return policy,” and on and on. Nowadays, these types of things are taken for granted. What are people looking for? They’re looking for something that goes beyond what they expect. My question to our audiences here is what are the bare minimum expectations that your customers have? Look for ways to go beyond that in terms of saying, “I’ve got unique advantages and capabilities that you’re not going to get anywhere else.”
If a business owner doesn’t know, an easy way to find out is to simply talk to your customer and survey them. If you have a Facebook group that you lead, just ask, “I’m looking for 15 to 20 people that would talk to me for fifteen minutes. I’m doing some market research.” People would love doing that. We do that. We have people that say, “I’m available. Here’s my link.” I’ll put my calendar link in there and when the ten appointments are booked, I’m done. I have my calls and I found out so much information about my product and service, how it’s being perceived, what’s missing, what they would like to see, what they feel is incredibly valuable, what they feel is unique, and how much they would pay for it. They will answer any question that you ask. Talk to your customer.
The input from your customer, especially if it’s around the owner finding out, “What exactly is my uniqueness? What exactly is by value? What could I offer that no one else is?” Getting that kind of input can mean the difference between standing out or blending in, getting noticed or ignored, and being desired or kicked to the curb. They have to make the decision as an owner that they’re going to nail down the specific benefit that will make their brand stand out and be chosen when compared to other options in the market. In the absence of not nailing down their own value, they’re going to be forced to compete on price. Price is always a pre-emptive strategy because anybody can beat your price. Do you remember circuit city?
When I go back to saying don’t social distance your brand or don’t put a mask on your brand, what I’m also saying is remove all the stuff that’s standing in the way between you and your target customer. It’s getting clear on your brand value. Don’t dilute your value. Chase excellence so that you don’t have to chase money because excellence attracts money. If someone doesn’t know what their excellence is, which means doing research. Find out what matters to your customers. Find out what your target customers care about. Focus on that special thing that you do that your competition doesn’t. That is going to be very difficult for that owner to thrive during these crazy times.
It brought up a couple of things that make me think about a conversation I had with Paul Lemberg. We did an interview and he’s going to be teaching at the upcoming forum as well. He talks about price and he’s talking about the five things that you can do to double your business. One of those items is to increase your price. To your point of anybody can beat price, that’s not the point. You had said that excellence attracts money. If there’s this money resistance, we’re saying, “Increase your prices.” If you feel the resistance to that, then there’s something inside of you that you need to work on. There’s something you need to pay attention to internally. Find your coach, your mentors, somebody that you can talk to help you through that period. That’s a block that’s holding you back. Your customer will pay for it if the quality is there, the results are there, they’re the right customer, and the messaging is right. They’ll pay for what you present to them, especially loyal raving fans.
I had a conversation with, Jeffrey Hayzlett from C-Suite. He’s in the marketing arena, he’s a marketing expert and we were talking about marketing and how to position that marketing. What do you do if you’re not a wordsmith and you tend to be very lengthy in your explanations? Branding and marketing cross each other and depending on what agency you talk to, it’s either a love relationship or a love-hate relationship between marketing and branding. Let’s cross these two and start looking at it from a branding standpoint. The messaging, the language that you use, the layout of your website, all that stuff ties into the brand and the brand strategy. What are some tips that you have when it comes to conveying that uniqueness, not being wordy, but being very clear in that messaging and then translating that messaging into the marketing?
The owner has to understand the difference between branding and marketing. The job of branding is to get you known. The job of marketing is to get you found. The job of selling is to get you paid. Get known, get found, and get paid. The three intersect and work together harmoniously. The branding, the marketing, and the salespeople have to see themselves as being on the same team. Berny Dohrmann has always said, “It’s all about cooperation, not competition. Having said that, the owner has to first make sure that their mindset is solid. What I mean by that and I want to speak to those who own a service-based business. If you’re off in any kind of expertise, skill, talent, ability or gift to the world, it’s hard to compete on “expertise quality” alone.
What that owner has to understand, and I’m talking to those out there who are solopreneurs, mompreneurs, independent professionals, any kind of service provider B2B services, B2C, Business to Consumer, it does not matter. If you’ve got a skillset, you have to control the narratives. If you want to control the narrative, it means that you want to shape perception. You’re not going to be shaping perception by shouting from the rooftops, “Look at me, notice me, remember me. I’ve got great skills too.” You’ve got to be able to say through your marketing and through your messaging, “What sets me apart from others is X. What I do differently is my Y. Unlike others in my field, I do Z. Do you want to know something else about me? You can only get X, Y or Z from me. I am fearlessly original.” That’s where it starts. You feed that to your marketing people and your job is to bring that to life.
I was having a conversation with Tiffany Largey about this marketing, along those same lines as well. Something she said was a great visual for me. She was like, “You want to start narrow. This is my specific niche. You want to go wide when they come into your ecosystem, and then you want to get back narrow again.” Meaning I’m bringing in my very specific niche market. When they come in, I can help them with all of these things. Here’s the main problem I saw. As I bring them into my ecosystem and then I invite them to the other solutions or the other problems that we can solve that’s related to that main problem. At the bottom of that funnel, you’re bringing in your high-level clients. These are going to be perhaps it’s a consulting client that pays $50,000 for six months or something like that. You get back narrow again when it comes to that higher level of your product. What are your thoughts on that?
Let me tell you what I tell people about that. I say you’ve got to go an inch wide and a mile deep. Let’s stick with service providers. The service provider has to nail down what are called their core brand differentiators. What are those things about you in terms of how you service your clients, how you deliver your value that is truly around your expertise that enables you to pull something off on behalf of your clients around unlike anybody else? When you start thinking of that at that standpoint, you start wondering, “Maybe I could offer some kind of guarantee that nobody else is making. Maybe my uniqueness could revolve around saying I specialize in solving these types of problems, or I specialize in working with these types of companies, or I specialize in working with a certain number of clients in a specific industry at one time. Maybe I specialize in working with companies of a certain size. Maybe what makes my brand rock is that I can handle certain challenges that those companies are facing as a client.” Maybe it’s about your level of service.
I call this the Amazon Age that we live in. When you think about Amazon, you think Amazon Prime and eCommerce. Did you know that in the eCommerce industry, 4 to 6 days delivery is pretty standard? Amazon Prime comes along and what do they say? “In 24 to 48 hours, it will be there.” You’re like, “Wow.” If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you get free delivery too. What does that do? That immediately attracts more customers towards Amazon. I tell people to think about the Gold Standard of the Ritz-Carlton. There’s the Ritz-Carlton and there’s everybody else. There’s nothing wrong with those other great hotels, but there’s the Ritz because of their Gold Standard and how they make sure they service their clientele and their guests like no one else.
To owners out there, ask yourself, “What else can I do? What if I did this? What could happen? What if I think outside the box?” Think about how you can differentiate yourself. How could you perhaps say that you service your customers with speed, assurance, empathy? Maybe you provide some kind of no hassle experience. What is it that you do that says, “I can pull something off on your behalf unlike no one else in my industry?” The moment they start doing that, that’s when scaling a business happens. Now your value is established along with the higher prices perhaps that you’re charging because you have what’s called an elite brand. That’s what I teach, how to create a big brand, top shelf, best in class, an elite brand. Nowadays, what people want to hear is what is it that I can get from you that I cannot get from anybody else. Not only do they need to need to nail down what are their core differentiators, they need to blend about 2 or 4 of them to make their brand unique in a way that no one single differentiator can. The reality is that a competitor is going to come in and try to take it away and nullify it.
Survival Positioning: If you want to drive customer engagement and increase sales opportunities, you’d better offer something that not only your customers value, but it’s got to be something that your competition doesn’t provide.
How do you blend?
By looking at the three things that you excel at. The question for many owners and this is what I tell people. Ask yourself questions like, “When do I shine? When do I sparkle? When do I radiate so that you can brand your brilliance? What comes easy to you that is hard to most others? What brings you joy? How can you best serve the world and make a difference?” When people are clear on their own magnificence, then the ability to convey this through this vessel that we’re given called our brand becomes a lot easier. The reality is a lot of people don’t think like that. They want to say, “I’ve got great stuff too.”
“Look at my sparkle. Look at my sizzle.” Identify those differentiators and then leverage those points in your languaging and always talk about it. Be concise and always weave it into the conversation.
Know what your differentiators are. That’s the whole thing. People don’t even take the time to even think about this. “What exactly is my gift to the world? What is it about what I offer that nobody else can receive?” You’ve got to be able to say, “I know you’ve been looking for A, B and C. You’ve been selling to B and up, I’ve got the A, B and C you’ve been looking for. Do you want to know what else? You can only get it from me.” That’s what I tell people in my audiences. Put your hand up, put your fist up.
That’s a good thing to think about as we’re pivoting. Be mindful of what those key differentiators are as you’re making that pivot. What are the gaps that your old model had prior to coping?
This is all about mindset. If you broaden your mindset, think strategically and not in terms of tactics because the strategy drives the tactics. You’re now willing to look at your business from different points of view. You’re now seeing different possibilities, approaches, and potential outcomes that could show up. That owner out there has to be willing to ask themselves the tough questions, challenge the status quo, and get rid of some underlying assumptions they may have about what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t focus on what and how you might do it a little bit better instead ask yourself, “What concepts right now, specifically from a branding standpoint, would allow me to serve my market better than anybody else, that could create new opportunities and new ways of thinking?” It might lead to better and more efficient ways to scale your business.
I love masterminds. I’ve been a part of a couple of masterminds in the past. I have my own mastermind group. I’m going to be starting one up and I believe that masterminds are a great way for like-minded people to come together with a common outcome, but more importantly to get feedback from like-minded people, iron sharpening iron. We’re all in the same room contributing to each other. The key is to make sure that you are in the right circle, that you’re in the right group of people.
What tips or advice have you learned about best practices in forming a mastermind?
Masterminds are great when people allow us to see what we cannot see. You’ve heard the expression, “It’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the bottle. It’s hard to see yourself inside the picture frame.” At least in my experience, a lot of times in a mastermind, someone sees something different that I didn’t see that oftentimes was a blind spot. I often define that as the gap between inside reality and outside perception, which means that the way you see yourself, maybe not be the way that others see you. You may think that you are a chocolate shake and a bag of chips, but someone else looks at you at best, you’re a glass of water.
The other thing I would say about this is mastermind groups are great for empowerment because you have to be willing to say to yourself, “I’m not going to be afraid to be different. I’m going to embrace that there are billions of people on the planet. There are lots of competitors. However, not one of them has my fingerprints. Not one of them has my DNA. There’s only one me.” If a mastermind group or coach or whatever can help me get in touch with what makes me perpetually valuable, rare and special so I can deviate and not conform, so I can go against the flow and not try to fit in, so I can be distinct because I do not want to be extinct.
I brought up masterminds because relationship is also one of those core components to success. The quality of your relationship will equal the quality of your success, that level of success. If you don’t know these answers, create a mastermind of people that you admire. You feel they have taken steps ahead of you. You’ve got a great relationship with them. You trust that they’re not going to be a yes ma’am or yes sir type of person, but they’re going to push back and they’ll challenge you on various things. They’ll point out and they can see you better on the outside looking in. Form that mastermind. How many people do you like to have in a mastermind?
Survival Positioning: When people are really clear on their own magnificence, then the ability to convey this through the vessel called ‘brand’ becomes a lot easier.
The one I was in had ten people.
That seems like a good number. I’ve been in a couple that are smaller and they’re okay. I think I prefer them to be a bit more of that 10 to 15 mark myself.
We get beaten down and now we’ve got all these unexpected things happening in the world and we lose our magic. We forget that. “I am perpetually rare.” We forget to ask ourselves the key branding questions. What distinguishes me? What am I good at? What makes me special? What brings me joy? Where do I excel? How can I best serve the world? The mastermind group can help you embrace and inhale that you are designer-made. You are not mass-produced like clothing on a sales rack. You are designer-made to be known for something special. You have a unique value. You are designer-made to accomplish something that cannot be stopped by anyone because the strongest weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. That mastermind group can speak to me and tell me, “Dare to be bold. Have an edge. Stay at an attitude of faith. Stay filled with hope. Know that I am a highly differentiated brand that will then lead me to the right customers,” it will lead me to live in a life of victory.
All of that translates into brand thinking about the person, but can also be said for the brand.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to make your brand as attractive and distinctive as possible. That goes beyond simply having a great logo, a cool looking website, and relying upon social media branding and online marketing. It’s not that simple.
We even humanize the brand. We all want to feel like we’re connecting with somebody and not just a logo or a brand name. Humanize that brand and put some personality into it.
That’s a core differentiator. That’s good that you brought that up. That’s one of the things I teach.
Thank you. I learned that from you.
Once you nail down what your core differentiators are and you can then blend in 2 to 4 of those, then you can do that through your marketing. Shine a spotlight on them. Through your marketing, whatever that is, this is how branding and marketing works for all of you who are wondering. You’re shining a spotlight on the value that you can provide that no one else can. You show them you can exceed their expectations in a way that nobody else even comes close to doing. You’ve got benefits and outcomes and lots of juicy, wonderful things that people will fall in love with and that will allow you to say, “I am the brand of choice.”
The questions for some of our members out there, questions they should be asking themselves, “What problems do I solve for my customers? What better outcomes do I produce? What miracles do I perform in a sense that I can turn around or reverse things for someone? Is there some kind of emotional payout that I offer?” Ask yourself again. I wonder if what would happen if you did that. The great pioneers in the United States where I was speaking somewhere and I was telling people about great pioneers in the branding field. I went back to Henry Heinz with horseradish, pickles and relish, and ketchup. In the 1880s, he said, “If I put my products in a glass jar or a glass bottle to show the customer the high quality of our products, I wonder if we would sell more.” The McDonald brothers said, “I wonder if people would buy our hamburgers, shakes and fries if they always tasted the same. I wonder if we should call our brand McDonald’s.”
Howard Schultz, who worked at Starbucks and bought Starbucks, goes to Italy and watches how the Italians made espresso and how they enjoyed espresso at their espresso bars. He comes back to America with Starbucks that he had purchased when he used to work there. He asked himself, “I wonder if instead of giving Americans coffee, sugar, and cream, we instead talked about espresso-based drinks. If we differentiated ourselves by telling people, ‘We don’t just have small, medium and large. We’ve got tall, grande and venti. We can’t just have coffee. We’ve got frappuccino, latte, and cappuccino.’ I wonder if people would support my brand if I just told them about Starbucks.” That’s what we’re looking at here. That’s what this is all about. Being willing to step out onto the thin ice, climb on the skinny branches, and do something that the world has never heard or seen before. Dare to be different. That’s the key.
It’s a perfect opportunity for a lot of people to do that. If you’re waiting for the perfect opportunity, this is the opportunity.
Don’t put a mask on your brand.
Gerry, I’m looking forward to you teaching. We’re focusing on branding and marketing. You’re going to be talking to us about brand positioning for small business survival. For people that are in that limbo, this is a perfect time to listen to what Gerry has to say, learn from him. Gerry will also be available during the mastermind rounds daily where you will be selecting the room that you want to go into. You’ll have the opportunity to sit in a room with Gerry and ask him anything you want to know about branding or anything else that you’re an expert in, Gerry.
I’ve been a part of the CEO Space family now since 2009. Whenever I have an opportunity to serve and to give and to connect, it’s always a joy for me. I’m looking forward to it and we’re going to have some fun too.
There are many places you can syndicate on now, which is awesome because that’s more mediums for marketing, more opportunities to connect with your audience, and find the people that you can truly help and contribute to. Gerry, it’s been a pleasure once again. Thank you so much for your time.