A recent blog I wrote reminded me of this basic question that I have always asked clients, “What’s your brand?” Every business has a brand whether it’s explicit or implicit. People living in your service areas either knew you by what others say about you or by what you tell them about yourself.
So what does it mean to have a brand? It means that when people think of your company that they think about you in a certain way. – it’s the images, emotions, and decisions they associate with you in their mind. If you don’t work to create your own brand then you might just be ‘that telephone company’ or ‘those wireless guys.’ I guess there is nothing wrong with that, but it might mean that a new person to the area has to make a bunch of phone calls to figure out who you are, or that existing customers are more easily swayed by competitors with a better brand.
Having a brand is a lot more important if you are competing for customers, which most small carriers do these days. It’s important to have a brand when you are trying to sell to people who don’t know you, or to keep customers you already have.
So what do I mean by a brand? A brand can be almost anything that you want to have customers remember about you. I’ve seen hundreds of different types of brands in telecom. Some are very simple, such as ‘your local telecommunications company’. Others tell more what it’s like working with a company such as ‘making broadband easy,’ or ‘total business broadband solutions.’
But I am still surprised about how many small carriers don’t have a brand. I can understand this for a carrier who is a monopoly telephone company where customers have no other options. But it mystifies me why somebody who is not a monopoly doesn’t want an easy way for customers to understand who you are.
Some kinds of branding are obvious. For example, cooperatives and municipal broadband companies often remind customers that the business belongs to them. That can be an effective brand if done well. But I see a surprising number of these entities that don’t do a very good job at reminding people of this.
Probably the most common branding I see is companies claiming to be the ‘local telecom provider’ or ‘your local ISP.’ But unless there is something more to the story behind that claim to tell people why this is a good thing, then it can be somewhat shallow. After all, any company that will send a technician to somebody’s door is also local.
The one thing I know about branding is that whatever you tell the public had better be true. You don’t want to tout yourself as the ‘broadband company’ if you are still delivering slow DSL to a lot of your customers. That kind of branding can work against you and will remind your customers every day about how bad their broadband is. And such customers will leap to another carrier with better broadband if they ever have the chance.
If you don’t have a brand, it can be surprisingly challenging to pick one. But if you put a bunch of your employees in a room they can probably come up with a few good ideas. Here are some of the more common ones I see that I think are effective: ‘bringing gigabit broadband to X’; ‘telecom solutions since 1915’; ‘making broadband easy’; ‘21st century solutions for rural America.’
The chances are that you already have a brand but that you haven’t thought about it for a long time. If that’s the case then ask yourself. “Does my brand still tell the public what I want them to know about me?” Also ask, “Is this brand really who we are?” You might be surprised by the answer to those two questions, and if so, it’s time to update your brand.