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Panel Discussion Recap: Driving Corporate Growth Through Your Brand

We had a great seminar last Tuesday morning (June 21, 2011) with panelists Bruce Croxon, the founder of Lavalife, Joseph Pileggi, Director of Client Services at Thomson, Rogers Barristers and Solicitors, Terri Carson, Brand & Marketing Strategist, Rapport, Sandra McEwan, Vice President, Valuations Practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and moderator Faith Seekings – shown from left to right below.

They started out by sharing some of their own experiences and perspectives on branding and marketing.Driving Business Growth Through Your Brand Speakers

My biggest takeaways were:

Sometimes the category comes with built-in challenges that have to be overcome in order for brand-building to work. For example: overcoming a stigma or having to create the need.

Bruce told the story of how Lavalife came about; an evolution from an offline company. He said in order to build Lavalife the company had to break the category stigma that dating services are for people who can’t find love otherwise. They did that through positioning Lavalife as an efficient way for busy professionals to meet, and, more importantly, as a sophisticated and cool thing to do. Bruce said they knew it would take a huge splash and a lot of money to do it. They dove in and hoped for the best with extensive advertising (transit ads, etc.), parties, on-street promotional handouts and other efforts. It worked! The company sales peaked at 100 million and the company sold for $174 million.

In professional services firms, marketing can find a way for marketing oriented and non-marketing oriented individuals to excel.

Joseph talked about how the law firm works; there are the different practice areas, and different lawyers who are all responsible for building their own practice within Thomson, Rogers. The marketing departments approach is to find individual marketing activities that draw on each lawyer’s strengths, and group activities that everyone can participate in. An example is TR’s educational events, which attract both potential clients and the appropriate lawyers.

Another important note is that Thomson Rogers has an incredibly strong corporate culture, built over 75 years, which makes it easier to market. While he didn’t go into too much detail, Joseph referred to their approach to their practices and the conduct of their lawyers being very important in establishing TR as a respected leader in the industry.

All brands have value.

Sandra, who has valued all kinds of businesses talked about how a company’s brand does not show up on the balance sheet until it is for sale. A strong brand is important as it can both help company sales and the sale of the company. She gave the popular example of Coca Cola versus store brand cola’s – most people will pay the premium price to buy the branded product. Sandra also shared that when valuing a business the brand can be a separate component in coming up with the sale price.

If you only have one thing, have a brand.

Terri has worked with several B2C and B2B clients in the past but told the story of one client who had absolutely no marketing infrastructure for their consultants/sales people to aid their sales efforts, even though those people were high paid consultants selling expensive solutions to Fortune 500 companies. However, they had built a really strong, trusted brand over the years. Once the sales people were provided with strong messaging, great sales decks, white papers, newsletters and so on they used the strength of the brand to leverage existing relationships and sell into the executive suite of partner organizations. Terri made the point that, like any consumer brand, businesses need to stay top of mind with their target market, because, when the customer has a need they will call the company they think of first for a quote.

The following are some of the questions that were asked, and the responses.

How Long Does It Take to Build a Brand?

Regarding a question to Terri and Bruce on how long it usually takes to build a brand, Terri said there is no rule – no ‘it usually takes X months…’ Each company, the market they are trying to break into and the competition they are facing is different. You can and should, however, set objectives and metrics around brand-building efforts to know you are making progress and on the right track.

Bruce pointed out that there is the potential to build brands incredibly fast these days, due to the social nature of the internet. Good and bad customer experiences can travel at supersonic speed.

What Does Success Look Like?

Joseph Pileggi shared with us that they know they are successful when their competitors start copying them. One of the largest hazards of gaining success is keeping it – 1) in a brand built by reputation one wrong move by one partner can seriously effect years of relationship and brand-building; and 2) success can make you afraid to try something different.

B2B Branding Challenges

In Terri’s experience, many B2B companies make the mistake of undervaluing the notion of brand building and how strongly that impacts sales and growth.

Top Brand Tips for Growth:

  1. Identify the real challenge, strive not just for exposure but the right exposure.
  2. Make sure your brand creates a compelling story about why your organization is different and better than the competition.
  3. Remember in business-to-business marketing you are selling to people and people are driven by emotions.
  4. Analytics are key in assessing whether your brand building and marketing are working.
  5. No matter how big or small a company is, the value of its brand is a consideration on balance sheet at acquisition time.
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