When I was at Red Hat, I sometimes got questions from folks who wanted to know the secret to Red Hat’s brand success. First off, I’d always say you don’t grow a $1 billion technology company on brand alone. We sold great products. We treated our customers and developers well. We had a revolutionary business model. Those kinds of things are the bedrock of a successful brand.
But if I was to point to one “secret” thing I think had a big impact on the brand it would be a very simple one:
We said the same thing. Over and over. For years.
For me personally, sometimes I said things so many times I was just as sick of hearing myself as others were.
When people would come to me and ask if they could make a tan hat to give away at tradeshows rather than a red one, I would always repeat: “But we are Red Hat.” We brand folks would always be the ones to bring up the company mission, values, and culture. We’d steer conversations back toward the open source way when they went astray. When my colleagues and I would speak about the culture and brand in orientation, we’d tell the same stories, show the same videos of Bob Young and Matthew Szulik to new employees year after year after year.
When it comes to brand positioning, the biggest mistake you can make is to invest your time, money, and energy in discovering your optimal brand position… and then give up on it before it has a chance to do its magic. Building a great brand has to be done over time and, to paraphrase Jeff Bezos of Amazon, there are no shortcuts.
I’ve worked with a lot of creative types over the years, and most of them love to come up with new ideas. Heck we all do. But sometimes the thing that makes you stand out when everyone else is saying something new is to say something… well… old.
And if your brand positioning is solidly executed, it will include some timeless old concepts that form the very heart and soul of your brand. Go back to these. Repeat them over and over. Find different ways to say the same thing. About the time you say something so much you can’t stand it anymore, your customers may actually hear it—for the first time.
If you already have determined your points of parity and points of difference, ensure you are hitting them at every opportunity. When writing copy, make it a game to see how many different ways you can subtly inject the points of parity and points of difference into it.
Don’t just communicate your brand position in brand materials either. Communicate it everywhere– in product literature, in tradeshow signage, in sales presentations, in your on-hold messages. Infuse the brand position into each internal project you work on, whether its intent is brand-related or not.
Try this for six months. Get your colleagues to do it with you, and check up on each other from time to time. Then try it for the next year. By this time your customers may be starting to notice. You may see your brand position start to gain traction.
Then try it for five years. Then ten. Solid brands build a solid brand position over a long period of time.
Sure, you may find yourself getting tired of saying the same things over and over. Until you see the success you have doing it.
If so, you can find more tips about how to position your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).