Consider the recent sale of Anheuser-Busch (the St. Louis company that brews Budweiser) to InBev (the Belgian company that brews Becks). InBev paid $52 billion for the purchase. But the assets of Anheuser-Busch, all totaled up, were only $17.6 billion.
In other words, for $17.6 billion, InBev could have purchased enough brewing vats and bottling machines and trucks and desks and computers and paper clips and Clydesdales to completely duplicate Anheuser-Busch. So what did they get for the extra $34.8 billion?
That's the one thing InBev could not duplicate. And it was worth more than everything else put together.
The same may be true of your company. Look. Your competitors are smart folks. They could carry the same lines, match your price and offer the same terms. They could rent the building across the street and even steal your employees. But they can't steal your most valuable asset - your brand.
Treat your brand like any other asset
To keep your building from losing value, you pay attention to it. You walk around and inspect it from time to time. You take note of things that need fixing and fix them.
Do the same thing with your brand.
Corporations with multi-billion dollar brands spend a lot of money to survey the condition of their brand. You can do the same thing without spending a lot of money. All it takes is a little time and a bit of humility.
If you're smart enough to run your own business, then you're smart enough to analyze your own brand. The survey on the following page will help you to evaluate the basic condition of your brand, but you'll have to set your ego aside and be brutally honest with yourself. After you answer these questions, it might help to have a co-worker or two do the same thing and then compare notes.
If there are additional concerns unique to your market area or type of business, add them yourself. While you're at it, you might want to indicate trends. After you circle a number for each item, draw an "up" arrow if you think you're getting better in this area. Draw a down arrow if you think you're slipping. Draw a horizontal line if you think your performance in this area is remaining unchanged.
If you want to make this little mini-survey stronger, ask a couple of other people to fill it out. Then get together and discuss your answers. (If you want to be really bold, invite a customer or two to join discussion.)
It also helps to have some idea of where you stand in the local marketplace. So ask yourself a couple more questions:
1. What is my position in my marketplace compared to my competition? (First Place? Second Place? Third Place?)
2. What percentage of my market is aware of my brand? The issue here is awareness. Does the market know who you are?
None of this is rocket science. You're trying to figure out what kind of name and reputation you have in your marketplace. Your name and reputation are your brand.
Now, step back and look at the results. Hopefully, you've been able to identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie. (If you haven't found any weaknesses, you're not trying hard enough.)
Now get to work
Your strengths are important. They probably explain whatever success you've had over the years. So protect and nurture them, and grow them if you can.
Are any of your strengths really unique to you? If they are, you may be sitting on a gold mine.
Years ago, Honda decided that they were going to make the best engines in the world. So they focused. And they succeeded. Today, from lawn mowers to race cars, they make some of the finest engines in the world. That's how to build a reputation.
Wyndham Hotels once made the brilliant discovery that the most important thing to their guests is a comfortable bed. (Duh!) So they set out to create the most comfortable bed in the industry. Sure, it should have been obvious; but this was in an era when hotels were notorious for uncomfortable beds.
A long time ago, UPS realized it was important to their customers to see clean trucks delivering their packages. So they made this a company-wide priority. Simple, but extremely effective.
It pays to focus on one thing and be the best at it. But you'll notice that in each case cited above, the area of focus was something important to the customer.
HINT: In our industry, the thing that's most important to your customers is quality products, quality service and knowledge. It's not price.
So much for your strengths.
Have you identified areas where you need improvement? Great. Get busy and fix them.
There's no shortage of published information dealing with how to improve your service, boost employee morale, improve delivery schedules and manage your company better. If your weakness lies in one of these areas, bone up on it. Find articles on the web. Pick up some books at your local bookstore. You're probably dealing with issues that others have already dealt with (and solved). Benefit from their experience.
The whole point is to build, hone and improve your reputation - your brand.
Start spreading the word
Your name and your company logo are shorthand for your reputation. They should always be presented in a clean and dignified way.
Make sure that everything you do is first class, whether it's business cards, invoices, packing slips, cups, advertisements, flyers, coasters or T-shirts. Look through your stuff. Spread it all out on the table. It should all have the same color scheme and look like it came from the same company. If not, make some changes. If anything looks cluttered or cheap or tacky (you be the judge), get rid of it.
Beware of bragging about yourself. There are some things that you hope others will say about you, but you can't say about yourself. Would you ever really buy a car from "Honest John's"? Or would you ever eat at a place called the "Sanitary Cafe"? Or would you ever walk in (unarmed) to a tavern called the "Friendly Inn"?
Of course you're proud of the lines you carry. But don't bury your name and logo underneath a star field of other companies' logos. On your trucks and your letterhead and everything else, YOUR name should be the most prominent (if not the only) name.
Should you advertise? Yes, but try not to waste your money. The best advertising is good customer service. Make follow-up phone calls. Ask if they received their order and if everything was in good condition. Make personal visits (not sales calls) on your biggest customers unannounced.
"Just passing by. Though I'd stop in to say 'hi.' How's business?"
Those calls are worth their weight in gold.
If you're going to advertise to a local market, be sure to keep it local. Be a valued part of the community. In addition to local papers and radio stations, consider sponsoring a little league team, a bowling league or a high school activity.
And for goodness sakes, have a web site. There are places online where somebody with no experience can create a professional-looking web site in 30 minutes or less for free or for a nominal charge (www.officelive.com, www.intuit.com, www.homestead.com, www.squarespace.com, to name a few). Pay a little extra to give it a unique name, like www.yournamehere.com. Or invest in something more sophisticated and allow customers to search your parts inventory or make service appointments online.
Pay careful attention to your brand, invest in it and build it. Remember, it's your most valuable asset.
Craig Fry is senior partner at Wade & Partners aftermarket consulting firm. Fry is an award-winning creative