Sunday, November 27, 2011

Standing Out in the Crowd: Creating Your Brand Statement: Part VII - Brand Loyalty + Brand Equity

A brand statement will help your cover letter or resume stand out from thousands of others! In this series of blog postings, I will share information with you taken from leading personal branding expert and career advancement coach, Robert Allen Paul, and his “Company Of One” presentation at Buena Vista University. I would recommend his valuable message to every student. (Part I: Your Brand Part II: Core Competencies Part III: Brand Attributes Part IV: Brand Identity Part V: Brand Promise  Part VI: Brand Vision)

Part VII: Brand Loyalty + Brand Equity:

What Will You Do To Attract and Keep Customers?
By now, you probably have a pretty clear understanding of what you do, how you do it and the benefits to your potential “customers.” The only thing left to do is to go out and there and get them!

This is where the principles of Brand Loyalty and Brand Equity come into play. Both are critical in attracting the attention of prospective employers. Both are instrumental in securing interviews. Both are invaluable in launching and advancing your career. But while both relate to the way you manage your professional relationships, in some ways, they are polar opposites.

Brand Loyalty vs. Brand EquityWe can all think of a simple definition of the word “loyalty.” But how would you define “equity”? It’s not a word you hear that often, but when you do, it’s usually in financial circles. That’s because equity refers to a sense or condition of ownership; ownership resulting from some sort of investment.

And that is the defining difference between Brand Loyalty and Brand Equity. Brand Loyalty is a measure of how willing the customer is to do business with you again. Brand Equity is a measure of how much the customer is willing to invest –in time, thought, effort or money– in order to do business with you.

Brand equity is the ultimate goal of every smart marketer (and every job hunter).

How can you apply these two principles in order to attract the attention of potential employers and advance your personal career? It’s actually easier and more common than you think. Let’s start with Brand Loyalty.

Brand Loyalty
There are a million customer loyalty programs out there and most of them fail. Because most of them aren’t based on any understanding of customers or loyalty. Contrary to popular practice, you don’t build loyalty by getting customers to invest more in your brand. You build brand loyalty by investing in your customer. No one understands this better than your average non-profit organization, so we will use one to help illustrate this point.

Frequent Flyer Miles vs. Free Address Labels
Free fares and class upgrades can be pretty appealing if you do a lot of traveling. Frequent Flyer programs are pretty much alike – they allow you to earn points for every mile you fly with them. After you’ve flown about 35,000 miles (and spent several thousand dollars), you get one free round-trip ticket anywhere they fly (as long as you don’t want to fly anytime that normal people would want to fly).

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with this loyalty program. Unless you count the fact that it doesn’t inspire loyalty. Are you any more likely to choose that particular airline for your next trip than any other airline with a similar program? Of course not. Because instead of earning your loyalty, they are forcing you to earn their reward. And by the time they deliver, you’ll probably feel like they owe you much more.

Compare that complicated program to the simple solicitations we all get from organizations like the American Lung Association. Once a year, I open my mailbox to find a fat, little envelope from the ALA. Inside is a letter about all the good they are doing –and some address labels with my name.

Why? You already know why. Because donations from consumers who receive some little trinket first are about five times that of consumers who get the letter alone. That’s why.

Most human beings are hardwired to seek balance and order. If someone gives you something –if someone invests in you –then, more often than not, you feel a need to reciprocate. When I get those cute little address labels, I can’t resist the urge to write a check. Even if it’s just for five dollars. Even if I’ll never actually use the address labels.

What’s true for fund raising is also true for job hunting. If you want a better return on your investment, then you must first invest in the prospect. How?

Start by doing your homework. Learn a little about the person you are approaching, the company you are pursuing, and the challenges they are facing. Then include that knowledge in your cover letter.

Which reminds me: Put it on paper. In an age when most candidates just click the Apply button and transmit an e-copy of their online profile, printing and mailing a real, live letter and resume can really help you stand out! Employers receive dozens of resumes every week, but do you know how many of them come via US Mail? Maybe half a dozen per year.

If you do nothing more than upload your resume to a corporate website, it doesn’t show much interest on your part. But if you take the time to learn a name, study the company, read the job posting, write a letter, print it on paper and pay for a postage stamp, then you have made a real investment in the position –and you might be owed something in return.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you will get the job. But it may mean someone will be more likely to pick up the phone when you make your follow up call. And that is when you start building Brand Equity.

Brand EquityAs was said before, you develop Brand Loyalty by investing in the customer, but you build Brand Equity by getting the customer to invest in you. The tricky part is figuring out how to earn that investment. There are three basic methods: You can require it, you can request it or you can borrow it. If you are job hunting, you are most likely to employ the last two, but we will cover appropriate applications for all three approaches.

Require ItDepending upon how much chutzpah (nerve) you have, you can always develop brand equity by simply demanding it.

Even if you haven’t been shopping for cars, you are probably familiar with both Hyundai and Toyota. If so, you probably know that the average Hyundai costs considerably less than the average Toyota. But did you know that many Hyundai vehicles have more features and options than their Toyota counterparts? Did you know that Hyundai has won just as many awards? Or that Hyundai vehicles also come with a longer warranty? It’s all true. So, why does Toyota outsell Hyundai by such a huge margin? Maybe Hyundais just don’t cost enough.

Remember the Two-Thirds Rule for developing brand attributes? You can’t be all things to all people. When Hyundai promotes Quality, Reliability and Value, consumers think it’s too good to be true –and start looking for reasons not to buy. On the other hand, Toyota focuses its marketing on Quality and Reliability. Period. Even during their annual Toyotathon events, advertising rarely features specific pricing. They figure if you want quality and reliability, you know you’ll have to pay for it. And you do.

So, requiring someone to invest more in your services often leads them to believe they are worth more.

This approach isn’t just about pricing, it’s just as applicable to other capital your consumers can invest. If you force a prospective employer to rearrange their schedule or drive half way across town for an interview, it implies that you are in demand and they may feel fortunate to be included in your schedule.

Of course, if you are a recent college graduate seeking your first career position, you may not possess the credentials (or confidence) to require that prospective employers make a major investment in recruiting you. In fact, in today’s economic climate, if you are an experienced superstar, you still might not have the daring to draw a line in the sand. But at some point this approach may become more appropriate, so it’s important that you understand the underlying principles.

Request ItOne of the easiest ways to get others to invest in you and help you advance you career is to simply asking them to invest a little time and assist you in your career planning. And one of your best tactics is the Informational Interview.

Asking professionals in your chosen field to discuss key issues and ideas not only uncovers clues to the future and potential opportunities, but requires them to spend a fair amount of time and effort explaining themselves and educating you. Having made that kind of personal investment, they don’t want to see it go to waste and will be more likely to choose you over others if a position presents itself. It’s why so many of the college graduates hired by major employers are prior participants in their internship programs.

When your informational interview is drawing to a close, don’t forget to ask them to invest just a little more by providing you with a professional referral. Thank you so much. This has been very insightful. Is there anyone else you think I should meet? If they actually refer you to a professional associate, they become a personal reference for you –and that’s the first step in borrowing brand equity.

Borrow ItIf neither of the first two approaches seems to work for you, your third option may be to borrow some brand equity.

If you happen to work for a recognizable organization, its reputation is automatically transferred onto you, and in most cases, it’s a blessing. The instant credibility that working for a good company creates is usually far greater than any you could earn on your own.

If you don’t work for a well-known or well-respected company (and as a student or new college grad, you probably don’t), you can still borrow brand equity from others -whether other people or institutions (like your college and its alumni). The credibility established through a personal recommendation or association trumps the credibility of even the largest corporation.

When we talk about “borrowing brand equity,” what we are really talking about is networking. I don’t mean networking in a personal, passive, Facebook sort-of-way. I mean networking in a professional, proactive, productive sort-of-way.

Even today, in the age of the Internet, experts estimate that about 80%of all available positions are filled through networking and referral. Your friends and family are still four times more powerful than any website (including Start by asking everyone you know if they know anyone else in your chosen field. It doesn’t matter what company or position that second person might be in, as long as they are employed in your field. You won’t believe how many people you know actually know someone else you ought to know.

Ask the person you know for the contact info of the person they know and if it’s okay to mention their name. They’ll say “yes,” of course.

Now sit down at your laptop and type up a quick letter of introduction to request an informational interview. Since this person doesn’t know you, you will want to establish a little credibility up front by borrowing the brand equity of the person who referred you. Maybe something like “You don’t know me. We’ve never met. But your niece, Jenny Jenson, thinks we should.”

Then you can share some of the personal branding info you’ve already developed, including your career objective and a request to discuss your options when they have time. Since your new contact is already vested in a relationship with the person who referred you, they are much more likely to invest a few minutes in meeting (and helping) you.

If you will remember to ask for another referral at the conclusion of all of your referral conversations, you will be on your way to dozens of meetings and building a real business network. Before you know it, one of those interviews will turn into a real opportunity and that opportunity will turn into a real career.

Best of all, you won’t have to do it alone. Instead of just posting your resume a hundred times and hoping for the best, you will have a hundred people invested in you and doing their best to help you find your way.

These are just a few of the ways you can develop personal brand equity with career contacts and prospective employers. I am sure you can think of many more. Just remember: Your ultimate goal is to promote such extreme loyalty they wouldn’t dream of doing business with anyone else.

Next up: Creating Your Brand Statement: Brand Statement

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