SI Review: March 2011

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Expert’s Corner: Time for Renewal

Recovering and rebuilding after the wintery recession

Growing up in North Jersey, March was a time for renewal, which meant a lot of hard work.

After a long and harsh winter, we’d spend March clearing wind-damaged branches and brush from the yard, repairing the lawn from salt and ice damage and preparing garden beds for the arrival of spring flowers, longer days and warmer weather.

This March, after the most brutal economic downturn of our lives, staffing executives have the same opportunity — to renew their brand. Leaders can use this moment in time to revisit their brand promise and, after determining whether it still fits the markets they serve, shine it up, modify it or toss it out in the trash.

There are several paths companies can take on this strategic journey; keep in mind, though, the work that’s needed to be done takes significantly more time than a cursory review in a magazine column. For now, I’ll concentrate on three distinct approaches that can help an organization improve its market position and potentially stand out in a highly commoditized marketplace.

Renovation

Years ago, a friend of my mine bought a home with a pool and a fenced-in tennis court. While the pool was in excellent condition, he knew he needed to work on the tennis facility. What he didn’t expect to hear from his contractor was: “The fence is great; the tennis court has to be redone.”

Such is the case with a majority of staffing brands. There’s a solid fence — the trade name — but the important part is lacking; there’s no meaning, message or brand promise behind that name. That leads to high levels of dissatisfaction among sales and recruiting teams because they feel as though they have no unique story to tell in their markets and that customers and prospects are turning them away.

Companies are fortunate in this type of situation. First, it’s easy to rip out their brand and start fresh. Or, brands can be rebuilt entirely. It may take a little time, but with customer conversations, some market research and a bit of elbow grease and ingenuity, any company can have a vital, defensible brand position.

Some New Shrubs

Right now, we’re working with a company that has a rich history in its market — its brand has sustainably aided growth over the past few decades. But like many firms, it stumbled pretty badly in the past few years and its story became stale at the wrong time. So we’ve been working with company leadership to help the firm find a new value proposition and develop an aggressive messaging strategy.

The right foundation is in place — the firm has several long-term customer relationships, leadership is open to new ideas and they have a robust operating model that can support a hard-hitting position. Most important, the company understands that its brand is delivered every day by an empowered sales and recruiting staff and that leadership needs to educate and inspire the field to help make the company a success.

A Little Fertilizer

Sometimes a company needs nothing more than a little polish to enhance its position.

A few years ago, we worked with a company that had a tremendous rate of growth and was expecting more of the same in the near future. However, company leadership knew that it had to execute on several levels to prepare for that growth: add new staff, enhance its back-office and build on its brand position to enable entry into new markets.

Our role was to focus on two key elements: 1. create a platform for future growth for the brand and 2. build a way to turn loyal customers into advocates for the company. In the first case, it was important for this company to enter new markets. Our work involved creating an agile messaging program that would help the company enter new geographies as well as introduce new services seamlessly. The second initiative involved measuring loyalty using the Net Promoter program — developed by Satmetrix, Bain & Co., and Fred Reichheld — to determine the depth of customer relationships and then training the sales field to help them understand how they could leverage those relationships into greater revenue streams.

I no longer live in North Jersey, but the winters of suburban Philadelphia are just as nasty. Now that I’m done with this column, I can finish some work on the go-to-market program to which I earlier referred. And then, maybe I’ll head home and clear some brush and plant some grass seed.

Jim Lanzalotto runs Scanlon.Louis, a strategy and marketing outsourcing firm that helps companies grow. He can be reached at jim@scanlonlouis.com or 610.212.5411.You can also follow him at twitter.com/jimlanzalotto.

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