Richard Pierce Thomas

Leadership and Small Business Consultant

I have been engaged in the branding deep-dive with my new business partners of late, defining the core message for Pilot Wealth Management as a result of the recent merger of our businesses.             

It has challenged me to reflect on the work I accomplished in my last business, Activate Leadership. Like many of you, I’ve been a solo operator, and the luxury of having a well-designed brand strategy would always lose out to more pressing needs, like putting food on the table or buying new school clothes for the kids.

Looking back on the eight years, however, it is more obvious to me now after the fact, that I did indeed build a brand and a fairly simple, yet effective strategy, and I want to share the best of what I learned and did, with you.

For starters, let’s define what brand is. In metaphorical terms, a brand is like giving your prospect a bucket to carry their water with. It is incredibly simple, and it makes sense to them. Describing the bucket, however, is the easy part. The more difficult aspect is why your bucket, versus the myriad of competitors out there. It is here where the heavy lifting has taken place in my learning by transcending the ordinary marketing message with a succinct message that communicates a memorable emotional state. 

For example, when Ford Motor Company advertises their new car lineup, the message isn’t just about building a better car or truck, but their transcendent message is “Go Further.” For car enthusiasts such as myself, it implies imagery of going places I may not normally go, if I drive a Ford. As simple as this is, it is incredibly effective. In Activate Leadership, we attempted to accomplish this with “Building Leaders at Every Level,” to evoke for the business owner that we solve problems at multiple levels in the company. 

So, what is it for your business? What message takes the conversation from being, for example, just another granite countertop manufacturer to a business that can create a desirable experience every time the owner walks into the kitchen?

Starting out eight years ago I had to go it alone out of necessity, however I discovered the most important things to do. These three simple steps are actions you can take to gain perspective on your brand and take it to the next level:

1. Do great work – At the risk of repeating myself (First, Do Great Work, SRG March 2012), before you launch any effort to create messaging and brand identification, make sure the product and service you deliver is outstanding. Even the most well executed branding strategy can be sunk in a heartbeat by poor quality and unhappy customers.

2. Create an ongoing conversation – This is about using the various venues and outlets to begin sharing your expertise, or thought leadership, on your passion for the product and service you deliver. Whether it be via a web blog or social media, it’s important to understand why you do this—to create pull. In marketing speak, pull means you will be sought out for what you have to say, rather than looking for a place to push your message onto someone. It’s all about the pull, and by the way, it takes time and numerous turns at the proverbial plate, so the sooner you start, the better.

3. Ask for the review – Testimonials have all but gone the way of the dinosaur and have been replaced by the social reviews. You can still ask for the review, though, and the real payoff is not necessarily the good words they may write about the experience, but rather the conversation you can have with them in asking for it. 

All of this is intended to develop self-awareness of what the brand value is for your business. How long this takes is up to you, based on how much work you want to put into doing the above steps. As you do, however, you will begin to understand what that transcendent message is that speaks to your clients—and why your bucket is better than the other guys. Accomplish this, and the payoff will be substantial. Anyway you look at it.

Rick Thomas is a Principal and Director of Human Capital at Pilot Wealth Management, a registered investment advisor in Oregon state. Leading their focus on the human component of building wealth, he consults and speaks to organizations across the country, focusing on individual and organizational achievement.