‘What is a brand’ is still the most misunderstood and misused concept in the small business arena.
In previous blogs I have at length discussed the fact that it is not a logo, name or packaging, but the total sum of perceptions that your customers and prospects have about your business or organization.
It is what they think and feel about you and those emotions and thoughts are the result of your target audience experiences with your company.
But there is an even simpler way to look at the concept of brand, the way that the world of business looked at it before the word became a way for ad agencies to not only examine competitive strategies in their bid to sell to the mass market in the 1950s but also a way to mystify the advertising process and hence become the guardians of the ‘brand’.
So what did business people say before the word brand entered the everyday vocabulary of business media?
Here’s the way three great mean described:
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it”
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 min to ruin it. If you think about that you do things differently.”
“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.
-Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com
So what is a brand?
Simple – it’s your reputation. So brand building is actually all about building and protecting your reputation. Although I hate the somewhat old fashioned and hence manipulative sounding title of the book that at one stage outsold the Bible, the message in it is sincere and well meaning and one that has not been adopted anywhere near enough. I’m talking about a book that gives us all the most basic and amazing principles of persuasion, reputation building and managing people -“How to Win Friends and Influence People”
The next 4 blogs will summarize the 4 chapters of Dale Carnegie’s must read book to effective communication and illustrate the way they directly relate to the AIDA (Attention | Interest | Desire | Action) model of advertising.
The objective of this post is to highlight the importance of personal branding or good old reputation improvement in layman’s terms.
I hope to show that the opportunity to build your reputation or personal brand is not only being missed by the majority of recruiters, but the way in which business is being conducted is detrimental to brand building.
Rightly or wrongly, Real Estate Agents and Lawyers are some of the least likeable white-collar professionals with a real image problem, but having picked on lawyers previously:
- Why do Law Firms have a serious misunderstanding of what branding is and how to do it
- Judging Australian law firm marketing – Guilty on all
- Simplicity – Your competitive advantage in raising the marketing bar of the legal profession!
and trying to alleviate marketing mistakes and problems in the small business arena on a daily basis; from manufacturers to management consultants, it’s high time we pick on someone new.
It’s not only fun, but also a great way of exercising one’s grey matter, stepping outside the daily routine and looking at a particular industry segment through the eyes of a Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. What would they do? One thing we can be certain of is that they would take away the features client have little interest in and improve on the benefits that are valued; they would turn the market on its head! Sir Branson, if you are reading this, please feel free to invite me to lunch on one of your private islands to discuss the opportunity further.
Most recruitment agencies like most professional services firms have not developed powerful brands that connect them to their prospects and customers.
Most do not have a unique offering in the marketplace that is delivered in a memorable and campaignable way both in terms of marketing communication and user experience. Other than specialising in a particular industry segment there is little else that differentiates them or provides a unique experience to their clients or candidates.
Before going further, allow me to note that this is not an attempt to provoke or put down the recruitment industry.
Firstly, when referring to the “majority” we mean transactional recruitment. These firms could learn much from Executive Search firms who are very good at targeting and engaging in a conversation with relevant prospective applicants. They are more strategic and have the vision to see that today’s candidates may be tomorrow’s clients; they see the relationship as a journey, not a short trip.
Secondly, most firms do want to treat candidates well and have good intentions. However they often fail for the following reasons:
a. Their business model is 100% client driven and hence they act only in the clients’ best interests. This means that there’s no time allowed to maintain candidate relationships.
b. They don’t realize the importance of maintaining their candidate data or doing so is difficult an unproductive. If this information was kept up to date, it would be much easier to contact candidates with the relevant roles and show that they understand the person they are calling. Lack of good candidate management software (CRM) means that companies can’t be as process driven, as they would like to be.
Thirdly, there are many talented, professional, hard-working and passionate members of the recruitment industry who are great at their jobs, but unfortunately they are not the majority. Those that do this properly really differentiate themselves in a positive way. Smaart Recruitment, The Neil Williams Company, Briggs Communications, Chikara Capital all share passion, experience, knowledge and excellent client service that makes both the applicants’ and clients’ experience truly remarkable.
Finally, recruitment agencies are probably one of the few professional services firms that have the ability to very quickly build a great services brand. Why you ask?
Recruitment, especially the search, selection and applicant communication part of the recruitment process is a “high contact sport.”
Let’s start by listing the different target audiences of a recruitment firm:
- Client – The one that signs the fat commission cheque.
- Prospective Candidates
- Referrers – Those who may not be interested themselves but know people who may be.
Let’s take an average job and count the number of personal and recruitment firm brand touch-points:
- The number of applicants to have applied in response to the advertisement
- Prospective applicants that were proactively approached by recruitment consultant to see whether they would be interested
- Shortlisted applicants that would have been communicated with multiple times.
Our research shows that on average each recruitment consultant may communicate with anywhere between 40 and 300 different people for any one position.
So all these contacts made by recruiters in what I have called a ‘high contact sport’ is a great opportunity to generate positive brand perceptions for:
- The recruitment consultant personally
- The recruitment firm
- And in many cases for the company brand of the client
So what’s the problem and hence the opportunity?
The prospecting effort by most recruiters or headhunters ends up being perceived as similar to that of a pushy second-hand car salesman.
A recent Seek survey showed that 40% of applicants were disappointed by the lack of feedback* however if you speak to most people looking for work you will find that the percentage is actually much higher.
Over the last 24 months I have spoken to dozens of jobseekers in the I.T., Marketing and Administration industries who in the majority have had a negative experience with the recruitment consultant who contacted them.
The negative brand perceptions quickly add up as a result of:
- The number of prospective applicants who were contacted to see whether they would be interested in a certain position or to see whether they would refer to someone who may be interested
- The number of applicants who have been rejected with a standard and delayed ‘templated’ e-mail response or worse received no response at all
- The number of cold calls and emails being made to prospective clients by recruitment business development people.
In all these cases the way in which the recruiter communicates with these audiences, via phone, email and LinkedIn has been detrimental to their brand instead of contributing to brand building.
Pressure from management, lack of planning and doing it the way it always has been done, are all contributing factors.
As pressure to win retained jobs increases, recruiters are feeling the strain. A few years ago it was acceptable to place a candidate over a few months, now results are being demanded in two weeks. Often these timeframes are promised to ensure retained work, but it then becomes almost impossible to adhere to them and build a good candidate list without something being compromised. Often the first area to suffer is ‘candidate management’, followed by poorer quality candidates being sourced.
Young or inexperienced recruiters with high or almost impossible KPIs are under pressure from day one and the turnover in some of the larger transactional firms is very high. Under this sort of pressure and lack of maturity or understanding of business etiquette, recruitment consultants send off mass and untargeted emails to candidates, call inappropriate people and fail to screen and qualify candidates in a uniform and process driven manner.
Here are just 4 examples to illustrate my point:
We recently advertised for a senior role in our consultancy on LinkedIn. The role was a business opportunity to build your own business under our banner and was not in any way a typical job, the opportunity description was very specific, e.g.: it had no salary, no set hours of work.
We received 2 calls from recruitment consultants who cleverly managed to conceal their identity until they spoke to me. When told that we were not interested in their services and that I was very happy using LinkedIn, there was no polite offer of sending me some information that would convince me to change my mind, such as ‘Pitfalls of DIY Recruitment’, or any other attempt to show their expertise through thought leadership and experience, there was no attempt to highlight the benefits of using their recruitment services. There was however ‘begging’ to keep in touch with me to see whether our needs would change. When contacted in approximately 6 weeks, one of the consultants couldn’t even remember why they were calling me and their CRM system was under the impression we were looking for an employee!
This is an email I received from a senior recruiter wanting to connect with me on LinkedIn and ask for a referral:
“We currently have a role for a <Job Title> Expert with a leading <industry> brand. Looking for someone with at least two years <area of expertise> experience. If you know of anybody please send me your number for a chat.
<Recruitment Consultant’s Name> has indicated you are a person they’ve done business with at <Recruitment Firm Name>·
Hi <Name of Prospective Candidate / Referrer>, I came across your profile and wanted to drop a quick line to see if you are exploring other job opportunities. I have a <Name of Position> opportunity – 12 months fixed term contract in <Name of Geographical Region>. If interested please call me on <Phone Number> to discuss further.
<Name> has indicated you are a person they’ve done business with at <Recruitment Firm Name>
Hi <Name of Prospective Candidate / Referrer>, I’m recruiting a role which I think may be if interest to you – are you open to career opportunities at present? If so please contact me on <Phone Number> for a confidential chat, thanks, <Name of Recruitment Consultant>.
My reply to Case 2 went something like this:
Hi <Name>, thank you for the invitation to connect.
It took me a while to respond due to the fact that I didn’t know who you were and you didn’t provide a reason for wanting to connect. You indicated that we have worked together at <Name of Recruitment Firm> which is not true, and indicates to me that you can not be bothered finding my email address or paying for an InMail or learning the many other ways of connecting on LinkedIn.
In saying this, I’m always happy to assist fellow professionals if they just ask – nicely! And this raises the question of networking NOT just social media utilization.
You probably wouldn’t call me or meet me at a networking function, and ask for what you are asking below. LinkedIn is NOT Twitter, it is a much more personal medium. Most people, myself included hate receiving “broadcasts”.
I realize how busy and stressful business is today, especially in recruitment and especially at your level of top management, but your below request for a favor is missing 2 critical elements for getting the favor:
- We have never met and do not have a relationship you can ‘leverage’
- You have not illustrated at all, how I will benefit by helping you! Why should I call you?
If you do this 20 times a day and even if a fraction of the people think like me, you are not creating the optimal perceptions about you or the company you work for. This is something a lot of recruiters don’t think about, but those that do can really stand out from the crowd.
Although I later found that the LinkedIn message was written by a junior with access to the senior’s LinkedIn profile, and the person has since been dismissed, the above highlights the problem which is happening on a mass scale and the crime is being perpetuated by the very people who should most be aware of social media etiquette in general and LinkedIn specifically as they spend so much time in this environment.
What will the future bring? Will it see talent agencies arise to represent the interests of the employee rather than those of the employer? It already happens in Professional Sports, Modeling and Acting. Can this happen in I.T., Marketing, Engineering, etc.?
Will your typical recruitment agency survive or will it morph into a new animal? Will the agency model be increasingly catering to executive search and selection and any thing below executive level be done by employers dealing directly with the talent pool through even more advanced online technologies? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain, the industry deserves a shake up Mr. Branson!
* Your Career, Marketing Magazine June 2012
Bakery can continue to use “Granola”
On 8 June 2012, Justice Jagot of the Federal Court of Australia held that Australian Health and Nutrition Association Limited, trading as Sanitarium Health Food Company (Sanitarium), could not enforce its trade mark registration rights over the word “GRANOLA” against Irrewarra Estate Pty Ltd, owner of Irrewarra Sourdough Bakery.
This case demonstrates the importance of ensuring that a registered trade mark does not become generic over time. This is where advertising and branding agencies can play an important role as the way a brand is marketed has a big impact on whether a mark can remain protected.
What happened in the case
Since 1921, Sanitarium has been the owner of the Australian registered trade mark “GRANOLA”. In August 2010, Sanitarium initiated legal proceedings against Irrewarra Sourdough Bakery for infringing its registered trade mark for the word “GRANOLA” (covering “preparations made from cereals”) after the bakery sold packets of toasted nut, seed and oat mix labelled “ALL NATURAL HANDMADE GRANOLA”.
The bakery also owns its own trade mark, pictured below in relation to breads and baked goods:
Sanitarium argued that Irrewarra had infringed its “GRANOLA” registered trade mark by using it in that way.
While Sanitarium conceded that the word “GRANOLA” has been understood in the US to denote a crunchy toasted cereal and was in common use there, it argued that in Australia it has a more “boutique” meaning associated exclusively with Sanitarium-branded breakfast products.
In response to this, the bakery argued that the word “GRANOLA” merely describes the contents of the product and pointed to a list of Australian dictionary entries for the word “GRANOLA” to support its case that the word is now common.
The court’s findings
The judge took the view that the words used by the bakery: “ALL NATURAL HANDMADE GRANOLA” refer to a product consisting of grains, fruits and nuts, which may be baked or toasted into large clusters. She observed that since 2004 the word “GRANOLA” started appearing in Australian dictionaries and has “percolated” into the “consciousness of Australians”.
Thus, the bakery was using “GRANOLA” in a descriptive sense rather than as a trade mark (that is, to indicate the origin of the good) and therefore, Sanitarium could not establish trade mark infringement.
An important lesson that flows from the decision is that brand owners should take steps to prevent their brands from becoming generic. This means that while an invented word may be validly registered as a trade mark at the outset (as Sanitarium did with its “GRANOLA” mark, from 1921), its ability to stop other traders from using the brand could be limited if the word becomes used in common language.
A good tip is to use trade marks as adjectives rather than nouns.
To do this have the common descriptive name (ie the noun) of the product or service follow the mark at least the first time that the mark appears in your marketing material.
Correct: Buy CADBURY chocolate.
Incorrect: Buy CADBURY.
Correct: Use SAVLON cream.
Incorrect: Use SAVLON.
If you take the trade mark out of the sentence and it still makes sense – that will be good trade mark use.
The Rollerblades example
For example it is well known that the Italian-based company, Nordica S.p.A. actively enforced its “ROLLERBLADE” trade mark rights against various retailers around Australia when they used the word “rollerblades”. As a result, the trade mark is still registered (Trade Mark Number: 480323) and traders now use other words such as “inline skates” instead.
In some situations, a trade mark that has over time, become generic, could even be removed from the Register.
Disclaimer – The contents of this article do not replace tailored legal advice
*Sharon Givoni is an intellectual property lawyer with 16 years and has clients across all industries.
A recipe for depressing consumers and marketers alike! Here they are laid out on my kitchen counter:
The quality of “stuffing” in our letter boxes certainly justifies this paper waste being called Junk Mail! Here’s a sample from just one day, which is typical of type and quality SME (small medium enterprise) Junk Mail versus big retailer catalogs.
These are 2 distribution companies:
1. Letterbox Deals which comes in a brochure format – this one had around 30 pages and 27 Advertisers
2. Business Link, which is Local Advertising company which sells the space, prints and then distributes into mailbox – they had 21 advertisers all as loose leaf or brochures in different sizes and formats.
The overall standard of these and all other junk mail I have ever received is pathetic.
Most rules of design and copywritng have been broken / ignored (fact is the owners of these brands just don’t know what they don’t know).
Letterbox Deals – 8 out of 27 were just reasonable, or at least acceptable.
Business Link – 1 out of 21 was good (and it was a Franchise – Step Into Life), 1 was ok, the rest a perfect example of what not to do when it comes to Copywriting and Design.
The ratio of terrible to reasonable is the same in your local newspaper, Manufacturer’s Monthly and most other trade mags.
Interestingly the standard in North America (USA and Canada) is much higher, due to the more competitive nature of their markets.
The only reason most of these businesses are still alive is because their competition is just as bad and consumers have effectively no choice!
And here’s the bit that makes me happy – business owners who get this will prosper with the proper content strategy: by developing a brand, communicating clearly, effectively and utilizing basic communication principles.