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April 15, 2013
How To

Protect your brand in an improving economy

There are signs that the economy is improving. Hopefully, your business is picking up and your brand is getting stronger. What can you do to ensure the trend continues? Here are four simple ideas that can go a long way toward keeping your business and brand strong for the long term.

Talk to customers

In my first job, the owner told me he called two clients every day. His main purpose was simply to assure them that his firm values their business and wants to do the best possible job for them. The contact is almost always appreciated and on occasion the conversation can take a turn like, "I'm glad you called. I've been meaning to speak with you about a new product idea we have. We would like to involve your firm." Or, "Glad you called. I've heard from my managers that a few of our projects are getting behind schedule and I wanted you to know about it now, before it becomes a problem." Both examples are important conversations and well worth the time.

Making a few calls is a good way to start every day. It is also reinforces, in a tangible way, your brand promise. And even if you only get into voicemail, the effort registers.

Talk to employees

A good owner/manager is one who knows how employees are feeling about the business. Practice MBWA — management by walking around. The time you spend away from your desk can be some of the most productive time in your day. Making this a part of your style makes you more approachable. Remember, every employee is a demonstration of your brand — they are your brand! And you will gain feedback that will make you more competitive. The effort you make will be returned many times over.

Know your competition

This might seem obvious, but I am always surprised at how casually people treat this area of management. Whether you are a small or very small company, you have to believe that your competitors are working their tails off to win your customers. If they're good, they will approach competitive assessment deliberately. You should, too.

Assign specific intelligence-gathering and reporting responsibilities. Breed a culture where employees know the potential competitive threats and casually or formally provide feedback on what they are seeing and hearing. Visit competitors' stores. Try their products. Get on their mailing lists. Talk to their customers. Use the vast digital resources available to monitor their activities.

Those steps are vital to maintaining your brand's competitive advantage.

Challenge the status quo

Success can breed complacency. In a thriving, well-run company where everyone is busy, it is not hard to see why the status quo can remain the status quo.

You might have heard the phrase "Innovate or die." It's true whether you are a Fortune brand or a small business. It doesn't have to be difficult. Remain aware of what you can do to strengthen your brand; make it your team's responsibility to routinely evaluate everything from products and services to new management approaches. This disciplined evaluation will alert you when change is in order because of a weakness or an opportunity.

These four ideas are simple in concept but require commitment. When done with enthusiasm and done consistently, they will deliver results.

Jim Casey is principal of Casey Communications (caseycommunications.biz) and a director of the Association for Consulting Expertise.

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