A Look In The Mirror: How We Developed Our (Micro) Brand Strategy

When I was introduced to the concept of Micro-Branding, I didn’t know what to expect. Here’s why I’m so glad we embraced it, and why I think you should too.

My friend Bruce likes to say that the one element that has to link and unify every decision in your company; scaling, communications, operations, hiring, or otherwise…

..is your brand.

I reached out to him last year when we ran into some internal challenges that I needed help overcoming.

See, as our team had grown, I’d noticed we weren’t always all on the same page. Sure, we had a shared vision and mission but for the previous three years, we’d operated (and grown) without a defined set of core values or specific brand personality.

The problem was, without these brand attributes to anchor our behaviors, I’d often seen each team member doing things their own way.

Through no fault of their own, it was their personal core values that determined how they approached their work.

And with different personal styles in the mix, as we got busier, I started seeing internal communication breakdowns and inconsistencies.

Some of that can be handled through tightly defined processes, of course, and I can honestly say we have an incredible team so, it’s not like there were a bunch of “negative” behaviors I needed to “fix.”

But, I also wasn’t seeing the company culture I wanted and, since we’ve been enjoying rapid growth…

…I knew we would hit stumbling blocks with scale and competition if we continued like this.

So, I asked Bruce and Joanne at Whiterock | Reid to help us further define who we are and who we want to be.

What is Micro-Branding?

Micro-branding is a unique, powerful process to uncover your authentic brand, define your core values, personality, voice and vocabulary. It helps you establish a clear position to base all of your decisions on.

It’s perfect for businesses like ours that don’t need the entire branding process. We already have our services clearly defined, our market highly-developed and our visual identity well-established.

The Micro-Branding process helped us:

  • Establish what we stand for so we can shape key business decisions,
  • Articulate a clear brand identity, core values, and personality so our brand can connect more meaningfully with customers,
  • Develop ownership and buy-in from the team so our culture can flourish, and
  • Create a shared vocabulary so we can consistently communicate our brand.

How Does it Work?

One of the more enjoyable parts of this process was the group format, which they called the Branding Team.

Although we had the flexibility to step in and out of the sessions as client demands dictated, the approach recognizes the value of having all key stakeholders involved from the beginning.

In our case, since GoWP employs only full-time, US-based staff, we were able to include our entire team. I already mentioned the ownership and buy-in I saw from working on this together but I also discovered that our team’s perspectives and passion were key in uncovering our brand.

On that note, that’s an important distinction: Bruce and Joanne helped us to uncover our authentic brand. They were very clear that they weren’t there to create our brand. They facilitate the process of uncovering what we already posses and represent.

See, our brand already exists.

So does yours.

Simply by virtue of existing, your company has a brand. The question is just whether to approach your brand proactively, or ignore it and hope that your market treats you kindly.

So, over several sessions of around 3-hours each (they’re on the West Coast so we worked online by video conference), Bruce and Joanne led us through a series of exercises and discussions while, as a team, we collectively identified our company traits, brand character, core values, brand personality, desired perceptions and positioning.

These are some of the highlights:

Perception Balancing

The first session was a real eye-opener, an exercise called Perception Balancing. It’s designed to uncover how our team believed we were perceived in the market and then expand on that with an exercise defining how we want to be perceived to make sure we’re all on the same page.

This was a great team building session!

Why is this step important?

Because you need to know where you are right now before you can plan any forward movement. You also need to identify any negative perceptions your market has about you so you can address them.

Our team has worked together for quite some time so, as expected, many of us identified similar feelings. Perhaps most interesting were the few negative perceptions the group identified and how passionate everyone was to get rid of them.

What has this meant to GoWP?

I still can’t believe how much we got out of this exercise. In just a couple of hours of discussion, we finished with a detailed understanding of how we’re currently perceived by our marketplace. Some of these traits include being best in class, hard-working, growing, credible and accountable.

We also came away with a clear breakdown of what we need to work on. To share the bad with the good, we agreed that we are sometimes perceived as being too rigid in terms of scope of services offered and with our processes.

We were able to develop a roadmap of exactly where our future efforts should be placed on controlling our brand message. We’re already busy enough so having this type of clear strategy is invaluable!

Want to try it yourself?

Gather your team, whether it’s your key stakeholders in the case of a larger organization, or the whole crew in a smaller company. Then,

  1. Ask everyone to write down how they think the company is perceived in the market (words and short phrases). It’s important to be honest so, you may want to stress that every opinion is equal here. Some of this information could come from front-line staff, who speak to clients and know first-hand. Other info might just be based on gut feelings. It’s all relevant.
  2. Once you’ve gathered everyone’s thoughts, just go through the list and eliminate any double-ups. For example, if you have honest and trustworthy on your list, just pick one and stick to it.
  3. Then, write out any negatives on a separate sheet and be sure everyone knows their responsibility in getting rid of them.
  4. Now, you want to do the same thing but, asking everyone how they want to be perceived in the market — your desired perceptions.
  5. Repeat step 2 for your desired perceptions list.
  6. When you’ve got your two lists, look at them side by side. You’ll quickly see where the current perceptions and the desired perceptions line up. These are things you’re already doing right. Keep doing them!

It’s where things appear on the desired list that aren’t on the current list that you’ll want to focus your attention. Make these a priority and you’ll be taking control of the way your brand is perceived in the market instead of letting the market make its own decisions.

Give it a try, it’s powerful.

Core Values

This is what you most often think of when you think of branding, and for good reason. We knew we needed to define our core values to prevent any of the confusion I talked about earlier. To eliminate the individual decisions and get everyone on the same page, we needed to start thinking of our company as a person.

Why? Because people know how to talk to people. They don’t know how to talk to a company. That’s why you see so much pointless corporate-speak.

Why is this step important?

Our customers should understand the type of company we are from our behavior when they interact with us. Our behavior as people is controlled by what we stand for (along with our personalities). We wouldn’t behave in a way that goes against our principles, right? That’s how we connect as people, it’s just the same thing with brands.

And, I was surprised to find out this is actually easier to achieve than I expected.

See, unlike a person, a brand’s Core Values aren’t as intricate, they’re simpler, allowing for less confusion and easier decision making in day-to-day management.

Our Core Values

Over the course of several months, here’s what our team came up with. These are the core values that we eat, sleep, live and breathe by:

  • We help and encourage others.
  • We believe simple is better.
  • We lead with consistency.
  • We pursue our passions.
  • We pay it forward.

Each one has a deep meaning for us and I’ll be discussing these more in future blog posts.

What has this meant to GoWP?

For one thing, it’s cleaned up the inconsistencies and communication breakdowns! More importantly, it’s given us a very simple but powerful filter to base brand decisions on.

There’s no gray area. We stand for certain things because they’re deeply important to us. They underpin our behaviors and, if we went against any of these principles, our brand simply wouldn’t be the same.

So, if I have a decision to make and it’s not immediately clear, I have a filter to run it through. If I’m interviewing staff or developing new partnerships, there has to be alignment with our brand character. If I don’t see that alignment with our values, I know it’s not the right fit and I can save myself a world of hurt down the road.

Want to try it yourself?

Just like with the Perception Balancing exercise, you’ll want to gather your branding team. One quick note: your core values should be thought of as what your company is whereas your brand personality (the next exercise) is how your company acts.

  1. Tell your team their goal is to identify the company’s principles and beliefs. Ask everyone to write down what they think the company is when it’s at its best. What does the company stand for? Again, honesty is vital here, don’t try to create something that’s purely aspirational.
  2. Once you’ve got your list of everyone’s ideas, open up the discussion and make sure everyone is on board. This will generate more passion and buy-in than you ever thought possible. Don’t rush this step, lots of valuable discussion comes from this stage and the team building opportunity is amazing.
  3. Then, go back through to delete any double-ups.
  4. Get your finished list and ask yourself, is each one truly important to the brand. If there are some that are weaker than others, put them aside.
  5. Finally, make sure each value you identified passes this filter: Simple, Believable, Unassailable. If any don’t pass, remove them. You should end up with list of four of five of your most important core values.

This list, once you have it, will give you core values developed based on your principles, which should become central to your decision making.

Oh, and this will take some time. Don’t rush the discussions, that’s where the real insight is.

Personality

More than anything else, our brand personality is the most visible part of our brand to customers. This is the way everyone in the company acts and speaks.

And, it has to be consistent or we start delivering mixed messages, which leads to a lack of brand trust. Given that one of our character traits is Integrity, brand trust is very important to us.

Why is this step important?

These are the distinctive qualities and behaviors that drive our actions. It’s important that team members speak and act consistently in order to represent a unified brand that builds trust.

Our Brand Personality

These are the personality traits we identified for our team:

  • Reliable
  • Friendly
  • Hard-Working
  • Funny
  • Positive
  • Intelligent

More than just pre-defined behaviors, these personality traits already exist in every member of our team. All of these go hand-in-hand with our mission of creating happiness by delivering exceptional WordPress support.

Having them written down now sets a standard of behavior for now and the future.

What has this meant to GoWP?

Whether I’m writing an email to a client or talking to a partner on the phone or even talking with staff in a meeting, these attributes have become our guide for external and internal communications, and all company interactions.

Want to try it yourself?

You know what’s next, assemble the team (are you sensing a method to the madness?). Think of this like the back of the core values exercise. Whereas values are about what the company is, its principles and beliefs…

…personality is about what the company does, our behaviors.

Simply put, personality is about action.

  1. Ask the team to think about a perfect business interaction. Then, identify what the company does when it is at its best? What behaviors are front and center? For example, if you identified a core value as customer-focused, your personality might be supportive or helpful.
  2. Some of what you come up with won’t be that important to your brand so just like core values, try to look for core personality traits. These are at the very center of the company on a day-to-day basis.
  3. As before, open up the floor to discussion. Get everyone’s input and make sure everyone’s on board with your final decisions.
  4. You guessed it, go through the list and get rid of duplicate concepts.
  5. Narrow down your list to the four or five most important personality traits. Try to finish with traits that engage and inspire people.

One final note on this exercise…

We’re not trying to force our staff to become perfect. We’re just making sure the brand behaves in alignment with our values and in a consistent manner.

Final Thoughts

Understanding and taking ownership of our brand makes decisions easier. And, it’s not just the typical decisions we associate with branding, like naming, behaviors, and logos, it’s every business decision. We now have a filter that we can run all decisions through, from staff onboarding, to partner education, to client communications.…you get the picture.

As far as the process, it wasn’t as simple as it sounds, it required some digging deep but having a moderator to facilitate the discussions made it easier. There were no missed opinions and everybody’s perspective got out in the open.

And, it was so exciting hearing the different points of view from our team members — as a founder, it was particularly special to hear the ownership and passion each member of our team has.

Plus, there were two unexpected, but extremely-positive, side-effects of this process:

  • First, the Micro-Branding report we received at the end of the process included a common vocabulary to describe what we’re all about —  and all those annoying time-wasting questions about things like vocabulary, tone, and identity have disappeared. It’s all here, in black and white.
  • Second, and more important, is the rekindled pride I have in, not just where we’re going and what we want to become, but who we already are. Not that I wasn’t proud before, of course I was. But, this brought to the forefront all that is great about this team, and our shared purpose, and allowed it to take its rightful place at the center of our brand.

We now have a document that we can share with new team members and partners so they understand who we are, which helps with everything from content marketing, to sales and even scaling the support team.

When we launched GoWP, we had been on the other side, in the agency world. We knew the challenges and pain points and we knew we could provide an efficient solution.

Our focus was the product.

It was only when we looked closer at our brand that we realized that the way our company was being presented to the world had to match our intention behind it.

Our focus has to include the purpose.

Whether you’ve productized your service, like a SaaS model, or you’re a service-based business there is nothing more important than your brand. As Bruce says, “Either you control the narrative or the market does. For a service business, what will you sell if you are not selling your brand?”

We’re controlling our narrative.

And, this defined, shared identity has given us the foundation we need to continue our growth, creating something totally unique.

Next Steps

Take a moment to complete the exercises outlined above. You’ll be glad you did.

If you want to know more about our brand and the process, drop me a line, I’d love to discuss it.

And if you need someone to help you through the branding journey, I can’t recommend Bruce and Joanne at Whiterock | Reid enough. You can find them at whiterockreid.com — tell them Brad sent you 🙂

A Look In The Mirror: How We Developed Our (Micro) Brand Strategy
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