It’s crucial to the execution of your business or creative vision that you establish a brand, but very often while we’re concerned with things like placement, market positioning, advertising, design, and so on, we sometime ignore a vital aspect of branding: behavior.
Now, Dr. Sven Henkel will tell you that ‘behavioral branding’ is the idea that the employees of a company are the best ambassadors of its brand. Now, I agree with that assertion. Sure, if you’re selling something that requires no personal contact whatsoever, then perhaps this would seem to be an unimportant matter, but the day someone calls your support or customer service number, or you happen to get into a Twitter shouting match, this can change very quickly.If the brand experience created by employee conduct, behavior and demeanor can have a lasting enough impact on large companies for them to invest in enhancing that experience, then the entrepreneur, creative artist, and sales professional alike must likewise be attentive to this detail as well. A good experience will build credibility, enhance brand awareness, and, most importantly, improve the likelihood of brand insistence and even brand advocacy.
Now, before we go on with some quick tips to enhance your behavioral branding, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between brand awareness, insistence and advocacy. With awareness, people know you’re around, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they prefer you. Indeed, they might well bypass your product for one they like better. Sometimes this is because the product is better, and sometimes it’s because their branding has been more effective. A good example is Coca-cola. In blind taste tests, Pepsi usually wins. However, Coke drinkers will still choose Coke, because Coke is so firmly branded that they insist on buying it, even if Pepsi tastes better. So, if you achieve brand insistence, you’ve got an edge on the competition. However, where you want to be is brand advocacy: people not only buy your ‘product’ and prefer it, but they enthusiastically campaign on your behalf to get others to buy it, too. Part of the success of my webcomics came from this kind of advocacy. To this day, there are fans of Jake the Evil Hare and Darkfell who regularly promote it to others. I’m convinced this was to a great degree because of behavioral branding, though I’ll admit I wasn’t consciously doing that.
Over-deliver. Always. In my consulting business, I always make a point of delivering far more value than what my clients pay for. For example, if I’m creating a sales strategy for a small business, I’ll also connect them with potential clients and key suppliers. As a result, they saves thousands of dollars on business expenses, and they generate new revenue from the referrals I’ve given them, so that before they’ve even fully implemented the plan I put together for them, they’ve often made a fair amount of money because of my help. As a result, they see me not just as a useful consultant, but also a highly valuable business resource.
It never hurts to be gracious. Especially in the beginning with Jake the Evil Hare, the artwork and story weren’t the greatest thing to hit the comics world. It was amusing, and people liked it, but that wasn’t where its success started. For the first several months, we never got more than 100 pageviews a day. Then one day, we got a horrific review from a podcast where one of the guys sounded lik Simon Cowell from American Idol. They were at times downright mean, and got so into ragging on the comic that at one point they stopped themselves and admitted that they did like the main character. I was afterward interviewed, and the interviewer asked about this review, and I expressed gratitude for their criticism. Soon after, Jake was getting 2-3000 pageviews a day, peaking at 10,000 pageviews a day at one point, and word started getting around in social media that I was a ‘nice guy.’ I try to be.
Live by the Golden Rule. Another thing that helped Jake the Evil Hare become popular was the fact that I started promoting other people’s work, both on Twitter and in the comic itself. For example, the storyline ‘Mostly Dead’ features a a cameo appearance by Phin from Phineus: Magician for Hire. However, took it up a notch and made Phin and his wife essential to the story by having Phin ‘cure’ Jake of his condition of being mostly dead, and created a sort of relationship between Jake and Phin’s wife, Sarah, in that Sarah despises Jake and loves to shoot him in the head because of how the bullets ping off his skull. The pages include a link to the Phineus website, and Phineus creator Barry Linck got a kick out of it. Originally I just did this for fun, but it ended up exposing my work to a larger audience, and as I kept featuring other artists’ characters in Jake, our audience kept growing, and a good number of webcomic creators have featured Jake in their work as well.
Be kind. I don’t always see eye to eye with everyone, and a good number of my online followers and fans are actually people whose views and beliefs are quite different from my own. However, though I am outspoken about what I stand for, I promote their businesses and do what I can to help them in their pursuit of success. As a result, even people who strongly disagree with me on a number of issues still promote my work, and when someone tries to slander me (it happens to us all at some point), it just doesn’t stick, because too many people have had a good experience with me, even when our opinions or beliefs are at odds.
Own up to mistakes and correct them. Mistakes are going to happen, and in a world where too many people refuse to take responsibility, or even try to shift the blame onto others (even onto their customers), you can create a better customer experience just by owning up and being quick to correct yourself. For example, when there was a delay in Amazon delivering a review copy of Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Foebreaker’s Curse that I needed for some bloggers, though it wasn’t my fault, I enclosed some original art with the book, and even did a sketch inside the book itself. The book was re-sold on Amazon for $59, so I’d say they count it as a positive experience.
Be faithful to your core values. I can say with confidence that no one among my clients, Twitter fans, or even in my personal circles can say that I’ve ever deceived them. I can’t say I’ve never lied in my whole life, since like most people I’ve told some whoppers in my younger days, but I think I’ve grown a bit since then. I was touched the other day on Twitter when someone stated that they knew that I loved them and cared about their work. That individual and I have disagreed on a lot of things, but at the end of the day, what happens to her matters to me, and being faithful to my core value (unconditional love for others), has been integral to the reputation that I’ve had among my peers and clients.
I’d like you to take some time to consider just what kind of customer or client experience you seek to create. Which aspects of your overall behavior and character are conducive to that experience? Which aren’t? If you find you have a lot of changes to make, don’t feel bad. Be excited, this means you’ve got better days ahead.
Yours in the pursuit of vision,