Life presents us with many riddles. Some of the most intriguing are those that are best solved by taking a path that’s counterintuitive—one that seems to take us in the opposite direction of our goal. We’ve read sage advice that espouses completely letting go of something in order to attract it, or combating an attack by embracing a foe. These are interesting to think about, and we’ve encountered or can imagine scenarios where these solved riddles actually play out in real life. So, this month I have a business riddle for you. What’s the best path to search out and attract new customers to your company? I’ll give you a hint: The best answer is not to get a metaphorical bullhorn and promote your message to the far corners of your market area. In fact, I’m suggesting a path that starts inside of you. Yes, you. Create your “personal hot center” and expand it to first include your staff, your key customers and, finally, all your past customers. Like the gravitational pull of a star, this hot center pulls new customers to your company. The riddle is solved.
It starts with an alignment of one.
The hot center is first formed within you. The center starts with your own clarity of your company’s brand promises, which is another way of saying “brand meaning.” What should your brand mean to customers? What would you like your brand’s meaning to be to your staff and your best customers? Brand meaning includes a lot: what customers see, hear, touch, smell and feel as each step of your service promise is delivered. Write out your brand meaning in great detail and commit to making that meaning a reality. Use your heart—it takes great passion and willpower to create the hottest of centers. If you’re totally clear about what your brand should mean and totally committed to taking daily action to deliver on it, you will succeed.
Your team joins the center and helps design your brand’s meaning.
You expand the hot center to include all your employees by sharing your clear brand meaning. Together with your employees, look at how their attitudes affect customers’ perceptions of your brand meaning. Consider how your expertise, processes, rules and work environment affect the brand meaning. Get your staff to improve your brand meaning document through additions, subtractions and edits. You have to demonstrate your total commitment by making changes that better deliver on your brand promises. This is where the rubber meets the road. If you say your brand means “X” and you’re not willing to change a rule or process to achieve “X,” the game is up. You won’t have a hot center. However, if your staff sees you make changes and they are empowered to make other changes that are necessary to bring customer outcomes in line with your brand meaning, you’ll have succeeded in creating a hot center that consists of you and your team.
Your selected customers join the center and help refine your brand meaning.
Next, expand the hot center to include your best customers by selecting those who are fans and those who are significant purchasers of your services. Then meet with, call or write them for feedback—first on their experience with your company, second to imagine your operations as it’s described in your brand meaning document, and third to get their ideas on how it could be improved to best serve them. Capture their best ideas and revisions in your brand meaning document. Follow up with each of these selected customers to describe your revised brand meaning document based on their feedback. Be sure to illuminate both what won’t change about your company and what will.
All customers join as they relate to your brand through your stories about people.
Now begin a consistent, repeating communications plan with all your staff and customers. Feel free to use whatever channels you think are best for you and them: letters, newsletters, emails, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. In your communications, you’ll give them updates of the work your company is performing and describe your team’s processes in delivering it, which demonstrates that your company is aligned with your brand’s meaning. Tell the stories through people—both staff and customers. Over time, you, your staff and your customers will hold clearly in their heads what your company means, the type of work it excels at, how it operates and where it’s going. Always include them in your articulated future vision and express your joy at the journey you’re on together.
Your hot center is a magnet for potential customers, a competitive advantage.
That’s it. Stop the music. Sit down. Hug yourself. Do you feel the hot center that started within you? Smile—you’ve built and are stoking a hot center that will attract new customers, because who your brand truly is, what it means, and how it operates is now brighter and clearer than any of your competitors. This hot center’s heat, clarity and intense brightness are now beacons that pull in new potential customers who want the quality, service, and certainty that they so clearly see from you, your staff and your customers.