Buying in to branding Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

It takes a village to build a brand. So believe the leaders of Skoda Minotti, so much so that when they set about formulating a new branding strategy last year, they wanted to get everyone at the 140-employee business and financial consulting firm involved.

Greg Skoda, the firm’s co-founder and chairman, says that your employees are the face of your company, and if they can’t project a clear picture of what your company stands for and wants to accomplish, then your customers will be left in the dark — and that can spell trouble.

“If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, if a customer calls and doesn’t get the service they want, if we fall down on any step, it’s likely we’ll run the risk of either alienating or losing a customer,” Skoda says.

Skoda Minotti started six years ago as what Skoda calls a “small, tightly knit group of professionals with a common history.” And when Skoda and his partners decided to refocus the company’s branding strategy last year, they wanted to recreate the same small-firm atmosphere but across a company that now carries a work force numbering in the triple digits.

There was no magic formula, Skoda says; it was simply a matter of spending many hours soliciting input, not only from employees but from those outside the company, as well.

“When we went through this process, we spent a lot of time talking to every one of our employees, from partners to receptionists,” he says. “Then we spent time talking to customers, ex-customers, prospects, industry experts, people we refer work to, to get their perspectives, as well.”

Skoda Minotti’s leaders sought many different perspectives for one main reason: Your company is not the company you think it is, it’s the company your employees and customers think it is.

“We look in the mirror and see one picture,” Skoda says. “When somebody else wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror, they see a different picture. We’re trying to provide value-added services and products to (customers), so it gets to what they think is important. If we’re not aware of what they think is important, we may totally miss the mark.”

Skoda divides the people a company must serve into four categories: employees, clients, business contacts and the surrounding community. If your new branding strategy gets lost in translation to any of those groups, it could damage your company.

“If you fall down in any one of those areas, you are not going to succeed and achieve what you want to achieve because you’re not going to be delivering what they’re looking for,” he says.

That’s why Skoda says you must find out what the people you serve want from your company, then construct a branding strategy that reflects your ability to give them what they want and need.

He says a properly aligned branding strategy that involves both internal and external input can attract not just the right kinds of clients and customers but the right kinds of employees, as well. Those employees, in turn, can continue to attract and retain the customers you are looking for.

“A brand, properly built and out there, can really be one of a company’s strongest assets,” Skoda says. “It’s going to allow people to attract the right kinds of employees, the right kinds of business partners, the right kinds of clients and all the things people are looking for.

“If everybody understands what we’re trying to accomplish, we’re going to succeed wildly.”

HOW TO REACH: Skoda Minotti, or (440) 449-6800

Patience is a virtue

If you are considering a complete facelift of your company’s brand, Michael Minotti has a message for you: Don’t expect an instant reaction.

The president and co-founder of Skoda Minotti says it takes months, possibly years, to plant the seed of a new brand, wait for it to grow, then harvest the benefits.

“One of things you need to have is a lot of patience,” Minotti says. “There are a lot of companies we’ve seen that start the process, then come out with a brand that doesn’t immediately hit the mark. Once you’ve developed the brand, it could take months, or even a few years, before you see any return on your investment.”

Minotti says you have to allow your brand to develop its own momentum in the markets you serve. The most effective way to accomplish that is through your front-line associates and managers, the people who have the most direct contact with your customer base. But the only way they’ll be able to do that is if you and your management team have provided them with a detailed, well-thought-out strategy that they can present to customers.

“Our front-line employees are our ambassadors, and if we don’t give them a good plan, they’re not going to be able to sell and defend our brand. That’s why you really need to be able to differentiate yourself from the competition, with a strategy that is well-thought-out and can be well delivered.”

And never forget, says Greg Skoda, firm chairman and co-founder, that building and maintaining a brand is an omnipresent task.

“It’s a full-time job for everyone in the organization,” Skoda says. “If we’ve done our work right, everyone has participated in building the brand, maintaining, developing and enhancing the brand, and can help deliver on the promises we make to our customers.”