Brand new Featured

8:00pm EDT June 29, 2006
If business were always “as usual,” we’d never have to change. But like any life cycle, industries mature, customers evolve, and new competition enters the market. To be usual is risky.

“The rules have changed dramatically and, as a result, we are in a far more competitive environment than we’ve ever been in,” says Ed Gallagly, the CEO of floridacentral in Tampa. Gallagly speaks of the credit union landscape in particular, but he notes that companies in other industries deal with similar pressures.

One way to differentiate your business from competition is through an effective branding strategy. Gallagly speaks from experience after rolling out a new branding campaign for floridacentral. Here, he offers advice on ways business owners can reinvent their company in the public’s eyes.

How can a company find a firm that will be an effective partner in developing a branding strategy?
Gather a list of credible agencies by consulting with associates in your industry. Interview several firms — we talked to a half-dozen branding/marketing companies before making a decision. All of them gave powerful presentations with excellent supporting material, which is important.

How can a company weed options to find a winning agency?
Ask each agency, ‘What can you see doing for our company?’ Listen carefully to their responses. When we posed this question, I got a strange response from a company that wanted my business. He told me, ‘I haven’t the faintest idea.’ This answer was right on. There is no way an agency can make an appreciable impact on your branding success unless they first conduct several months of research, talking to customers, former customers and the public.

This underlines the importance of research in all facets of business. We are careful about researching the business we know, which is finance. But we never conducted surveys to find out how our customers and the public perceived our image, and whether or not we were effective at communicating our strengths as a company.

How should an owner gather feedback from employees?
Name a committee to review and offer suggestions for branding and marketing efforts. You may not choose to involve each person in the decision-making process, as this could slow down the process. We chose six key employees, who worked with the agency and our executive team. Of course, your branding team will depend on your company’s size.

As you begin devising a branding strategy, you’ll want to pique the curiosity of the public. Consider putting up a few large billboards to spark interest. Ours said, ‘Change is coming.’ Your peers and customers will want to know, ‘What’s this? What change is coming?’ Keep the suspense. Tell them to wait and see.

During this time, share your goals for the new branding campaign with employees and your board of directors. You’ll want to keep everyone in the loop to maintain the energy and excitement that goes along with introducing a new brand.

When introducing a new brand — a new attitude — is a gradual buildup best?
You’ll want to develop your strategy in a gradual way, but you don’t want to lose momentum. It’s best to have an all-encompassing effort where changes occur within a brief period of time so there is continuity. For example, put up new billboards the week before you plan to release your new logo and tagline. Within the next 90 days, convert all media and communication to your new logo and tagline.

What mistakes do businesses make when launching a branding strategy?
The biggest mistake is spending untold thousands or millions of dollars on a program without research. You have to know what the audience wants. If you simply choose it because it looks good, you have no idea whether it will be effective. You see a lot of money wasted in a sea of competitive advertising, but they are ineffective in differentiating one company from the next.

Then what’s the ticket to standing out from the masses?
Your employees are the brand — you are the brand. All the fancy advertising and billboards and signage merely support the image and perception the public has of your company, which is nothing more than the employees.

Establish yourself as an expert. Start by hiring the right people. We also sponsor a variety of education seminars that benefit anyone from credit union members to CEOs.

Part of our branding strategy is that we want to be considered the resource center for financial service advice. This education concept applies to any business. Your people need to be experts, because they are the word behind your brand.

ED GALLAGLY is CEO of floridacentral. Reach him at (813) 879-3333.