By Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers."
We define a brand as the holistic experience people receive from the sensory cues of a product or service. Mouse ears and bitten apple logos conjure up distinct thoughts, emotions and experiences associated with The Walt Disney Co. and Apple Inc., respectively. And when you see an ad for Cinnabon, can you smell the cinnamon? Sensory cues can keep us coming back for more.
A microbrand is a smaller brand that competes for identity and market share through unique and nimble products or services. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Moritz is a huge auto dealership. Chevrolet and Lexus are brands; Moritz Chevrolet and Moritz Lexus are microbrands.
In our industry, Visa Inc., MasterCard Worldwide, American Express Co., Discover Financial Services and JCB International Co. Ltd. are brands. Visa and MasterCard do not issue credit cards but rather license their brands to issuing banks.
As a registered third-party agent, the initial $10,000 we pay to Visa and MasterCard affords access to that license; it allows those of us on the acquiring side to use the card brands' logos and post our rates.
Whether you're a merchant level salesperson (MLS) in a one-person shop or a Super ISO, nothing is more important than guarding your brand. You can spend an inordinate amount of time developing logos, catch phrases and media; all is for naught if you don't protect your brand.
Consumers often use Internet searches to learn about companies they may want to do business with. The Internet is such an influential tool that most big-box retailers have employees monitoring what is being said about them.
And new Web sites like Tweetbeep.com enable you to monitor who's tweeting your Web site or blog, even if shortened URLs are used.
The following exemplifies the Internet's power: A friend of ours recently purchased a faulty mattress. He couldn't get anyone at the company to return his calls. He blogged about his horrid experience on his Web site and through Twitter.
Thirty minutes later, a corporate marketing manager phoned him. He assured my friend that the Vice President of Marketing would call shortly. Sure enough, less than one hour later my friend had the VP on the phone, as well as the assurance he would receive a new mattress. Every touch point should be considered when protecting your brand.
Lawrence G. Foster was the Corporate Vice President of Johnson & Johnson Services Inc. in 1982 when seven people on Chicago's West Side died mysteriously. Authorities determined that each of them had ingested an Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule laced with cyanide.
It was a human tragedy and public relations nightmare. Most of the news pundits thought certainly Tylenol and perhaps even J&J, the company behind the product, would fail as a result.
Foster said that, at the time, corporate planning groups included crisis management as part of ensuring a healthy business environment, but no such plan could have sufficiently tackled the Tylenol poisonings because of the magnitude of the tragedy.
So, J&J turned to its credo, which stresses the importance of J&J's working for the public interest. "It was the credo that prompted the decisions that enabled us to make the right early decisions that eventually led to the comeback phase," said David R. Clare, President of the company at the time.
The public and medical community were alerted to the crisis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was notified, and production of Tylenol was stopped. In essence, J&J's credo prioritizes management's attention as follows:
From its credo, J&J knew its first and primary focus should be on those who used the products; employees came second and communities third. After that, it would consider its responsibility to stockholders and making a profit.
There is much to be learned from the Tylenol crisis. Business focus, honesty, integrity and leadership took what would have crushed most companies and made it into what has become a positive public relations case study.
As sales representatives or call center agents, we are the brand. Any message communicated in any way is an act of branding. If your Web site and brochures say one thing but your employees another, incongruence exists. Every consumer touch point is a building block, and each complements the microbrand message.
Many merchant services companies have lost customers when minimum-wage call center agents have responded, "I'm sorry, but that's our company's policy."
In his best selling book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, co-written with Sharon Lechter, Robert Kiyosaki states, "Whenever you feel 'short' or in 'need' of something, give what you want first, and it will come back in buckets.
That is true for money, a smile, love, friendship. I know it is often the last thing a person may want to do, but it has always worked for me. I just trust that the principle of reciprocity is true, and I give what I want."
Kiyosaki's message resonates in sales as well. On GS Online's MLS Forum one post stated, "I am getting frustrated messing around with tiny merchants that don't seem to be worth my time." In response, Desdinova posted, "Do you know where I got my three big restaurants today? They were referred from a guy who drives a smoothie truck and does a few thousand a month. You never know where the next million dollar deal is going to come from."
How true. Many of our largest customers have come from the referrals of smaller ones. Showing respect, concern, appreciativeness and positivity is contagious.
When Jon lived in a neighboring city, he had an incredible dry cleaner. When he pulled up to pick up his laundry, his clothes were pulled out and racked before he entered the store. If a button was missing, it was fixed. Each employee had a smile and greeted Jon by name.
At a social event, Jon met another dry cleaner who said he could save Jon almost 25 percent on his dry cleaning. But Jon wasn't interested in saving money; he was interested in impeccable and personalized service. Each of us wants to build a portfolio in which merchants feel the same about our service.
In the same thread on the MLS Forum, another member commented, "I applaud you for your ability to offer the same level of service for any type or size merchant, but ... in my experience this only works when you have anywhere between 100 to 400 merchants.
"When you get to the 1000s, the whole picture changes, and the profit picture gets blurry. However, this is exactly what I preach to my reps, who should only have a maximum of 350 merchants so they can provide the highest level of service. But for the ISO to do this for thousands of merchants is difficult at best."
We disagree. If your microbrand message is clear and cohesive - from your call center to risk management to the sales team in the field - any organization can offer scalable, world-class customer service.
When this cohesion fails, the blame rests on the shoulders of management. Pre-employee screening for temperament, sufficient initial training, ongoing training and management's personal involvement make good companies great.
As we approach the holidays in the worst economy since 1930, look for opportunities to polish your brand by giving back to the community. When people see you for who you are rather than what you sell, you will sell more.
Next month a bank president who is a good friend of ours will take off two weeks from work. He won't be going on vacation, but rather spending those weeks in service to the community. Yesterday, over lunch, we committed to volunteering together at the weekly dinner for the homeless in Fort Worth.
Each of us has a talent or hobby about which we are passionate. Convert that talent or hobby into a microbrand asset. Perhaps you enjoy dancing, woodwork, automobile repair or computers.
Help out with youth, seniors or any program that needs those skills. The recipients of your help will remember your name and what you do.
Microbranding involves every touch point where a potential or existing customer receives a message. There is no better message than selflessness through volunteering.
Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang are the owners of 888QuikRate.com, an ISO based in Ft. Worth, Texas, that was named Small Business of the Year by the local newspaper, The Star Telegram. For more information, tweet them at http://twitter.com/dfwcard, comment on their blog at http://merchantservices.cc or visit their profile at http://linkedin.com/in/jonperry or http://linkedin.com/in/vanessalang. Alternatively, you can contact Jon and Vanessa by phone at 817-857-3557 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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