Allison P. Iantosca
Consistency is not a bad thing. For example, I like my hairdresser to be consistent. And my doctor — I want her to be consistent. And I like my son's daycare to be perfectly consistent. I like the big paper cut out flowers in the spring and pumpkins in the fall. I like the teachers to be cheery and to greet my son as if he were the most important kid in the program — every day. I want his cubby to be exactly where it was yesterday and his coat peg to be the second from the end.
I need this consistency to feel OK about leaving the single most important person in my world in the care of others for eight hours a day. And I want my firm's marketing message and brand story to be just as consistent and trustworthy. I want every encounter any single person has with my firm to elicit that same safe mantra: "You know us and you can trust our brand."
I'm not exactly sure when we, as a firm, successfully achieved consistency in our message. The effort began four years ago when we decided our brochure was perilously outdated. Realizing we were short on creativity, I began making phone calls to marketing consultants. Most of them touted glossy bound books that primarily proved graphic design ability. That sounded good; we'd look gorgeous, but one consultant, the one we ended up hiring, said: "Sure, I can help you, but what story do you want to tell?" Silence on my end of the phone. Well, that's a heck of a good question.
It's not that I was clueless about running our marketing department; I did have a few ideas. I knew we were a construction company so I crafted ads to show off our beautiful portfolio. I also knew we did high-end work, so I agonized over finding money to advertise in every shelter magazine that promised to reach a wealthy demographic. I tried radio spots and sponsored random charity events — all this in hopes of reaching someone who could fog up a glass and happened to have money burning a hole in his or her pocket.
The problem with my shot-in-the dark approach was that we were promising to be everything to everyone. Internally, we knew our clients needed to be wealthy and interested in a high level of craft, but these criteria also fit 10 of our competitors. Our ads didn't really do anything to set us apart; the phone was ringing, but from the wrong area codes.
So what was the story we wanted to tell? With our new, very clever consultant on the payroll, we began to dig it up. She and I and the rest of the company spent several hours together poking at assumptions, defining core values, testing capabilities, trusting instincts, and drawing crazy diagrams to determine where we landed on every bell curve. We felt wrung out and hung out, but at least we knew we had explored our core beliefs.
And then, most importantly, our consultant made more than 20 phone calls. She chatted up clients who loved us, clients who hated us, lost prospects, architects and trade partners — anyone who could prove or disprove the consistency of experiencing the firm. The results were amazing. We discovered common threads to tie together our brand and strong metaphors that could relate our values to our clients' personal stories. We heard concrete expectations of what people demanded from us. It was stunning to finally be able to organize our story into a few simple nuggets.
With these nuggets, we embarked on developing our brochure and print ads. Our consultant coached us on language to use when we were interviewed for articles. We developed a three-year plan that capitalized on our brand. We pulled out of advertising opportunities that didn't match our culture. And a most amazing by-product became solidifying operations criteria. Every person in the firm knew exactly how to represent him or herself in any situation.
Everything is now aligned. This doesn't mean we can't change and grow, but as we do, we know what our center axis is. Our clients trust us to be consistent; when we work for them, they trust us with their home. And we prove it to them every time they encounter our firm.
|Allison Perry Iantosca is vice president of marketing and sales for F.H. Perry, Builder, a preeminent custom builder and remodeler in the Boston market. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.|