We see it all the damn time with solopreneurs and small business owners. You’re doing some great work for some great people and the money is flowing. Conventional wisdom tells you now’s the time to scale. That little voice in your head pipes up: “We gotta do a rebrand”. So you hire a big, fancy pants designer, get some gorgeous new branding going on…and somehow manage to suck the soul out of your business.
That thing that made you special? The thing that people loved about you? You’ve lost it.
In an attempt to scale, you’ve taken the “you” out of your business.
And hey, big businesses aren’t immune from this either.
Take Illana’s favorite: Sierra Trading Post. If you’re not familiar with this brand, they used to sell outdoor clothing and equipment. They’d buy up surplus from companies that had overstocked and then sell it on at great low prices. Their stores had a whole Aladdin’s cave thing going on; you could get lost in there for days sifting through great branded outdoor clothing and other treasures, and you’d usually find amazing bargains. The staff always seemed super fun and helpful and like they really enjoyed working there. It was just a great place to shop.
Until they got taken over by a bigger company, the same brand that owns TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, and a whole bunch of other suburban discount stores.
Now you can hardly find a sales assistant when you need one, there’s that weird frenetic energy you get in other discount stores, and there’s always a really severe looking security guard at the door who doesn’t exactly make you want to hang around too long. Oh, and they have those annoying cattle corral things at the checkout, where they try to sell you all of this super-cheap, about-to-go-out-of-date crap that you don’t really need.
There’s a total thrift store vibe going on — which would be fine if the Sierra market was thrift store shoppers. But it isn’t, it’s the outdoor goods market which is a whole other ball game. Those are two completely different sets of clientele with different needs and different desires.
They’ve changed the whole brand experience, and kind of lost their soul in the process.
They’ve lost the thing their customers most loved about them.
That’s what it looks like when you get it wrong, but it wouldn’t be Good Business // Bad Business if we didn’t show you what it looks like when you get it oh-so-right.
So this week, we’re going to transport you to NYC, and Balthazar’s steakhouse — where they know exactly how their customer wants to feel, and have found the most simple, elegant way to make them feel it:
This super classy, understated restaurant is home to Rachel’s favorite policy ever: they offer every single woman, who’s dining there alone, a glass of free champagne. Now, done wrong, this policy could feel a bit sleazy, maybe a bit over-the-top. Like they could have a policy of comping your appetizer, or if they’re into giving away free booze, they could give you a shot of something. But the Champagne is just so on-brand for Balthazar’s, it totally works. It’s fancy and sparkly, but classy and elegant. Even better, it makes you feel like you’re all of those things too.
And it proves that they totally get their customers, and what they’re looking for from their Balthazar experience.
So how do you translate this to your own business?
Know your customer.
Whatever size of business you run, whatever plans you have to scale up, it always comes back to knowing your customer, who they are, what they need, and what they want. And if you can show your customers that you 100% get their needs, you’re golden.
So how do you figure out what they want from you? And what they love about what you’re already doing?
Well, you ask them — and not in a lame customer survey kind of way. Forget what the marketers tell you: those things never work. It’s incredibly hard to formulate questions that’ll actually get you to the truth of the matter, and getting a big enough sample size is harder still.
The answer is to ask better questions of a smaller group and then make reasoned judgements based on the answers. So take the clients you used to work with, and had a good relationship with, and ask why you don’t work with them anymore. Send an email saying, “Hey, is there any reason why our relationship ended or did we just move on? And can you tell me what was special about working with me?” Look at your testimonials — they’re usually a goldmine of information. And go to the people that you’ve been working with for a long time and say, “what makes me different from other people in our marketplace? Why do you stick with me? What is it about me that makes working with me fun and interesting.”
If you want to find out what’s special about you, just ask. We can’t tell you how much game-changing info we’ve gotten from simple one-on-one conversations.
The 4:00 am language.
And have a think about what Rachel calls, “The 4.00am language”. That’s the stuff your clients wake in the middle of the night worrying about. So no one wakes up at 4.00am thinking, “I just wish I had more vitality”, or “I wish my jeans were better quality”. They wake up thinking, “My God, I’ve got to get my shit together”, or “I wish my jeans didn’t bag out on my ass”.
If you can figure out exactly what wakes them up at 4.00am, you’ll know exactly how to position your brand so that you’re still speaking to the right customers and, like Balthazar’s, making them feel how they want to feel.
The 3 rules of rebranding.
If you’re scaling up, and rebranding, and want to make sure you do it without sacrificing your business soul, we have three (kind of) simple rules for you:
- Make sure you know what’s already special about your brand.
- Make sure you know what people love about your brand.
- Don’t fuck up on points 1 and 2!
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