Clubs, Cliques & Community – Companies are known by the company they keep

The concept I am exploring with this week’s unusually ambitious schedule of daily postings is this: Just as the beginning of each new school year gives students the chance to, in effect, reinvent themselves – this annual season of self evaluation and self improvement can also apply to businesses and their brands.

A lot of the preparation for a new school year is naturally very deliberate. What you’ll wear, for instance, and the supplies you’ll buy. But another very powerful influence on our school experience may be given decidedly less thought. Our connections, the people we gather with, love, emulate, admire, and maybe even fear. As much as anything (probably more) the world (our customers, employers and employees) makes decisions about us based on the people and groups we surround ourselves with and the way we treat – and are treated by – those groups.

Flamingos gifThink about it. In school, were you a jock? A nerd? A stoner? A Goth? Were you popular or excluded? As individuals, of course, where we’re accepted is often subject to circumstances and biases outside our control. Even so, by deliberately changing the groups where we lead, follow or just hang out, we can change the way we’re perceived and treated.

For businesses and their brands, I think this concept of affiliation demands a more conscious conversation about your company’s relationship with each of the following four essential groups:

Your employees – Employee engagement gets a lot of attention these days, and it should. Employees who believe in your company and its mission can do more to promote excellence and innovation if they feel safe and appreciated. Empowered with your firm’s vision, they can act as brand ambassadors, recruiters and salespeople. An engaged workforce is more productive, less susceptible to turnover and generates more revenue and earnings. Of course, really engaging your workforce means a lot more than just memorizing names and sending birthday cards. It calls for a disciplined, multifaceted approach to management and sets high expectations for leaders from the CEO down. An interesting study about this topic was published by the Harvard Business Review this summer and can be read at

Your competitors – You probably already monitor your competition for their products and pricing. You check their adverting, social media and media coverage. When you’re honest with yourself, though, you may have to admit that there isn’t much of a difference between you and them. If that’s the case, then I challenge you to think bigger and with more determination. Think about companies outside your industry that are doing exciting things to differentiate and grow their businesses. Make a decision to be different, better in a way that matters to your customers. Then, make the hard choices and do the work so that difference is real, not just hype.

Your existing customers – In school, these were your best friends. People who were with you through thick and thin. They had your back and you had theirs. You cared about what they thought and went out of your way to help them out. In business, existing customers are gold. You owe it to them to make their experience with your company as rewarding and personal as your resources will permit. Today, that means personalization and segmentation, communicating in a way that acknowledges customers’ individuality. It means honoring your best customers with membership on advisory boards and in loyalty programs. A retained customer is your cheapest source of revenue and your best advocate. Engage your entire company in the business of making clients’ experiences a success.

Your desired customers – Earlier, I mentioned that by consciously changing the groups a student chooses, she can change the way she is perceived. In other words, change her “brand”. Your company can do the same. As you conduct your business analysis and strategic planning, ask yourself if there is a segment of the market that you should have a bigger share of. If so, what has prevented you from seizing that share? What changes do you need to make to compete successfully for this business? Whether it’s people, technology or infrastructure (yesterday’s post), are your investments likely to generate an attractive return? If, on the other hand, you are already in your sweet spot customer-wise, this is a great time to review and refine your marketing and sales/ business development function. Technology is making changes to this discipline at a dizzying pace. You can’t afford to fall behind.

By consciously and deliberately addressing the needs and expectations of each of these groups, your company will enjoy the good will of all and the many reputational and financial benefits that come with it.

Have you ever worked for a company that did an exceptionally good job of considering and serving any of the groups mentioned above?