“Brand.” In the 21st century, this word — which originally referred to the mark ranchers burned into their cattle to claim their ownership — represents everything your customers perceive about your company. It’s who you are and what you stand for. It’s the product you create and the level of service you provide. Companies spend great sums cultivating their brand — everything from their logo and mission statement, to the look and feel of their website and marketing materials, to their social media persona. But is your brand portraying your company the way you intended in the eyes of your customers? And how can you know?
When it comes to brand, consumers most often do their thinking with their hearts, not their heads. Studies have shown that emotions, not logic, are the main drivers of their purchasing behavior. This is especially true of younger generations — millennials and post-millennials, or Generation Z — who together make up the majority of the buying power in the U.S. These generations were raised on ad campaigns designed not to convince them that a company makes the best products, but to make them feel a certain way about them. They’re the “Think Different” and “Just Do It” generations, and while Gen Zers are still a few years away from their home buying years, millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, are in their prime. They’re also the biggest users of social media, and the feedback they give and comments they leave on sites like Houzz, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Google and Angie’s List have a tremendous impact on how your brand is perceived. Add that all up, and how these buyers feel about your brand and what they say about it can have a tremendous impact on your business.
So how do you find out how your customers feel about your brand? And what can you do to affect change if they’re not feeling the way you’d hoped they would? First, get to know them. Are the people who are talking about your company the ones you’d envisioned as your clients? If the answer is “no,” then something has gone awry. Either your brand isn’t appealing to the group you were aiming for, your marketing efforts are reaching a different customer base, or both. Either way, that’s valuable information you can use to make adjustments. For example, if you’d planned on your brand appealing to buyers in the trade-up market looking for a custom home with luxurious amenities and the feedback you’re getting on social media is from first-time buyers who are complaining about how expensive your homes are, then you need to retarget your efforts so your brand reaches your intended audience. And do you truly know those buyers, or have you made assumptions? All members of a large group aren’t created equal — is your message designed to appeal to all trade-up buyers or trade-up buyers in your market? If it’s the former rather than the latter, that could be a problem.
Next, listen. If your brand is finding its target, what are they saying? Is it what you want to hear? If yes, great! If not, it’s time to take that feedback and do some reflecting. You also need to make sure that you’re addressing every aspect of the sales process, from generating interest to follow-up service. In this day and age, a consumer’s purchase doesn’t end once the deal is closed. If you want to foster a positive brand perception, you have to provide the same level of service after they move in as you did when you were trying to sell them their home.
Obviously, all of this takes research, and not just research on how home buyers feel about your brand, but how they feel about your competitors’ brands as well. Knowing what they’re doing right — and wrong — can go a long way toward helping you make the adjustments you need to help your brand perception. Conducting the level of research you need to maximize your brand in the eyes of your customers can be a time-consuming process, but it needs to be done, and it needs to be ongoing. If you don’t have a member on your team with the bandwidth to do it, hiring a company that specializes in brand management is definitely worth considering. From monitoring your social media accounts to creating surveys and conducting focus groups, these firms analyze the data and make recommendations to help ensure that your customers’ perception of your brand message aligns with your intentions. While going this route obviously requires a financial investment, the return it provides can be well worth it.
The bottom line is this: You spent a lot of time and energy developing your brand, but the process doesn’t end there. Making sure the customers you were hoping to reach are hearing the message you meant to convey takes just as much work — maybe more.
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