Jane is so excited about today's interview! We read this woman's blog on a regular basis-- and always learn valuable marketing information from her. We think she's a branding expert, right up there with Al and Laura Ries! All of our interviewees are outstanding professionals, of course, and Jennifer Rice of What's Your Brand Mantra is no exception. She is EXCEPTIONAL, however. See if you agree...
Lip-sticking: Before getting into the serious stuff, we would like to compliment you on both your blog design and your website design. You may have noticed that red is a favorite color of ours. It's strong and powerful. Is that why you chose it? Or, do you just like red? How do you feel about pink?
Jennifer: I think it suits my personality well. I’m passionate about a lot of things, and definitely not a wallflower. Red is a great vibrant color, full of energy! Pink just doesn’t do it for me… it’s much too passive. I think it’s an interesting exercise in personal branding… if you were a color, what would you be and why?
Lip-sticking: Branding seems to be such an elusive butterfly. We're all chasing it--hoping to achieve marketability in our fields, such as Smart Marketing to Women Online for us, but few companies actually catch that flighty bug, despite reading books and newsletters. What's more important to branding-- a good, catchy, creative business name, or a recognizable name that immediately tells folks who you are and what you do?
Jennifer: Actually, everyone has a brand whether they know it or not. A brand is simply the sum total of what you’re known for… it’s your reputation. The trick is to make sure that your words and actions are consistent, that’s all. That’s the key to building trustworthy strong brands. So the first step is to figure out what you want to say and do.
What can you do extremely well, that’s also distinctive from the competition and desirable by customers? That’s the one thing you focus on in your words and actions. You ask about naming… I do think a memorable name is important. There’s a good naming guide from Igor that outlines four types of names: descriptive, invented, experiential and evocative. I don’t believe there’s a hard and fast rule that dictates what type of name you have. As long as people can remember it and know what it means, fine, but a name is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s like a nametag on the person you meet at a networking event. You still have to get to know the person (or company) behind the name before you’re inspired to do business with them. More important than the name is how you communicate your service and point of difference. It should be really easy to figure this out. In your copy, take out buzzwords, generic phrases like “leading provider” and focus more on you (the customer) than we (the company).
Once you’ve got the basics down, get people talking about you. Don’t be afraid to stand out and be different. Buzz and referrals are infinitely less expensive and more effective than advertising. Thank goodness for blogs! They’re such a terrific way for people to get to know the person (or company) behind the nametag. Oh, and we can’t forget to spell-check.
Lip-sticking: You and I participated in a marketing pod-cast, last week. In it, you go into some detail about your company name, Mantra Brand Communications. We had no trouble figuring out (at least we think we figured it out) what you mean, but...have you had any issues with folks not knowing what you do, just by your company name?
Jennifer: I thought it was pretty straightforward as well, but you’d be surprised. I get a lot of funny looks when I tell people my company name, usually among non-marketing types. This, by the way, is why I was interested in changing my company name last year; I often sell my services to a CEO, not a marketing person. In that case, I have to overcome the mental association with orange robes and chanting! But I do like the name and it is memorable. [hear, hear!]
Lip-sticking: Speaking of pod-casting, and blogging, and considering new technology-- there's a feeling among some consumers that it's all just too much. When thinking of promoting our businesses, how much is really too much? We wonder if, in our attempt to "brand" ourselves, we're throwing too much information at the public-- which just turns them off. Can you comment on this?
Jennifer: I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much, as long as you’re allowing the customer to pick and choose how they’d like to receive their information. You’re laying out a buffet of food, and there should be options to choose from. More tech-savvy consumers will appreciate RSS feeds, others prefer to get an e-zine, and some don’t want to hear from you at all. It’s a matter of presenting options and letting them choose. As long as your subject matter isn’t all over the map (which comes across as schizophrenic), multiple distribution paths make perfect sense.
Lip-sticking: In your blog, you hint at a new direction for your business. Can you share a little bit about that with our readers?
Jennifer: I’ve been pretty interested in an idea I call the ecology of business. That means viewing business in terms of "connections" instead of "components," and removing artificial barriers between employees, departments, customers, partners, etc. It also means removing the distinction between “internal” and “external” branding; there’s really no difference between the two.
I’m teaming up with a community expert to do seminars and workshops on this whole idea; it will also include very practical how-to’s on building community using blogs, wikis and offline methods. Hopefully it will turn into a book as well; I’m pretty excited about it. [applause all around; Jane wants to read that book!]
Lip-sticking: Tell us something about your networking activities. Obviously, you are well connected online through the blogosphere. Your blog is a Top 10 (or a Top 20-- there are so many great blogs out there), but offline, what do you do to stay connected? Are you a member of, or an officer in, any national or local networking groups that you would recommend?
Jennifer: I used to be a lot more active in formal networking and business groups. Now, since I’m getting plenty of business from referrals and past clients (and also from my blog!), my networking activities have noticeably slacked. But this amazing synchronicity always works in my life if I stay open to meeting new people wherever I find myself.
You never know where you’ll meet that next client or business partner: on an airplane, at a party, through a random contact. That said, this year I’ve decided I need to join something again so I can stay connected with others; probably NAWBO (National Assn of Women Business Owners).
Lip-sticking: Here comes the dreaded shopping online questions...we don't suppose it's dreaded, we're just being dramatic. DO you shop online? Do you have favorite places you shop online? WHEN did you start shopping online? What would you say is the best thing about shopping online, and the worst thing about shopping online?
Jennifer: I usually like to shop in stores, mainly so I can see what I’m getting. I do buy books online from Amazon when I have something specific in mind… but I still love old-fashioned browsing through a bookstore and flipping through pages.
I think the only time I feel comfortable shopping online is if I’m familiar with the brick-and-mortar store: Crate and Barrel, for example. I already know the quality of the product, and I can (usually) return it to the store if it’s not what I want.
But I think the biggest reason why I still like to shop in stores is the fact that I work by myself and I spend a lot of time alone. Sometimes I just need to get out and remind myself that I’m part of the human race and connect with other people! I think in our disconnected age, a lot of people are craving genuine interaction, which is why exceptional customer service will generate more loyalty and buzz than a great product.
Online versus offline shopping = convenience versus connection.
Lip-sticking: Tell us just one of your New Year's resolutions-- if you have any.
Jennifer: To form closer connections with others, both online and offline, and to help businesses create tighter connections internally and externally. 2005 is my year of connection!
Jennifer: Tough question. I wish there were more women out there to serve as role models. I’ve met a few terrific women in the past few years who I really admire, but I had no role models in my younger years. I just figured out the person I am today through trial and error. Not the easiest way to learn, but still quite effective!
This was a learning experience for us, dear reader. Jennifer opened our eyes to some issues with branding, building community, and even shopping... online or off. As she notes in her answer to our third question, sometimes more is better! We'd like more of Jennifer, but...that will have to wait for another time. Do trust us when we say, she will be back.
What's not to like about that?