Who are you?

Many business owners jump into the strategic planning process without really knowing their company’s identity. In other cases, they might have a solid vision for their company and where it stands in the market, but their employees’ or customers’ perception is drastically different.

So before you can plan your direction for the next five to 10 years, you -– and your employees –- need to know what your brand is and what it represents inside and outside the company. Otherwise, your plans willusually fail.

Clark Culbertson, president of Culbertson Group, a marketing communications and brand strategy firm in Moreland Hills, says developing a brand concept isn’t just important for consumer goods, but for any company that needs to stand out in its marketplace.

“If you don’t know who you are, how will your customers?” Culbertson asks. “Once you have a brand concept, the strategic planning becomes much easier because it dictates what you do and how you communicate. It becomes the corporate culture.”

Here’s how Culbertson develops a brand concept for one of his clients.

  • Interviews: Culbertson interviews employees from all levels of the company. From the CEO down to an entry-level data processor, Culbertson asks them what they do, what they like and dislike about the company and what problems they’ve seen. If one issue keeps rearing its head, then that’s an obstacle standing in the way of a successful brand.
  • Research: Analyzing business databases by Forrester Research and Dun & Bradstreet for your industry can help determine how your company is seen in the market, Culbertson says. Study competitor’s Web sites and literature to see how they have positioned themselves in the market.
  • Survey: Talk to major customers to get their perspective on your company. Focus group research is also helpful, even if your company doesn’t serve a consumer market.

Culbertson does not recommend trying to build a brand concept internally. Personal biases and company politics can stand in the way of creating a strong brand. Your employees might be wary of discussing what they don’t like about the company unless it’s with an objective third party.

“The companies that embrace this idea, it starts to filter through the organization,” Culbertson says. “It’s not just driving the advertising, it drives how they structure themselves, how they’re organized and how they make sales presentations.”

How to reach: The Culbertson Group, (216) 292-4881.

The Culbertson Group