May the Best Brand Win: How Outsourcing Providers Can Use Branding to Achieve a Competitive Edge
Over the past few years, our economy has made a nice rebound. Companies are spending, thinking creatively, trying and doing new things. From all of the hustle and bustle we’ve seen, 2007 looks to be another strong year for business in general. There are some great success stories, which will only inspire more success stories. But success produces one thing more than anything else…competition. And the competition is only going to get more intense. That’s why every outsourcing provider that wants to effectively compete must first and foremost do an exemplary job of communicating the core information that buyers want to know. This information must be portrayed consistently in all forms of communication, including: trade advertising, corporate literature, website, direct marketing, and tradeshow exhibit display.
Covering the basics of “Why to Buy.”
#1 Quality and Compliance – Overall quality is the primary qualifier in selecting an outsourcer. This is demonstrated in marketing by citing ISO certification, cGMP compliance, as well as commitment to quality systems, vendor-certification processes, and training programs for personnel and customers. Communicating this concrete evidence of your capability to maintain industry standards is a must.
#2 World-Class Service – Satisfying customers is simply not enough. Delighting customers at every turn is the new standard. It’s all about being responsive, meeting your commitments with consistency, solving problems when they occur, proving time and time again that you can adapt to your client’s business requirements and take specific actions to maintain a positive relationship, through all the ups and downs.
#3 Unique Capabilities – Are there any services or skill sets you provide that are unique to your facility, or relatively uncommon among your competitors? These need to be highlighted in every form of communication, and can include specialized equipment, or even top level personnel with great career track records.
#4 Speed-to-Market – Many outsourcing providers cite this as a customer benefit, and it’s important to cite, but not overstate. The reason? It’s kind of expected. Unless, you’ve developed and can quantify a process that will deliver speed-to-market in some extreme way or circumstance, this promise should be more of a bullet point and not a headline.
#5 Proven Performance & Reputation – Most often, customers will judge you more on what you’ve done, rather than what you say you can do. Obviously, citing specifics may be a potential breach of confidentiality. But there are ways to speak to your track record without naming names. Remember, people do and will talk. People will ask others informally what they think about you. Be as open and upfront as possible with respect to offering references. The best way to handle the reference question: “Here’s who we work with. Who would you like to speak with?”
#6 Capacity – Companies look at current utilization and capacity metrics to determine whether a potential vendor has sufficient assets, process technology and people to manage production and/or volume. Make certain your capabilities are well documented and easily accessed on line and available upon request in hard copy form.
#7 Competitive Costs – While you don’t necessarily have to be the low-cost provider, your costs should be in alignment with other providers. Further, if you have demonstrated #1-#6 effectively in your marketing presentation, #7 should not be a deal breaker. Cost should not be a function of your marketing presentation, unless you intend to be the undisputed “low-cost provider” or the Walmart of your industry.
Above and beyond the basics …it’s all about branding.
So you’ve demonstrated that your organization has the competencies and abilities to handle the job. But what if your competitors have done likewise? At the end of the day, a choice will be made and the project will be awarded. Given the high caliber of outsourcing providers in North America today, #2 and #3 will be, in many respects, just as qualified as the #1 choice to handle the business.
What does it come down to? It comes down to the intangibles; the soft stuff and little things that mean everything come decision time. And most of that ties into your corporate brand.
What is a brand?
A brand is a unique entity that can instantly be distinguished from all others. And it doesn’t just apply to consumer products, as is the most common notion when we think of brands.
Your corporate brand is the expression of your uniqueness as a company, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the actual services you provide, or products you manufacture. After all, what does “Just Do It” have to do with the quality of Nike’s shoes?
And the concept of branding applies to more than just sneakers. You can brand a company, a service, a person, a region, a holiday, a movie. As Bill Schley notes in Why Johnny Can’t Brand (p. 7) “Frank Perdue branded a chicken. Perrier branded water. Florida branded sunshine.”
Branding, then, is all of the work that you do to consistently reinforce, demonstrate and communicate your unique difference. It’s yet another way to define your company as different from the competition so that a customer has additional information to make a choice.
Any outsourcer that has been through a bidding process realizes that the buyer is trying to make a decision. The buyer does this by trying to make you conform to a grid of compatible suppliers to compare apples to apples. This is very hard to do if your brand image makes you look more like an orange. Because an orange, sitting prominently atop a barrel of apples, simply doesn’t quite fit.
“But, that will put us out of the running,” you may be inclined to say. “We’ll lose out on the opportunity altogether if we don’t play by their rules.” I would argue that this may be the case, but only on the rarest of occasions.
The goal of branding is to position your product, service or firm as the undisputed stand out–to represent a unique option to the buyer, one that the competition can’t possibly touch.
Branding is your X factor, and a very powerful one. Because once that X factor is on the table, how does the buyer know if he or she is missing out on a chance to work with a remarkable provider that offers tremendous value?
By positioning your brand as the lone wolf instead of another member of the pack, you may very well give the buyer cause to pause, or provide a moment of clarity. It is in this moment that a purchasing decision maker will see you for all that you are, all that is uniquely special, and all that the two of you might do together that’s equally special.
The lone wolf commands immediate attention and respect. The lone wolf cannot be categorized, or duplicated, or compared. And while I’ve never encountered a lone wolf up close in the wilderness, I can only imagine that it would be a tough negotiation.
As outlined earlier, if you want to be truly successful as the seller of outsourced products and services, you must cover the basics efficiently. But then you must confidently put your company’s point of difference right smack in the middle of the negotiating table.
One central and powerful “Why to Buy.”
Your brand message should deliver one central idea across all marketing fronts: advertising, direct marketing, web, tradeshow, pr, etc. And the idea must have some meaningful value for the recipient of the message. It must answer the question “What’s in it for me?” The way to establish “why to buy” is to first ask yourself, “What is it about my company that is unique within my category?” Then ask, “What do I want the recipient to do when I communicate to him or her?”
Focus on your core and most noteworthy capabilities. All too often, we see companies casting a wide net of services. But what are you truly great at? Every company, by virtue of its existence, is remarkable in some way. What’s remarkable about your business?
You’re in great brand shape if you can finish any one of the following statements:
•We are the only outsourcing provider that . . .
•We are #1 in . . .
•We are better than any other supplier at…
Of course, making such a claim without evidence is irresponsible branding. You must support it throughout your marketing effort with credibility-building evidence that explains “Here’s why” every step of the way.
Take the logo test.
Not sure if you’re delivering a distinctive image? Try this. Take a look at a recent ad, your website or brochure. Now, cover up your logo. If a competitor’s logo could easily be dropped in, and the core message maintained, then you aren’t doing enough to establish your point of difference.
No, you don’t want to be just another apple in the barrel when a buyer comes to market. You want to be distinctively different–different in a way that has undisputed value. Branding is your competitive edge. Play your branding card for all its worth. And play to win. Good luck!
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About the Author: Ed Delia is president of Delia Associates, a business branding and marketing firm. Today, the company works primarily with mid-sized and niche businesses to help them achieve business growth through a variety of traditional and web-based branding initiatives. For more information, please visit: http://www.delianet.com. Ed Delia earned his BA in English from Dickinson College. He is a frequent speaker on branding, marketing, and creative thinking.