Leadership Spotlight: Ben TruehartBy: Mainsail Partners | April 1, 2014
Worth a Thousand Words: A strong brand goes far beyond logos and marketing. It speaks to the vision of your organization, solidifies your position in the marketplace and is a guiding light for decision making.
When Ben Truehart took over product development and marketing initiatives at PayLease in 2011, his first priority was to craft a brand best suited for executing the company’s vision. Here Truehart talks about how other bootstrapped companies can build a brand identity that speaks volumes, both to the marketplace and throughout the organization.
What’s the relationship between a company’s vision and its brand?
Building a brand starts with understanding the vision, or the goal, for the company. Who do you want to become? What is your definition of success? Once you determine that, the brand needs to be your special sauce to accomplish your vision. It has to be something you can get behind, and it has to be easy to understand. It’s something everyone from a call center representative to the CEO can latch onto and own. If you have a brand that doesn’t help you accomplish your vision it’s not useful, and if you have a brand you can’t bring to life throughout your organization, it’s not going to work.
Was there a brand already in place when you joined PayLease?
There was nothing on paper, but many core elements of the brand were already there. Not surprisingly, they were many of the things that had already helped make the company successful. The core element of identifying the brand was to look at what was already in the company DNA as well as what was needed to accomplish our vision.
What specifically did you do to get your arms around this?
A lot of it came down to asking good questions about the company. Who are the clients and what is important to them? What has made PayLease successful and where can it improve? We asked this of everyone from the founders to the sales representatives, we talked to clients and went to trade shows to paint a picture of who our clients are and what they care about. It can’t just come from within the company, and it can’t just come from clients. It needs to be a well- rounded view of the organization as it sits today. Then you look at the vision, that’s what you want to become, and ultimately it’s the marriage of the two.
From there, how do you distill your research into something simple?
You look at all of that and start to bucket everything into a few core adjectives that describe your business. What I saw over and over was a lot about ease and cost effectiveness, and we knew that security was also a critical component for growing the business. From there it’s important to create visuals – in our, case icons that correspond with our brand promise of easy, safe and cost effective. Words and a bunch of bullets on a PowerPoint presentation don’t do it. You need to create a visual that represents your brand. Everyone in the company and outside the company should understand what it means.
Why is it so important to develop a brand that everyone understands?
Externally, it is your personality to the marketplace, it’s who you’re doing business with. Your brand speaks volumes.
The more you preach the brand, as long as you live it, the stronger it will become. When we do surveys and ask people why they selected PayLease, you can boil it down every time to easy, safe and cost effective. You preach it, you live it, and it becomes your brand in the marketplace.
It’s also a good internal tool because it can be used to make consistent decisions throughout the organization. The entrepreneur can have difficulties making decisions as the organization becomes larger. If you set the right vision and the right brand, you can use it to gauge performance and make good decisions. This is true of high-level strategic decisions, as well as day-to-day decisions made by frontline employees and middle managers. Having a brand that can be used as a litmus test in decision making is really helpful.
Can you give an example of how it’s influenced a decision at PayLease?
Being easy to do business with is a key part of the brand. No doubt, exceptional service and support is a critical element of this, so we made several organizational decisions that focus on it. One of the first was to create an Account Management team to provide more hands-on attention and support for our client accounts. We also implemented 24/7 call center services so our residents could always reach a live representative when they needed to. We were the first provider in the industry to do this.
And of course, as a technology company, part of being easy to do business with relates to the quality of your technical on-boarding and implementation – that is the client’s first real experience with your brand. We wanted to ensure that it was quick and painless, so we formed an on-boarding team consisting of representatives whose sole duty is to effectively on-board and train our clients. We also made the decision to make our engineering and IT team readily available for any day-to-day trouble-shooting and technical support.
To provide this level of service is costly, but the ROI is quickly realized by the substantial increase we saw in the utilization of our service, as well as our 99%+ client retention rate over the past 3 years.
How frequently should companies revisit their vision and brand promise?
I think it’s important to look at the vision and brand every couple of years to make sure they are still aligned. But once you establish a brand that helps you accomplish the vision, the only reason to change is if there are shifting needs in the marketplace, or the core nature of your product has changed because of outside variables. Still, look at any of the best brands, whether they’re B-to-C brands such as Harley Davidson or Apple, or B-to-B centered brands like Salesforce.com and American Express. Everyone knows exactly what each of those brands represent, and it doesn’t change.