According to a Citibank survey in 2012, more than half of small-business owners say they have reinvented or rebranded their company to “stay afloat” or competitive.
Starting over is never easy, especially when you are a small to midsize operator in the luxury ground transportation industry. But occasionally you may find yourself boxed into a non-working business model, possibly driven by a market change. Reinvention and rebranding can sometimes save you from going under in a competitive market. Maybe you have had a drop in bookings, and you just can’t catch up to previous months’ revenues.
Or perhaps you have had a dramatic change in your revenue due to a new competitive landscape. In the past few years especially, more than a few operators have faced a changing market with the emergence of Lyft and Uber into their geographic market share. So rather than hold up the white flag and call it quits, how can you save yourself and your company from being yesterday’s news? The answer is surprisingly simple: reinvention.
It can be tough to assess the marketplace and make necessary changes to your business, especially if you have already invested years in getting your company off the ground, managed a successful, or even semi-successful growth phase, and achieved some level of success. You may be facing such a situation and have decided you need to do something—anything. Making the decision to start over can be difficult, but if navigated properly, it can not only save you from going under, but bring you bigger success than ever before. As with many things in life, timing is everything; knowing when to reinvent your brand is key to a successful rebranding effort.
As Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Change is key. But when should you decide to switch your business model, rebrand and start over? And how can you succeed with your new brand after taking a bruising on your previous brand?
Figuring out when you should change is not an easy task, but asking yourself the following questions may help you find the answer:
1 Do you have more competitors than ever?
2. Did your market change?
3. Is your customer base eroding?
4. Are you no longer driven by your original vision?
Let’s assume you have asked yourself the above questions, and have arrived at the conclusion that you must reinvent or rebrand your business to survive. Here are some critical steps in helping you position yourself for success, rather than setting yourself up for failure.
Step One: Assess Your Competition
What makes your competition different from you? What is their specialty? What unique services do they offer that you do not? Make it your mission to find out. Once you have analyzed what differentiates your competitors, focus on your own strengths and unique offerings. Is there a specialty niche your unique offerings may be perfect to market to?
Step Two: Assess Your Customers
Has your customer base changed? How well do you really know the people you service? Now is a good time to talk to your top customers and explore new ways to satisfy their needs. A great way to do this is to send out a third party customer satisfaction survey and ask targeted questions. Use their feedback to start rethinking your customer relationships.
Meanwhile, think about your customers who perhaps represent a lower profit margin. Could you entice them to use a different or modified version of your services? For example, are you near a college campus or mass transit? How about establishing a shuttle service? Look to identify new market opportunities by considering, perhaps, the opposite of your current customers. Who isn’t using your services, and why aren’t they? You could even get creative and look for prospects who are ignored or bypassed by the industry entirely.
Step Three: Assess Your Brand
Take a look at your website, which is usually the first place prospects and customers see your brand. Does it look dated or tired? Is the information on it current? Is it easy to navigate and book reservations? Is your contact information prominently displayed? If you answered no to any of these questions, it may be time to revise and refresh your website to appeal to the technologically savvy audience of today.
Likewise, take a look at your printed collateral. Are your brochures dusty and dated? Is your business card easy to read? If you revise and refresh your website branding, you should also revise and refresh your brochures and business cards to match the branded effort. There is nothing worse than a customer left confused by your marketing materials. Having a consistent brand is an easy way to build trust with your customers and prospects.
Having outdated or unbranded printed materials can be tantamount to wearing threadbare suits with holes in them to a first, very important meeting with a prospect. No matter how good you are at what you do, you are immediately judged by your appearances, both online and offline.
Step Four: Assess Your Marketing Channels
In the past, assessing your marketing channels was easy. It mostly involved the now ancient dinosaur juggernaut of yellow page advertising and pre-purchased mailing lists. A lot has changed since paper was king. Have you kept up with how people connect with your brand today?
Taking advantage of the free branding opportunities online, with the domination of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the other social media channels, is a great way to stretch your marketing dollars and expose your brand to literally thousands of potential customers. Make sure to keep your brand consistent on all of your marketing channels, online and offline, so you do not confuse prospects and clients about who you are.
Once you have gone through your complete assessment of what your competition is doing, what you are doing, who you customers are and what they need from you, the next step is moving on to develop new services to target those customers, and cultivate your prospects and customers to become brand ambassadors for you. There are no better salespeople than raving fans.
People are never passionate about mediocre or average. When reinventing your brand, you need to focus on what sets you apart from the crowd, and demonstrate the value of that difference. This eliminates the objections to what many operators claim about pricing. If you focus on matching prices, you are destined to doom. If you focus on the advantages of better service, you will always win.
Growth and brand dominance is created by having the highest brand value, not the lowest price tag. One can always sell something by offering the lowest price, but this will not create loyalty to your brand—never did and never will. It only creates “loyalty” to that price point. As soon as your customer is offered a better price, he or she will jump ship, leaving you like a scorned lover in the middle of the night.
No matter how you look at it, starting over is never easy. Having to start over after a failure or setback— whether it was caused internally with a flawed operating model or externally by the emergence of new and overwhelming competition—is hard. There are many cases in this industry of operators having to start over, who then go on to be bigger and better than before. As the late great Audrey Hepburn once said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” //LD