The Smartest Investment I’ve Ever Made: Brand Storytelling
By: Avantpage, Inc.-
In this installment of the "If I knew then..." blog series, Luis Miguel writes about the importance of differentiation. The lesson: how we discovered who we are and how to express it.
The hardest questions I’ve had to answer in business have all been focused on the concept of differentiation.
I ask myself: What makes Avantpage different from other LSPs?
Our employees ask: Why should I work at Avantpage?
Our translators ask: Why should I work with Avantpage?
And our clients ask: Why should I choose Avantpage?
Avantpage has been providing translation services for over 20 years. In the first 10 years of business, my priority was to raise and educate my 3 boys. When they flew the coup, I made developing Avantpage my top priority. In doing so, I wanted to answer the question, “What makes us different from other language service providers?” For the first 17 years, the answer seemed to lie in our excellent customer service, client-focused orientation, outstanding translation quality, etc. However, as time continued to pass, it became more and more apparent that these were not our differentiating factors. Looking at our major competitors, many of the factors that I considered “differentiating” in the first 17 years are actually quite common. We all strive to achieve high levels of quality and customer service. Our industry as a whole is client-focused. This is what sets our industry apart from others, but how does an individual small-agency differentiate itself beyond these characteristics?
About 4 years ago I joined Vistage, a worldwide organization of small and medium sized businesses that provides coaching, mentoring, and support for CEOs within a group of peers. Joining Vistage has been one of my best business decisions, as it was the catalyst to answering my questions on differentiation and identity.
Gair Maxwell came to speak at one of our meetings in mid-2016. As he spoke about “The Branding Highway,” his presentation outlined how to differentiate and become a "brand of distinction" like Ferrari. A brand of distinction is one based in identity, one that can answer the questions “Who are we? What do we stand for?” The answers to these questions for brands of distinction are never service or product based. The answers lie much deeper than that, within your brand’s story.
Story branding is a long and arduous process. Your story lies partly in your brand’s history, in your brand’s current state, and in your brand’s future. You have to know where you’ve been in order to know where you want to go. You need to know what values are inherent to your brand and adjust your vision to meet them. The best place to uncover these values is by asking your audience how they perceive your brand. We focused on our employees, customers, and translators, asking them various questions about our company. Those audiences interact with you the most and will help guide you towards your authentic brand story.
While story branding is a long process, what is ultimately accomplished is a differentiated brand with a strong attachment to its inherent and internal values. In the end, it is your brand’s values that differentiate you from any other brand that provides the same services or produces the same products. How you communicate your values is how you project that differentiation. This leads to increased sales, better relationships, and happier employees. Since beginning the multi-year process of rebranding Avantpage, we have learned who we are as a company, and what we stand for. We’ve discovered how to express our identity, how to identify our audiences, and how to communicate our values to those audiences. All of our collateral, social media, and our website reflect our newfound identity, and we’ve been able to recruit high-quality and committed employees, translators, and clients.
The transformation process has been long, expensive and hard. It has required unrelenting focus on my part, carving funds from our tight cash flow, moving resources from sales and marketing, and lots of patience.
That being said, the process has also been necessary. If, 20 years ago, I knew what I know now, I would have more heavily focused on the story of our brand and used that to create differentiation. Uncovering our brand’s story has improved our company from the inside out. We are stronger now that we know what we stand for.
Below is a before and after of our website.