As a brand strategy consultant for a few small companies, I've recently seen a worrisome trend growing progressively worse: business stratification. Typically businesses stratify for two reasons – sometimes they stratify for growth, but more commonly to prevent a collapse. Both have their dangers and both can be risky and pose detrimental side affects on a businesses. By and large though, stratification is a common action taken to diversify services, marketing efforts, and image, in order to attract more clients or sell more products. Stratification is often poorly achieved by creating off-shoot brands either separate or under one business.
Stratification often tries to lead potential customers in an inward flow back to a central service or product output. For example, creating three websites for three new experimental services that a businesses owner thinks his company may be able to deliver through existing resources and then waiting to see if one of them catches in order to supplement lost revenue. Unfortunately, if the ship is leaking, plugging small holes while the hull has an iceberg in it won't help in the long term. Most often a serious overhaul is needed if sales have declined by over 40%. Markets change, customer demand changes, and sometimes we fail to be preemptive in adapting.
1. Stratified businesses lose their models.
If you're losing the focus of what you feel your business is — your customers and potential customers lost it six months ago. We all know that if we have too many businesses 'in the air' all of them will suffer and none of them will be directed at 100% or even 80% effectiveness. It's a good thing if you change your model because it's not working and refocus your efforts where they need to be. It's a bad thing if you keep an existing model that isn't working but start up a bunch of little divisions or brands that are really all your original brand and hope that one of them catches. Don't be misled by an illusion of having little overhead, you're still paying that overhead, only now it's falling on the company as a whole — in time, resources, and decentralized workflows.
2. Unify online presences.
A series of interlinked websites leading back to a central place in order to 'catch' more traffic will 1. get you dinged by Google, and 2. provide a great play by play of your demise to any potential customers. You don't need three websites for different services all offered by the same business. It's one thing to have a product feature page, it's another thing to try and rebrand your business in more ways than your customers can understand. Branding is about consistency and clarity. Trying to get more clicks by owning more web real estate doesn't work. You'll be competing against yourself and potential customers will be confused. Outdated material can also be a major source of confusion. I recommend you have someone evaluate your online presences and assess how your business is holding up and how it's being accessed, interpreted, and converted upon by customers. Metrics could change your entire marketing model in a month. You won't know if you don't do the research, and in the online world you can't afford not to.
3. Diversify outward marketing efforts, solidify passive marketing efforts.
You're not the jack of all trades. Don't claim to be, market your specific abilities or products, closely together. Doing these things clearly and distinctly identifies your brand and the solutions you can offer. Market results. Don't tell someone what you can do for them, show them what you can do by selling your companies story and purpose. Doing these things still allows you to do the most often overlooked aspect of marketing which is identifying specific outward marketing efforts. People who come to you, whether through search, other people, or advertisements must have a very solid idea of what it is that you're offering. How you get that message out there, who you send it to, and the manner in which you do so can be as dynamic as necessary. Passive marketing needs to show your business in a methodological solutions based delivery model. Your outward marketing should focus on where the maximum potential for sales is.
4. Clean house sooner rather than later.
Management is usually most responsible for when companies suffer, they are also usually the least likely to leave or be replaced. It's unfortunate that staff and production personnel are the first ones out when they are the mechanics of any business. I think if lay offs are necessary, executive management should conduct a self evaluation first to determine what faults they might be at for certain missteps or failures to live up to assigned duties. If you own a smaller business each individual is all the more important and even a co-founder, if found to be recklessly endangering the business, should be placed on leave for review and then appropriately dismissed or replaced. These are hard decisions to make and even harder circumstances to evaluate, but the health of the business almost always rests most responsibly on the shoulders of those who own and manage its day to day operations.
Always be proactive in your business, always be ready to adapt to changing business climates.
Michael Costigan speaks to teens and adults about effective communication so that they may make better informed decisions together. Read more about Michael here.