I grew up the youngest of three children, with a highly opinionated and vocal older brother and sister. The saying, “I couldn’t get a word in edgewise,” was an understatement. One of my mom’s favorite anecdotes from that time is that she finally knew I could talk after my siblings left the nest and it was just us two. (More of a charming story for her than for me.)

The upside to all this—I mastered the art of observation and paying close attention to my surroundings at an early age, and I’ve honed these skills with intention over the years. As I became an adult and discovered my own voice through writing, I’ve had no shortage of detail, color and interesting character attributes to use in my writing. When you observe people and situations, you see patterns in behavior, what drives people, what matters most to them. You even start to see what’s not there.

After working with and studying great brands for years, I’ve noticed that many of the world’s leading brands are those who do the best job of paying attention.

The most successful brands know who and what to pay attention to.

These brands tirelessly pay attention to three key audiences—employees, customers and their competition.

EMPLOYEES

There are many amazing stories of how brands have tapped into their employee bases to ignite their brand from the inside out. Engaged and passionate employees can make for some of the most memorable and outstanding brand experiences. Google and Zappos are particularly savvy in ensuring that employees feel like an integral part of their brands and their messages. Through product-launch rituals, social events and even their internal manifestos, employees at all levels feel connected to the greater whole and in turn, are some of their most enthusiastic evangelists.

New York-based grocer Wegmans goes so far as to have an “employees first, customer second” motto, demonstrating a belief that employees who are cared for will, in turn, care highly for their customers. Idea: How would your employees describe their work to a long-lost cousin at a family reunion? I’m totally serious. Do you know? If not, I encourage you to ask—or find out, somehow. In this real-time world where conversations fly fast, what your employees say about your company and what it’s like to work there is more important than ever. You don’t create the culture, they do. But you can provide a script.

CUSTOMERS

Every brand thinks they know their customer. But look closely and it’s easy to see which brands understand the motivations of their ideal customers, and they nurture and feed those relationships regularly in different ways (e.g., rewards programs, exclusive member offers, birthday notes and discounts, etc.) Remember what it’s like when someone really gets you? It’s downright delightful. Take a look at how Warby Parker and Stitch Fix do this (seemingly) effortlessly through personalized service experiences.

Idea: Develop character sketches (or buyer personas) of your three ideal customers. Picture in your mind your very best customer (that’s one), think about your best partner or vendor (there’s another). Last, envision the customer you wish you had—your best customer on your best day (that’s your ideal customer). Give each a name, age, career, family. What are their hobbies, motivations, challenges, and goals? Post these sketches on a wall where you’ll see them often. You’ll be surprised at how the act of personifying your ideal customers will help to put them at the center of everything you do from product and service development to marketing materials and communications.

COMPETITION

We all know we should keep an eye on our competition. But I’m suggesting you pay very close attention—watch their every move, every day. You can’t be lazy about this, because the landscape changes quickly. Stalking your competition gives you a leg up, and can help you stay a step ahead. Knowing them will help you crystallize what makes you unique. Idea: Research and create a spreadsheet listing all the competitors who even come close to offering a similar product or service. What are your similarities? What do they offer that you don’t? What’s their point of differentiation? How are they marketing themselves? What do people say about them? How are they describing themselves? You’ll be surprised how illuminating it is to catalog how your brand stands up against your competition.

Kristi Koebke is an independent writer, brand messaging strategist and creative director who lives and works in beautiful Portland, Oregon. And she’s happy to be a Jute Creative Collective contributor.


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