Brand confusion is caused by the mixing of a well-established brand with a lesser known brand. If you are an entrepreneur, you know the struggles associated with market penetration and brand recognition. Many entrepreneurs are willing to associate their ideas or desires with already established brands in hopes of entering a market. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not attempting to discredit any of the programs mentioned in this article. I have used and still do use some of the principles and products. My reason for pointing them out is to caution entrepreneurs who are trying to establish their brand and establish themselves as experts in their niche.
The first of the three typical traps is cookie cutter programs.
Cookie cutter programs: This trap is otherwise known as one size fits all. A well-recognized program, such as Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, teaches a one-size-fits-all approach. Although many participants can benefit from the information, it has been my experience as a financial stability coach who has facilitated this training, that many people get discourage before they are ever able to fully implement the program. Most people make it to the dumping debt lesson and lack the vision to see themselves debt free. This discouragement comes from the programs inability to be personalized to the struggles of each individual or couple. I have had individual members with small amounts of debt (< $20,000) and some with astronomical amounts (> $300,000). I cannot say enough good things about the principles Dave Ramsey teaches. For those who can connect with the program, there is much success. But for those who cannot envision getting out of debt or eventually building wealth on the scale that Dave teaches, the failure rate is significant.
Turning my attention to life coaching, cookie cutter approaches to life coaching have their advantages for the producer of such programs. It creates a consistent and predictable revenue stream for the “parent” organization and increases market penetration and brand recognition. These programs can be profitable in the sense that they provide standardization and predictability for the student. However, cookie cutter programs do nothing to establish your uniqueness within your niche. Cookie cutter programs do not establish your brand or you as an expert. Often times it just promotes the programs developer. Life coaching should be about building a relationship of trust, accountability, and personalization. It is hard to be noticed in a field of sameness. You have to present something that is unique about you to garner the attention required to brand yourself and your organization as a leader in your niche.
Cookie cutter programs often require the coach or client to directly pay the creator of the material used in the coaching session. Thus, you are building the revenue stream for the producer and not for yourself. This can also be said for the self-publishing industry. A self-published author, who works with a recognized publisher, often has to pay thousands of dollars in advance just for the right to have his book published. However, Amazon has found a way to provide the services of a publisher without the up-front costs to the author. Entrepreneurs need to be thinking about costs more than anyone. If they fail to consider costs, establishing their brand and expertise in the market place will be very expensive.
When a coach can create a program that has redundant information, but can be personalized to the client’s needs, then he has a unique service. Let me define redundant information. Redundant information is information that can be given to a large number of people consistently. For instance, when I teach people the process of using a scorecard to track the progress of their strategic goals, I am using redundant information. The process and rules for using scorecards remain the same regardless of the goal being tracked. But it must be personalized based on the realities of the client.
Let’s say a life coach has written several books on a specific topic. If he can turn those books into a workbook and offer the information as an adult education class for a local community college, he has a unique product. As I said before, you will have to work harder. You will have to be more creative. You will have to position yourself as an expert at what you do. But you will be building your brand and not selling someone else’s brand. Cookie cutter programs do serve a purpose within the coaching community as a tool to reach others with practical and professional instruction. However, you need to define your niche, develop your services, and establish your brand.
The next trap I want to cover is the trap of name association.
Name association: This trap requires you to pay a fee so that you can promote yourself by using a well known name in the industry. This is a common practice found in the John Maxwell program. John Maxwell is an internationally recognized leader in the business coaching industry. You pay a fee to the John Maxwell organization and in return you get business cards, a web presence, and other perks that associate your name with John Maxwell. If your niche is in business coaching, then this is a quick way to gain exposure to the market. However, keep in mind that the value you add to the market place is really the value added by John Maxwell.
Now, I am not mad at John Maxwell. He has created an incredible brand. Just keep in mind that your credibility is associated with his brand and his products, it is not associated with you. Some people see this as a quick way to gain credibility for their services. But the bottom line is you are part of the extended John Maxwell sales force. You are, for the most part, his brand and not your own. You can use his brand to build your name recognition in the market place, but ultimately you are a part of his brand. This trap capitalizes on the basic human desire to have what others have and to be what others are.
To prove this point, let me give you an example from the world of technology. Recent technology illustrates this insatiable desire to be associated with famous people. Twitter, a social media site, reveals this need or desire to be associated with famous people. The Twitter account for the current President of the United States, Barrack Obama (Run by Organizing for Action), has 44.5 million followers as of August 1, 2014, yet is only following 649K people and organizations. That is a 69 to 1 ratio of followers to those being followed. Jacoby Jones, the Super Bowl winning kick returner for the Baltimore Ravens has 84,100 followers as of August 1, 2014 and only follows 84 people. That is a large ratio of 1,001 followers to every 1 person followed. Tiger Woods, a world famous golfer, has 3.98 million followers and only follows 18 people. That’s an astounding 221,111 to 1 ratio.
Why do we care so much about what these people have to say on social media? I submit to you that the average person is obsessed with these people because they are famous. They are well connected and powerful and everyone wants to feel somewhat connected to power and wealth. Name association can be a powerful tool. Coaching the executives of top companies and sport figures is enticing. Everyone wants to name drop, but you need to establish your brand to serve the people whom God wants you to serve. And I believe that God wants you to serve them using the gifts, talent, and resources He gave YOU. Your name needs to be associated with your brand.
The final trap I want to look at is the trap of product marketing.
Product marketing: This trap is formed by companies who use the public to market their products to a broader audience. This is where you take on the role of a sales rep for a specific product (such as health related products) and receive the title of a health coach, even though you have no formalized training as a nutritionist or physical fitness trainer. Juice Plus+®, LifePlus®, and other supplemental nutrition providers offer virtual franchises or associate membership programs as a way to have an extended sales force to market their products.
Those who promote the hand that feeds them often consider themselves health coaches. While attending a networking event, I mentioned that I was interested in developing life coaches. After the meeting, I was approached by someone in attendance who was interested in this. After a short conversation, I asked her about her niche. She responded that she was a health coach. After a few more questions, she stated that she had a desire to be a health coach but was associated with a specific company as part of an extended sales force through one of these product marketing programs. I encouraged her to look into the training I require as part of the on-boarding process for my organization. Unfortunately, I have not heard from her since.
The trap here is that the “coach” is seen as a sales person for a company and not someone who has a unique value proposition. Not to mention that when you use product marketing as your entry point, you cannot deviate from the sale of the company’s product. In addition to that, most companies who use this type of direct sales force push all of the liability onto the person who associates him or herself with the company. You have to read the terms and conditions of being a virtual franchises owner or an associate member. Using these products as passive revenue streams can create a financial foundation, but they rarely carry with them the recognition within the market place that you are a life coach.
These are just three of the coaching traps that can reduce your ability to communicate your unique value proposition. When it comes to the world of entrepreneurship and product and services, establishing your brand and building your position as an expert is hard work. The pull to associate your brand with that of another more established brand is enticing. I am not against those who choose to pursue this way of entering a market. But I will say I am less likely to use their product or service and I am definitely less likely to promote their brand through word of mouth marketing.
What makes you unique is the story you tell to shape perception. You tell this story through a number of visual and auditory expressions. Your uniqueness is found in the dynamics of the personal qualities you identified in finding your niche. If you lack the initial creativity required to develop your personal product or service, using these tactics can introduce you to the market place. Just be aware that you can become so associated with an established brand that you might limit your future possibilities.