Enhancing Client Engagement Through Better Branding
This blog was initially written as part of my coursework for BAX 462 - Practicum Elaboration at UC Davis.
Every Job is a Sales Job
I’m sure you’ve heard this quote thrown around before. You might have even read a “bestselling” book that goes by the same title. Not that the terms New York Times Bestseller or Wall Street Journal Bestseller carry much meaning these days. As noted in this Observer article, these lists are easily manipulated by authors and publishers purchasing a large number of books at launch to achieve bestseller status as a marketing tactic. While this might or might not have been the case for this book, I’m sure the irony is not lost on you.
In fact, let me blow your mind by telling you that the author of the previous article exposing these practices runs a company that offers services to market books and make them bestsellers.
Branding is the first step towards engaging with your customers. While these were innovative ways of branding products, I will be talking about a different application of branding that isn’t given as much thought but is equally applicable in our day-to-day lives- Project Branding.
Each project in an organization has a brand attached to it by people consciously or subconsciously. Generally speaking, a team working on new bleeding-edge features is seen as sexy even though it might not be contributing to the bottom line. On the other hand, a team working on maintaining a core product is seen as boring. This perception can have an impact on the engagement and priority given to them.
A similar effect also exists while dealing with clients as consultants. In this blog, I talk about my experience with enhancing client engagement through project branding as a data analyst in the practicum at the UC Davis MSBA. As part of the practicum, a team of fellow students and I worked for an external organization whom we met on a weekly basis. As the primary objective of the practicum is to offer a unique learning experience to students, the onus rests on them to be the primary driver of the projects. Since the degree of learning possible depends on the client’s engagement, it is essential to create and maintain an impression of eagerness to learn and competency in delivery with them.
This has led to one of my key takeaways from the MSBA Practicum this quarter not being about some novel algorithm and its unique application but rather about the importance of project branding. This was heavily influenced by an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review- Why Every Project Needs a Brand (and How to Create One).
While the article mentions several key factors, some of them are not always tweakable, such as the Pitch or desirability of a project. This was also the case of the practicum, where the pitch stage was already completed. However, there are several things that you can do, both individually and as a team, that lead to the client having a favorable impression and, in turn, leading to enhanced engagement.
Here are five activities my team implemented that contributed towards creating a better brand for ourselves
1. Providing an agenda and minutes for each meeting
As we generally only met with the client once a week, we sent out the meeting agenda a day prior. This not only allowed us to set an expectation for the meeting but also demonstrated how we were well prepared for it. Similarly, the minutes also showed our professionality along with acting as a source of truth for the discussions held.
2. Asking intelligent questions
Asking intelligent questions is an essential aspect of one’s brand. It demonstrates the ability to quickly and accurately grasp the core elements of a discussion, and helps develop trust and strengthen rapport. I found The Surprising Power of Questions [HBR May–June 2018] to be an excellent resource on how to ask better questions.
3. Making our efforts visible
Not everything one does is successful. You could be an expert in a field and still face unexpected setbacks. This is especially common as students who are learning along the way. Showcasing setbacks and failures provided the client with an inside eye on the efforts we put in, along with providing an opportunity to get feedback and suggestions based on their domain knowledge on how to approach the issue.
4. Creating a structured plan to tackle problems
Since the nature of the practicum led to rigid overall time constraints, we used Trello to keep track of all the tasks and their deadlines. This showcased our professional competency and commitment to deliver on the project in the given timeframe.
5. Setting additional meetings when required
When faced with a roadblock that required the client’s assistance, reaching out and setting up additional meetings rather than waiting for the weekly call showed a sense of urgency and priority towards the project.
Branding is part of client engagement. It is a sales job.
Client engagement is everywhere; in the case of the practicum, the goal was to extract more in the form of learning, and in the real world, it can ensure buy-in from your client and create customer loyalty. In this case, you, the reader, is engaging with my blog, and I want to ensure that my personal brand makes a good impression that makes you want to come back and interact more with my content. If it did, follow me on GitHub or Tweet at me with your thoughts.