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On Brands Create Customers, RedMonk and punching above your weight in professional services

Really nice short post from Brian Phipps here, on what appears to be a new blog.  
Creating customers is what brands are all about. It’s their mission.
 
There are many ways that brands create customers. One way is to connect customers with their potential. This enables customers to grow in new directions, creating new markets for the companies that serve them.
 
Antiquated brands that decorate a package, or sit on a shelf, or pose as immutable icons simply don’t pass the test. They are now being “out-created” left and right, as their customers move on.
This gets to the heart of why I am obsessive about RedMonk as a brand. I don’t believe in business as usual. I don’t believe that if we renamed ourselves tomorrow, or were acquired, it would make no difference to our business.
 
Sure we’re “just another industry analyst firm”, but we’re also associated with some of the most important trends in business and technology today, and even more importantly, in three years we’ve invested RedMonk with a set of core values around independence, insightintegrity, trust, participation and openness. You can’t buy or claim those values without acting accordingly.
 
We want to be trusted advisors, and trust is something you can earn but you can’t buy.
 
A strong brand also allows you to punch above your weight.
  • People want to work for strong brands.
  • People want to work with strong brands
  • People want to compete against strong brands
But how can we have a strong brand when we’re so small?
 
I know that many smaller professional services firms feel uncomfortable when clients or prospects ask: “How big are you?” I am sure David Maister, the professional services guru, would have something to say about this tendency.
 
Graham Brown, the retired founder of research company Neaman Bond, advised me when we first set up shop to use the name RedMonk Associates, so we could appear larger than we really were. I admit I suffered a little from the fear that we were too small to be taken seriously, but chose not to take Graham’s advice. The name RedMonk felt resonant and right. It had flow. It was always going to garner attention. 
 
I have to admit I occasionally caught myself counting my dad, who helped us with some administration for a while, as a staff member, even though he could hardly be called full-time. What about Stephen’s mom, the English professor and RedMonk report proof-reader?
 
Dissembling can set in though. Once you start where do you stop… “maybe we can count our accountant as staff….nobody will notice. Or we can call our content editor an analyst… that wouldn’t really be unethical would it?”
 
If you’ll lie about your size at startup though, then what on earth lies will you tell on the verge of a major contract win? Hardly the ideal background for a transparent, declarative approach to business, I am sure you would agree.
 
The charm is not to worry about it and just be open and honest and capable – you will win customers on that basis.
 
Today RedMonk is still no bigger in terms of people. But the brand is far bigger.
 
I rarely worry about RedMonk being too small these days.
 
The world is moving our way. As Seth Godin argues – small is the new big.

Small means the founder makes a far greater percentage of the customer interactions. Small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them, quickly.

Small is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change the business model when your competition changes theirs.

Small means you can tell the truth on your blog.

Small means that you can answer email from your customers.

Small means that you will outsource the boring, low-impact stuff like manufacturing and shipping and billing and packing to others, while you keep the power because you invent the remarkable and tell stories to people who want to hear them.

A small law firm or accounting firm or ad agency is succeeding because they’re good, not because they’re big. So smart small companies are happy to hire them.

I am not saying we don’t want to grow, just that we don’t need to. That’s the beauty of the brand we have established. That’s a lesson my colleague taught me. 
 
The flipside? If RedMonk lost Stephen O’Grady and tecosystems, which is somewhat of a brand it its own right (just ask most open source startup bloggers), it would be a huge blow. Personal brand versus corporate brand tensions have always been an issue in professional services businesses, even more so in the age of the “professional blogger”. If Stepho choose to leave though, we’d be ok. Some tremendously talented people have expressed an interest in working for RedMonk over the last three years.
 
Today the RedMonk brand speaks for us as much as Stephen and I speak for it. I’d be very interested to know though: What does our brand say to you? Or what does your brand say to us?
 
 

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7 Responses

  1. James,

    Thanks for the mention. I think your assessment of brands is spot on. Brands used to be the province of big media budgets and lavish campaigns, but those days are over. What counts today is what brands do, and what they deliver. Red Monk is successful with a small staff because it delivers unadulterated value at the edge of innovation. In that regard, even one person might have more impact than a dozen brand campaigns. For example, I’d say that today the strongest component of the Microsoft brand boils down to one person: Robert Scoble.

  2. Cheers Brian I look forward to reading your blog. As if I needed another darned feed….

    Regarding Scoble its a key point – and one I attempted to draw out in talking about tecosystems as a brand in its own right. because personal brands can attract so many participants in the modern era the dynamics of corporate brand to personal brand are fundamentally changing. I agree you just can not overstate the value of Scoble.

  3. James, I couldn’t agree more that size has nothing to do with brands (whatever that word actually means.)and brands have nothing to do with size. Consider Peter Drucker, who never formed a firm, yet created, arguably, the most consistent, powerful and best-know brand in business consulting.

    As I never tire of pointing out, branding is an operational concept, not a marketing one. You will have a brand if the marketplace can come to depend on the fact that, every time they experince you, you show certain fixed characteristics or behaviors. If you ALWAYS show them, you will become known for them and will have them as part of your brand.

    But here’s the kicker: you don’t get a repuation (or a brand) for what you do (only) most of the time. If as a purchaser I come to see that you can’t be depended upon always to live up to what your brand promise is, you don’t lose a little of your brand value, you lose most of it, because you become one more firm who claimd to be what they are not.

    So, your barnd is what you have operational control over, and can deliver every single time. That’s why I don’t, James, buy what you said in the intial post: “independence, insight, integrity, trust, participation and openness. You can’t buy or claim those values without acting accordingly.”

    The sad fact is that hundreds of professional firms do exactly that: make the claim without acting accordingly. You can claim what you want about what you stand for, bu the truth is that your brand will be what you can guarantee to the market every single time – ie have it as an enforced non-negotiable minimum standard of mebership in the organization.

  4. wow. thanks david. how easy was it to get a famous author and consultant to comment on my blog? super!

    i must admit – i was wondering how long it would take to get called out -you are of course right that many companies claim all kinds of values they can’t or dont necessarily live by. and still do ok in the market.

    on the other hand – lets think about “no no evil” – and what a two edged sword that is proving to be for google.

  5. I agree with your assumption. Not that BIG is bad or evil, there just seems to be too much “non productive” working going on within the worlds largest professional services company. There is as much time spent managing “up the ladder” and CYA action, as their doing actual work. Within a small(er) company, it’s seems that there is more context for everyone’s work – and with that context, comes ownership of your own ideas and projects. Many of the biggest professional services firms have not embraced the “blogsphere” for fear of losing control.

    It’s interesting, but looking back at my career, the times when I loved going to work and felt I was doing something important, was when I worked for small(er) companies. There’s just a different vibe.

    Great blog…AM

  6. cheers arnie. its definitely inspiring working for the little guy!

  7. Think big but stay small. One of the things many architects at my employer have internalized is the fact that it took 195 years to build our brand and that in not getting compliance oriented architectures right in today’s climate can destroy it in five minutes.

    One should never underestimate the power and value that a brand holds. You guys have a market capitalization in terms of brand fast approaching google…



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