Do you know that your business has an identity? That’s right. Customers, investors, and employees all have an image in their mind about what your company stands for. When you’re a small business owner, it’s easy to mix your identity with that of your business because you’re the one doing everything. People see you and associate your business with you. But what about potential customers who don’t know you? What impression do they have of your business?
That’s what branding is all about. Branding is about consciously creating an identity for your business. It’s about being able to communicate that identity in every interaction, and about viewing every encounter as an opportunity to make a positive impression.
Branding is about distinguishing yourself from your competitors.
If you’re like most small business owners, however, you believe that branding is only for big business with big money. You don’t have time for conversations about branding because you’re busy doing what’s necessary to serve your customers and earn a living. But, here’s the thing— whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a brand. Even if you don’t think about it, once you’re in business people will form opinions of you, your company, your products, and your service.
Let me ask you a question: Why do you think big business spends so much on branding? Think about it for a moment. Do you think Coca Cola would continue spending millions on its brand if it wasn’t seeing any returns on those dollars? Of course not. What about Apple and GE, Amazon and Disney, Nike and Starbucks? What does big business know about branding that you need to figure out?
When you’re purposeful about branding, you pay attention to how everyone sees your company. A business with a strong, consistent brand is noticed and remembered. Employees, customers, and investors take you seriously. A business that doesn’t appear to have a plan often comes across as haphazard, minor, and insignificant.
Branding is how you become known to your audience
…and how you get them interested in you.
Branding is about building a reputation that is represented by tangible symbols and systems. Having a well-designed logo is the starting point of most branding campaigns because a logo is something people can identify and associate with your company. What’s more important than the logo, however, is what the logo represents. This is important because when faced with the decision to buy your product/service or your competitor’s, customers will be swayed by their emotions and emotional connections. Being intentional about branding means you’re aware of how people feel about your business, and you’re doing what you can to encourage positive reactions.
Branding is about more than having a well-designed logo.
At this point, you’re probably thinking more seriously about your brand, but you’re concerned because you think branding is expensive. Don’t despair. Chances are you’re already putting things in place to build a trustworthy reputation for your business, and you can build on that without spending too much more. What you need to do is be consistent with your message and image. Here are five things you can do to establish and build your brand without spending millions.
#1. Know your business identity.
This might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. If you have to be consistent with a brand message, you need to know what that message is. So take some time and review your vision and mission statements…or create them if you haven’t already done that. Determine your core values, outline a clear reason for starting your business, and identify your style. Are you serious, relaxed, or modern? Think of your business as a person. How would you describe that individual? This is your starting point, so be deliberate and careful to document something you’re comfortable with.
#2. Know your audience.
You are not selling to the world. You are not selling to men, women, and children of all ages. Who is your ideal customer? What do you know about them? Branding is about getting your message to your audience, so you need to know who you’re selling to. If you’re not sure where to begin and how to define your audience, think about who you want to serve, why you’re in business, and who would benefit the most from your product or service. The intersection of those three groups is your ideal customer. Knowing who you’re selling to is important for every type of marketing and advertising out there, so make an extra effort to clarify this.
#3. Tag Everything.
Where do customers see your logo? How often do they see it? These are questions you should have clear answers to if you want your brand visible in the best possible way. You’d be surprised how much of an impact a monogrammed shirt, stamped receipt, or logo backdrop at an event can have on your customers. Do you put your logo on photos posted on Instagram or Facebook? Do you have an introduction and conclusion to videos you post on YouTube? Repetition and consistency are key factors here. So make sure dimensions and colors are constant. And be mindful of what your logo is associated with, the messages being sent.
#4. Leverage social media and content marketing.
Social media is by far the most cost-effective branding opportunity you’ll find. It’s also probably the most saturated. The best way not to get lost is to target your defined audience with content that’s relevant to them. “Adding value” is fast becoming a buzz-phrase in modern business, but that’s what customers are looking for—value. Long before they purchase from you, they pay attention to what you’re offering them for free through videos, blogs, and social media posts. How are you engaging them? What are they getting from you? Remember the earlier comment about emotional connections guiding purchases? Well, this is where you build that emotional connection. This is where you can establish your style, voice, and company brand. If you’re not sure what to write about, or what to share, join groups where your customers will be. Review what they’re asking and comment on posts. Good content helps establish you as an authority in your field. You become the person who has the right information.
#5. Gather and use testimonials.
Marketing experts will tell you that nothing can beat word-of-mouth marketing. When you have a raving fan who tells others about your excellent quality, other people connect with that in ways you can’t buy. There’s a reason platforms like Amazon have a rating system that includes comments and reviews. Learn from this practice and find ways to document customer satisfaction. Create a form for clients to fill out. Ask clients to post comments on your Facebook page or website. Your brand will be more powerful the more customers stand behind it.
So the next time you hear someone talking about branding, don’t be intimidated because you’re a one-person business or a small enterprise. A small staff doesn’t have to mean generating small revenue or making a small impact. Take the time to consider your brand and think about how you can implement low-budget branding strategies to gain big results.
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Shelley-Ann Edwards-Barran is a writer, editor, writing coach, speaker, and advocate for better writing instruction. She is the CEO of WERD Coach Ltd., a company dedicated to helping writers at many levels – children, academics, authors.