Over and over and over I hear the refrain - from experienced business professionals when discussing what they’d do differently if launching a business today – that entrepreneurs too often come up with great ideas, but don’t have the knack or marketing savvy to introduce their brand to the buying public.
Branding startups – and established companies, too – is vital to the growth and sustainability of any venture. Without a recognized brand that inspires loyalty from a dedicated customer base, sales and profits are unlikely to increase.
That’s why it’s important for small business owners in particular to pay attention to their branding practices and take every opportunity to strengthen and improve their standing in customers’ eyes. Fortunately, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers myriad resources to help do just that and many of the agency’s services are free.
A new post by small business owner and marketing pro Caron Beesley at the SBA website offers advice for small business owners on how to make the most of branding opportunities.
The United States loves small businesses – it’s official! That’s according to a survey by the Pew Foundation (reported here on SmallBizTrends) which found that 71 percent of Americans view small business more favorably than any other institutions, including religious organizations.
Why is this? Well, small businesses are seen as a positive influence “on the way things are going in this country.” But it’s more than that.
Small businesses are in a unique position to create valuable customer experiences. Their products and services are often niche; the target customer is very defined; and business operations are agile and unconstrained by corporate rules and processes. Small businesses are also trusted for their integrity, community engagement and customer service. When was the last time you called a small business and got put through to an automated call center? These seemingly small things come together to create a hugely competitive value proposition – and are the lynchpin of your brand.
But what can you do to leverage these experiences and grow the appeal of your brand – without breaking the bank? Here are 10 tips that can help:
- What is Your Brand?
First, it’s important to understand that your brand is much more than your logo, merchandising or products. As I mentioned above, it is about the sum total of the experiences customers have with your business. This includes the visual elements of your business, but it also includes what you do, how you do it, what your customer interactions are like, the type of information you share in your marketing and on social media. All these elements help establish the trust and credibility of your business.
- Stand Out
Standing out means being different. If your brand is going to be strong, you need to be able to pinpoint what it is that makes what you do unique. What differentiates you from others in your industry? Read 5 Tips for Using Competitive Differentiators to Build Your Business Brand. Don’t forget to weave your differentiators into your company’s messaging and marketing. Here are some tips for doing that: 7 Tips for Getting your Marketing Message Right.
- Have Great Products and Services
Word of mouth is often a small businesses greatest lead generator, so having great products and services that people talk about is a critical part of your brand and why you are in business. Even the most outgoing and charming small business owner is not going to succeed in bringing customers back, unless the product or service they provide delivers and exceeds expectations. Don’t lose sight of your product – keep refining it, testing new offerings, and making sure you always put product first, not the money it brings in.
- Make Sure Your Customers Know the Face Behind the Product
One of the biggest reasons that small businesses fail is because of the persistent absence of the business owner. You only need to look at a few episodes of business makeover TV shows like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Tabatha Takes Over to witness what can go wrong if a business is left to run itself. Without an actively engaged owner, employees lose motivation and structure, which can quickly lead to sloppy service, a poor product and customer churn. Yes, your business needs to be able to function without your constant presence, but it’s important to strike a balance – find ways to make sure your customers know you and connect with the face behind the business. Businesses really thrive when the energy of the owner is there.
- Get Your Name and Logo Right
This is essential to brand recognition and it’s important to get it right the first time (changing your name and logo can be costly down the road). Your logo and name should be easily recognizable and reflect the nature and tone of your business as well as appeal to your target market. I’m a dog owner, and two of my absolute favorite small businesses cater to pet owners – Woofies (my local provider of dog walking services) and Doggone Natural (a healthy pet food store). The names and logos of both these businesses reflect the personality of their brands, what they stand for, the products they offer, their market (people and their pets) and the overall tone of their businesses. When I see their logos, it makes me feel good; I feel an affinity with them – and that’s what you need to shoot for.
- Have a Distinct Voice
A great way to ensure your distinct brand message is delivered consistently across your business is to focus on how you and your employees interact and communicate with customers – in-person, on the phone and on social media. Not sure what your “voice” should be? Look to other brands. What do they do that you’d like to emulate? How do they greet and interact with you? What is it that they do that makes you feel good about doing business with them?
- Build Community Around What you Do
A successful brand is one that is trusted and respected by customers – building a strong community online and off can help you achieve this.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. In fact, many successful brands concentrate almost exclusively in online and offline community building as opposed to traditional advertising. Facebook and Twitter are great outlets for this, as is your blog. Offline participation in community activities such as local events, fundraisers, charities, as well as hosting your own events such as workshops or loyal customer events, can all help you build community and extend the trust you’ve earned to your brand.
- Be an Advocate for Your Business – Not Just a Salesman
You don’t have to be the greatest salesman to succeed in business. Selling takes many forms – and being a brand advocate gels them all together. For example, many small business owners strive to be the number one salesman, the number one cheerleader, and the number one fan of their own business (you’ve got to be excited about it if you want others to be excited too). If you are passionate about your business, be an advocate for it. Use many of the tips in this blog to make sure people understand what you do, the story behind your products, what your products have done for people, your methods and mission, and all that good stuff. Invite people in!
- Be Reliable
Letting your customers down by failing to live up to your own promises and brand standards can be particularly harmful for small businesses that depend heavily on referrals. The foundation of brand loyalty lies in great service – a happy customer is a loyal customer. So make sure you aren’t making promises that you can’t keep – whether you run a pizza business and pledge to deliver within 30 minutes, or are a painting contractor who promises to start a job on a Monday at 9:00 AM sharp. Stand by your promises.
- Have a Value Proposition
Value, not to be mistaken with price, can help define your brand and differentiate you from the competition. This goes back to my second point about standing out. What niche do you serve? What do you do well in that niche that makes you different from everyone else? What are the emotional benefits of what you do? The answers to these questions will help define what your value is to your customers – it could be your great customer service, product quality, innovation, or any combination of these.
For more information and to find additional resources, visit www.sba.gov.