Every business needs to consider investing in it’s brand. In a competitive world, there are few differentiating factors that would have as much impact on your bottom line as your brand strategy. Branding is not just for the large companies.
It is very common for small business owners to treat branding as just another item on a checklist when launching a company. Nothing can be farther from the truth! Unless you have a truly USP (Unique Selling Point), your brand and your company image might be your only tool to gain an edge over the competition. You would need to have a brand strategy to ensure your business does not succumb to the winds of recession. Small businesses that take branding seriously remain largely unaffected by economic slow downs and in fact continue to thrive during hard times.
Why do you need to build your brand?
Consider an example of two realtors opening up business in the same area. They would be providing a similar service to a very similar target market. It is almost as if they are selling a commodity. How can they differentiate themselves and gain advantage over the other?
These business owners may believe that by claiming to be the best or the cheapest or the best value etc, would automatically make their target market accept those claims as fact and beat a path to their door. But those days are gone. With market saturation, consumers now hardly believe any kind of promotional messages.
When they are faced with a choice of selecting one company over another, it usually boils down to brand preference. When I say brand preference, I include not only the look and feel of the company but also how the company brands itself at each point of contact with the potential customer. It includes great service/product, great customer service and a holistic brand strategy.
The 5 key elements of a holistic brand strategy (for small business owners) are the following:
Your brand starts with having a great product or service. It does not have to be the best in the world but you need to ensure your product/service offering is the best that you can. Great care should be taken to ensure that your product/service offering is genuine, high quality and in the best interests of your customers.
You have to worry about your bottom line and profits but do not cut corners in your core service or product offering. A substandard service or product will get you no where. What ever you think you may save by cutting corners, would be nothing compared to the money you would lose due to lack of trust by your target market.
Great Customer Service
Backup your great product/service with excellent customer service. Your brand perception is defined by your customer service. Even if you have a great product/service, if you fall short in your customer service, it will all be in vain.
Providing great customer service is hard but if you work hard at it, it is achievable and once you deliver it, you and your customers will be hooked.
Look and Feel
A professionally designed logo is a great starting point. It is amazing how many times consumers stay away from a company just because they have an amateurish and cheap looking logo. A good logo embodies a sense of professionalism, trust and care. This enables consumers to approach the company with confidence.
A professionally designed corporate identity is a must. This includes professional looking business cards, letterhead and other items such as envelopes, fax cover sheets etc. Most small business owners do not pay attention to this element. They would opt for DIY services or get their stationery designed by the local printer. The printer may be great at what they do but may not be specialist designers. This leads to cheap looking business cards (at least in terms of the design) which may actually damage the initial impact that a great business card is supposed to deliver.
A Website & Business Blog
A professional designed website is must for any business. 8 times out of 10, small business owners say that since they are not an online company, or that their service or product is local and offline, do not need a website. But again those days are gone. Consumers expect every business to have a website and that too a decent looking one. If you are not having a website, you are actually falling behind. A website is a great place to tell the story of your business. To connect with your potential customers and to express your company values.
It is vital to have a company blog on your website with fresh content not only about your company but also about issues relevant to your target audience. It is a place where you can offer education and help to your market segment.
Offering free knowledge is great way to build a brand. It has long terms benefits and enables companies to have an ever growing base of potential clients. Writing about industry news, events, trade shows or innovations is great way to build authority. As you create genuine content on your blog, you would be perceived as an authority which then translates to trust and eventually sales.
Having fresh and relevant content on your blog also helps with visibility on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. Even if you do not sell online, getting found on search engines builds your brand profile and awareness.
Getting online and being there is an important part of building your brand. Even if your service/product is local, building a social media presence is a basic requirement. The advantages of being social media are:
First and foremost, social media channels enable you to create and maintain your passion for your business. Passion is such a vital part of business that you can never have too much passion. Social media channels enable you to share your passion with the world. Social proof is very critical for help with website conversions.
You can connect with your customers and create fans our of them. Consumers love companies that connect with them on a personal level. Customers become fans, friends and even evangelists of your business. The idea is not to sell on social media channels. It is more about connecting and sharing.
You can create a personality for your company that people would find appealing. This is an extension of your brand where you can add other attributes to your brand personality that you would normally not be able to with your corporate identity alone.
At the most basic level, you would need to build your profile on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. You do not need to be madly updating these profiles every single minute but setting aside 30 minutes or an hour every couple of days would be a great investment.
Twitter allows you to post short messages about any events in your company or your industry. A Google+ business page is a great place to connect with similar circles, related fields and even your competitors. A Facebook business page is great place to build a fan base.
These 5 key elements, if done properly, will ensure that your business is successful and is recession-proof. Take the time to think about these elements and invest in getting them right. If you find any of these areas challenging, hire professionals to get you up and running.
If you have any specific questions about any of these items or would like to understand how things can be done in your particular business, drop me a line and I will try to offer any advice I can.