One of the most common misconceptions about branding is that it is strictly for the huge corporations who have large budgets to create global brands. When hearing about “brands,” many people think of the big players like Pepsi, Adidas, Burger King and Microsoft.
Often, entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t understand the importance of branding as it applies to differentiating their small business from their competition.
First off, let’s be clear on what a brand is. Your “brand” is the public perception of you, your company, your product or your service. Therefore, your brand is intangible. This perception exists in the mind of your audience and is influenced by every single touchpoint they encounter.
Therefore, “branding” is everything your company does – or doesn’t do – to positively, or negatively, reinforce this perception.
In other words, whether proactively or inadvertently, your brand is being created, influenced and evaluated in the minds of your audience at all times. One bad experience and your brand can be tainted. Several good experiences can create a brand evangelist singing the praises of your company.
Essentially, your company’s brand is the same thing as your company’s reputation. Once you realize this, it only makes sense to view every company action and message through the filter of: How will this affect our reputation?
The truth is that it’s even more important for small businesses to define what they want to stand for in the mind of their customers and articulate their unique value through branding.
Why? Because big businesses can afford to spend large budgets on their marketing, their advertising campaigns and their product launches. They can cast a wide net, offer a wide variety and maximize their revenue and profits through volume.
Small businesses don’t have that luxury. They have to be a little more creative when figuring out WHO they want to reach and HOW they want to differentiate themselves to the consumer in a relevant and memorable way.
“We ate at two different restaurants. At the first, the unflappable waitress answered all our questions about wine and food with authority and élan. At the second, the jittery waiter was reaching for answers, guessing and coming up short. Where do you think we’ll go next time we’re in town? That’s the power of perception, the importance of brand.”
The good news is that successful brands are not dependent solely on big budgets. There are plenty of other things you can do to create a positive reputation, and a remarkable brand for your company. Here are a few of the essentials:
The obvious would be to offer an absolutely amazing product or service. With so much mediocre junk out there, it’s really not that hard to go the extra mile and do things BETTER than your competitors.
How about untouchable customer service? Most companies who tout good customer service are providing nothing more than lip service. Instead of SAYING how much your customers matter, go out of your way to SHOW it at every point of contact. What areas would need to improve to implement this idea at your company?
What about a unique or memorable personality? I saw an ad for a real estate company that had six unremarkable headshots of their agents and the seventh photo was a full-body shot of a man in a kilt holding a SOLD sign. Instead of a simple email address, he had his own Web URL: AgentInaKilt.com. Sure, that may turn off a large section of home buyers, but that’s okay! You’re not trying to appeal to everyone, only the select segment of the population who will reap the most benefit from your offering.
Be an expert. My family had a reunion in Sonoma, California, which is the heart of wine country in the West. We ate at two different restaurants. At the first, the unflappable waitress answered all our questions about wine and food with authority and élan. At the second, the jittery waiter was reaching for answers, guessing and coming up short. Where do you think we’ll go next time we’re in town?
Here are some attributes to consider when defining YOUR company’s brand:
Focus – Zero in on your company’s strengths. What do you do better than your competition? What One Thing would you like to stand for in your customer’s mind?
Clarity – Keep your message on point. Resist the urge to throw too many messages into your marketing. Once you figure out what you do best, or what sets you apart, hammer that point home in every marketing vehicle.
Communication – Make sure everyone in your organization is on the same brand page. Communicate to your employees the importance of delivering on your company’s Brand Promise. Communicate to your audience how your company will solve their problems and make their lives better. Remember, communication is a two-way channel, so listen to your customer’s compliments as well as their complaints and take action on each and every one of them.
Consistency – Once you figure out what you want your company’s reputation to be, you must make certain that your message, your image and your actions are consistently influencing that perception across all platforms. Every point of contact your customer has with your company needs to reinforce the singular promise of your brand.
By making the effort to stand for something meaningful in the minds of your audience, you are elevating your offering out of the commodity bin, where consumers shop on price and convenience alone. You deserve better and so do your customers, so define and articulate your own unique value and create a brand that is worth the price and the effort required to experience its benefits.