Branding is NOT a Luxury
June 23, 2011 5 Comments
They’ll tell you, you can’t afford to think about branding if you’re a small business. They’ll tell you it’s a luxury because it’s only for the Cokes and the BMWs. They’ll tell you you have better things to focus on, like sales, for example.
They’re dead wrong.
Anyone who says any of the above doesn’t have any idea what branding is. Branding doesn’t mean you spend millions on an advertising campaign that features sports stars and TV celebrities. What it does mean is that all your communications—from the sign outside your office to your website to the uniforms your staff wear—all show the kind of business you are (or want to be). They communicate that you’re great at what you do and that you want to serve your customers. Branding says whether you’re a fun, casual workplace or a staid, old-fashioned one. It reinforces whether you’re in business for the long haul or a fly-by-night operator. It helps your customer connect and remember every experience they had with you and to like buying from you so much they’d be willing to drive across town or pay 30% more.
Now tell me that isn’t important to you.
So how do you brand if you’re a small business and can’t afford an ad agency? Here are some simple rules to follow.
- Figure out what you stand for
- Make sure your business strategy is in line with your values
- Be consistent in your marketing communications
- Train all employees
- Listen to customers
Be Clear on Your Values
Before you set about communicating your brand values to the world, you, the business-owner, need to figure out what those values are. What do you stand for? What differentiates your business from your competitor around the corner? What kind of employees do you attract?
Write down the answers to these questions. Then ask your employees these same questions and write down their answers. You should see a pattern starting to form. The few words that come up most often will reflect your core values.
Align Your Strategy to Your Values
Once you have your core values written out, think about your business strategy. Most likely, your company strategy already matches your values. If your business thrives on affordability, you try to get your customers a better price than they would otherwise get. If you want to provide the best customer service, that’s what you hire for and that’s what your people are passionate about too.
Communicate Your Values through Marketing Communications
For every email campaign or flyer you send out, make sure your copy reflects your core values and your purpose. Whatever it is that makes you different from all the other options your customer has, reinforce it consistently. Many companies do this through a tagline, which is part of their branding. In other words, if you are focused on efficiency, offer fast service (e.g., “Jason’s T-Shirts: Same-day screenprinting”).
Talk to an experienced graphic designer or marketing services provider and ask them to translate your brand values and your company name into your logo and company colors. This is the visual cue by which customers will come to recognize you and it should be included on all materials from your business cards to invoices to promotional flyers and the website.
Train Your Staff
You don’t have to hire an external trainer, but you do need to communicate your core values to your staff and make sure they are exhibiting those core values. You can’t have your front-line people dropping the ball: they are the ones who will actually communicate your brand to your customers.
After all this effort, how do you know if it’s working, if you’re building the brand you want to build? You ask your customers. Why they buy from you, what they like about you, and especially what they don’t. You should also ask your competitors’ customers why they don’t buy from you.
There are many ways for you to get feedback: through feedback forms that you offer when your customer walks into your shop, through online surveys that you send out to your mailing list, by training your customer service people to listen, or by picking up the phone and asking them yourself. More increasingly these days, there’s another way of listening that you can’t ignore: listening online.
Search for your company or product name and see what comes up—and keep going until you reach the 20th page of results. Then put “sucks” after your company’s name and search again. Search on social media like Facebook and Twitter and on review sites like Yelp. And then search again next week. (And of course, if you see any complaints, respond politely and try to address them.)
What’s that you say, you’re doing most of the above already? Of course you are. Now go on doing it and don’t listen the next time someone says you shouldn’t bother to work on branding.