What 's your small business brand identity? Sure, you 've got a logo, a website, business cards, signage and perhaps even a storefront - but your brand is so much more than the "look" of your business. While all these can help you project a carefully crafted image to your customers, true branding runs a lot deeper.
Think of Apple and Zappos, for example - two brands that spring to mind as exemplary in their markets. Customers like doing business with these companies. They feel a connection with the brand. But how did they get there?
Much of this is down to great products and business innovation, but it 's more than that. Customers know what they are going to get when they interact with these brands, they 're invested in them, and that requires a brand strategy.
So how does your small business do the same? It 's obviously not something that can be achieved overnight, but it doesn 't have to be as intimidating as it sounds. I was interested to get a feel for what I 'd need to do, so I asked a friend who works in a marketing agency. Here are the seven steps he gave for nurturing and maintaining your brand.
1. Get the basics right
I already mentioned logos, website, signage, etc. These are the foundations of your brand and it 's very important to establish brand guidelines that stipulate how these elements are used. For example, applying rules around brand colors, use of your logo, images and fonts. Don 't forget to register or trademark your logo too.
Brand guidelines also apply to your "voice," i.e. the tone your business adopts. For example, a software company that sells to other businesses might want to adopt a voice of authority, expertise and trust. While a software company that markets software apps to consumers could adopt a more conversational voice in its marketing materials.
2. Capture your value
Above all, make sure your brand elements reflect your company and its value proposition. Not to be mistaken with price, value encompasses:
- what you do
- what business problem you solve
- how your business is different
- how you make your customer 's life different after doing business with you
Use clear language to communicate your value. Don 't be so vague that your message is meaningless. Use simple, clean imagery that resonates with your customers, and use a tagline that succinctly sums up not who you are, but what you do for your customers.
For more help developing your marketing voice and message, watch this on-demand webinar: Practical Marketing - A Five Step Marketing Program for Small Business from National Small Business Week.
3. Let your customers get to know the face behind the brand
My friend has a favorite restaurant; he says the food and service are great, but something is missing - the owner. Despite being a frequent diner, he 's never had a single interaction with the owner and, for small businesses, this is a huge mistake.
Customers want to feel that their business is appreciated and they want to connect with the face behind the business, especially if the transactions are frequent or substantial, such as a home renovation project.
This doesn 't mean you have to be on-site for every meeting or visible 100 percent of the time, but ask yourself if you 're really getting to know your customers. Are you responsive and in-tune with their needs? What do they really think about your business?
If you know what you want your brand identity to be and have invested in building it, make sure you 're out there maintaining its integrity. Small business owners need to be just as much an advocate for their brand just as Steve Jobs was for Apple.
4. Use social media to help your brand shine
Social media has changed the way brands connect and engage with their prospects and customers, opening up new opportunities to talk directly to and with them in real-time.
While your basic brand guidelines should apply to the foundation of your social media pages, there are lots of other quick and easy ways to use social media to grow your brand. Anita Campbell of SmallBizTrends suggests 12 ways to get started.
5. Get involved in your community
What better way to get exposure for your brand than giving back and getting involved in the community. Sponsor the local 5k marathon or participate in fairs, farmer 's markets or events - all of these can help build community and extend the trust you 've earned for your brand.
6. Become a trusted advisor
Becoming a trusted advisor to existing customers and prospects is a great way to differentiate and build your brand. Think about what your business does and the challenges your customers have.
Host workshops or webinars and write blog posts that offer advice and tips for overcoming these challenges, without plugging your own product or services (use follow-up emails and calls to attendees to do that).
Winning new business becomes a lot easier if customers already know that you 're an expert at what you do (and that you 're excited about doing it).
7. Police your brand 's usage
So you 've decided to advertise your business - always make sure whoever designs the ad adheres to your brand guidelines. If not, the power of your brand starts to get slowly diluted. Make sure that partners who use your logo or company messaging stick to those guidelines too.
Don 't forget employees - your brand extends to how they greet and interact with customers, so monitor and coach them regularly to ensure they 're upholding your brand values.