Branding is just as important for small businesses as it is for big names. Indeed, many corporate brands try to look more like small firms in order to appeal to consumers that prefer to support independent brands.
Many small business owners I talk to already understand that branding is essential to their business, but a surprisingly high number of them don’t really know why.
They recognise the link between successful businesses and strong branding, and aspire to build a brand that emulates similar success for themselves. And they understand that branding is not just a logo or how their business is perceived externally. But too few realise that successful brands have this branding at the heart of the business. So much so that in many ways you could almost substitute the word brand for business.
Branding is a way of defining your business to yourself, your team and your external audiences. It could be called the business’ “identity”, but only on the understanding that it embodies the core of what the business is and its values, not just what it looks and sounds like. Customers of all sorts of businesses are so savvy today that they can see through most attempts by companies to gloss, spin or charm their way to sales.
The benefits that a strategically defined brand can bring are the same as when people fall in love with each other. When customers connect emotively – because they share the same values and beliefs of a brand – it leads to higher sales and better brand differentiation. It also leads to loyalty, advocacy and can even protect your price in times when competitors rely on promotional discounts to drive sales. It can also give you the ideal platform from which to extend your offering or range.
Here are ten tips on how to successfully implement branding for your business.
Start by defining your brand.
Review the product or service your business offers, pinpoint the space in the market it occupies and research the emotive and rational needs and concerns of your customers. Your brand character should promote your business, connect with your customer base and differentiate you in the market.
When building your brand, think of it as a person.
Every one of us is an individual whose character is made up of beliefs, values and purposes that define who we are and who we connect with. Our personality determines how we behave in different situations, how we dress and what we say. Of course for people it’s intuitive and it’s rare that you even consider what your own character is, but when you’re building a brand it’s vital to have that understanding.
Consider what is driving your business.
What does it believe in, what is its purpose and who are its brand heroes. These things can help establish your emotive brand positioning and inform the identity and character for brand communications.
Aim to build long-term relationships with your customers.
Don’t dress up your offering and raise expectations that result in broken promises, create trust with honest branding – be clear who your company is and be true to the values that drive it every day.
Speak to your customers with a consistent tone of voice.
It will help reinforce the business’ character and clarify its offering so customers are aware exactly what to expect from the product or service.
Don’t repeat the same message in the same way over and over again.
Alternatively, aim to make your key messages work together to build a coherent identity.
Don’t try to mimic the look of chains or big brands.
Try and carve out your own distinctive identity. There is a big consumer trend towards independent establishments, and several chains are in fact trying to mimic an independent feel to capture some of that market. Truly independent operators can leverage their status to attract customers who are looking for something more original and authentic, that aligns with how feel about themselves.
Be innovative, bold and daring – stand for something you believe in.
Big brands are encumbered by large layers of bureaucracy, preventing them from being flexible and reacting to the ever-changing needs of their customers. Those layers of decision-makers can make it hard for them to be daring with their branding.
Always consider your branding when communicating with customers.
Don’t lose your pride or dilute your brand positioning with indiscriminate discounting. Try offering more, rather than slashing prices. Promotions are an opportunity to reinforce your brand mission.
The old way of stamping your logo on everything won’t cut it.
The future of branding is fluid and engaging – respect your customers’ intelligence by not giving everything away up front. Generate some intrigue and allow them to unearth more about your brand for themselves. This is the way to foster ambassadors who revel in telling other people what they have discovered.