Many small business owners, startup entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals don’t think of themselves as a “brand.” But it’s not a term that applies only to products you see advertised in expensive TV commercials.
Almost any product, service, business or individual can build a brand. In essence, it’s what makes you unique. It might include a logo, colors and other design elements, but it’s also your name and what customers associated with you or your business.
Old-school brand building focused on product, package, position, price and promotion. But in a world of almost limitless consumer choices, the old rules don’t necessarily apply anymore. Brand building today requires that you react to consumers in multiple channels and in real time to employ what some call “brand democracy” where users help decide the characteristics of your product or service — often via social media interaction.
The digital revolution has actually helped make brand building easier by offering more online opportunities to promote your brand, via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and scores of other social outlets.
Winning with Branding
Small business owners constantly rediscover that branding is a surefire way to make or break a product, service, or company. It's vital to work on creating and building your brand all the time. Buyers — both businesses and consumers — have shorter and shorter attention spans. Entrepreneurs must constantly recharge existing brands and devise new ones.
So what makes certain brands successful year after year? With countless “pretty good” brands, how do some command fierce loyalty and how can a small or emerging business create the kind of brand that customers embrace and even get passionate about?
Here are six brand “accelerators” that can help your business establish brand passion in today’s tough-as-nails marketing environment:
1. Differentiate with Design: Customers respond to clever, intuitive products — a well-designed idea is engaging and can trump other performance features. It becomes something we have to get our hands on it. By paying attention to design – whether it’s your store, your logo, your website, or packaging – you can more easily set yourself apart. Make sure you are consistent, since bouncing between different design elements can confuse your brand.
2. Target Values, not Age, Race or Gender: Brands that people get passionate about rarely target consumers in traditional, demographic-based ways, as in men 18-34. More often, they identify shared values and then illustrate how the brand shares that vision.
3. Hire Passionate Brand Stewards: Nothing sinks a brand more quickly than having people behind it who are not really passionate themselves. You’ll want people who are more interested in building your brand than their own.
4. Know They Know You Need Them: We are in a tremendously aware marketing era, so it’s important that you be in close touch with your prospects and customers. Get out and watch people in bars, malls, grocery stores, movie theaters, sports events, regardless of the category you’re in. Talk to them. Follow them while they shop. Engage them in social media. Notice that you are one of them.
5. Democratize the Brand: A brand today needs to live, change and grow. Let your customers in on the process. The ability of the customer to have it “my way” is a tremendous engine of ownership.
6. Respect your Brand DNA: The best brands develop a heritage and respect it. They know what is in the DNA of the brand and how far they can and should go without putting their genetic code at risk. This doesn’t mean they are old and stogy, just that they know how their personality can legitimately evolve.
These branding resources can help: SmallBusinessBranding.com is a blog devoted to banding issues for small business. BrandingBrandingBusiness.com is a brand strategy agency dedicated to building B2B brands. Their website has lots of helpful articles, interviews and resources. BrandChannel.com is a helpful online idea exchange on all kinds of branding topics.
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