As a small business owner or solopreneur, you might think that you have 1001 other things to worry about and take care of that outweigh branding in level of importance.
You might think that you can work on branding some other day…when you have some time…or maybe in another lifetime.
You couldn’t be more wrong. The fact is there’s no better time than the present. You’re in a great spot to really build a brand of which you can be proud. You can narrow down your niche. Become THE owner of your niche as in THE influencer in your niche. YOU can make your mark.
In fact, if you take the time to focus on branding, the brand itself will help propel you forward.
So what IS branding? What is a brand?
It’s an image, reputation and perception of a company. It’s the image of a company and product created in a consumer’s mind.
It’s in their heads.
A company’s customer service, uniqueness, reputation, advertising, logo, color, attitude, words, products, FB posts – EVERYTHING that makes them different — all of these individually are important. But it’s when you put them all together and add them up that you get a feeling of a brand.
What do you think of when you think about Coca-Cola? FedEx? Nike? Apple? You picture their logo, right? Beyond their logo, however, each brand invokes certain feelings and opinions. This is the real heart of a brand.
How about this one? Comcast? For me, this one invokes frustration. Don’t think customer service is part of your brand? Think again. When I think of the Comcast brand, I think more about the hours I’ve had to spend on the phone, rather than any products or services offerings.
Yikes, right?! The image is already in your head! You all have a company in mind whose brand invokes these types of feeling.
So how to do you create a brand that’s memorable for the RIGHT reasons?
When all the parts of the business brand fit together and are working well, the brand is memorable. When you see the FedEx truck flying down the highway, you just know that someone’s package or check or wife’s birthday present is on it’s way and will be there on time.
I see the Coca-Cola logo and even though I haven’t had a Coke in years, I’m immediately transported to a red dirt road, hot and dusty gas station in Georgia with ice-cold Cokes in the fridge. You pop the top with the bottle opener on the doorjamb and the cool, sweet, almost peppery fizz just soothes your soul.
Mind you, I’ve never been to this gas station. I’m not even sure where the image comes from. Coca-Cola has done such a great job of branding that the mere mention invokes all types of wonderful emotions.
Sometimes I think of a huge polar bear, relaxing as he floats on an iceberg. He’s gulping down a nice, cold Coca-Cola. It’s a cooling, refreshing image on a hot summer’s day.
Coca-Cola has had its ups and downs over the years. But those are NOT the things I think of when I hear the name or see the logo. Those things are NOT their brand. Cool, refreshing, energizing, steadfast – that is their brand.
Comcast got itself into trouble with notoriously bad customer service, legendary levels of bad customer service. Now they’re busily trying to “re-brand” themselves as Xfinity. They’re more and better – more speed, more picture, more service, more of everything – and it’s not until you’re ready to sign on the dotted line that you realize…wait a minute…this is Comcast?
They’re re-branding by taking their name out of the brand. Amway is another company that re-branded themselves by taking their name out of the brand. So many times that I don’t remember what they’re called anymore.
Then there are companies that offer excellent products or services but have been tarnished with public relations nightmares that may not even be of their own making. Target’s data breach comes to mind. Chipotle anyone?
Even McDonald’s golden arches haven’t been immune and have been working hard to re-brand because you could be offering the very best product on earth, but if public perception is saying that it’s cheap junk, it’ll be hard to come back from that.
Keep your brand strong to help weather the storm
Remember what happened to Tylenol? They took a huge hit when some lunatic decided to use their capsules as a murder weapon. Several people were killed as a result of the tampering. Tylenol’s market share went from 35% to 8%.
The company had a strong brand, though, and were able to weather the storm. They were quick to work with law enforcement to get every last pill off every shelf everywhere. Even though they knew that a ton of perfectly good medicine was being thrown out, even though they were losing a bundle of money, their focus was on working with law enforcement to keep people safe.
In the end, the murderer was never caught. The company worked to develop tamper-free packaging, which has become the standard all over the world. Its market share is bigger than ever. But without the brand and goodwill built up before the incident, a tragedy like that might have killed the business.
Online, a very small company can look very big and mighty, if they project a great and mighty brand and back it up with indefatigable, unfailing customer service and engaging content. Even though your business might be just little old, you working feverishly in a nook under the stairs, you CAN compete with the big boys if you provide the service. So why not provide yourself and your company with a brand that sets you up as a pro?
Here are some tips on branding for the solopreneur.
Brand from the Inside Out
Before you can articulate your message to your audience, you should be able to give the message to yourself. Who are you? What do you do? What do you stand for?
Probably the easiest way to do this is to write out a mission statement.
I know, I know, you don’t have time to develop a mission statement. You’ve got stuff to do.
If you really know your business and you have a vision, this actually isn’t a time consuming effort. Say what you believe in and what your company seeks to offer to the world and achieve for itself. You should already have figured this out before you started your business, so just write it down.
And if not, take the few minutes to figure it out. All the big-boy companies, non-profits and entrepreneurs have their own mission statement and you should, too. Why?
Clarity and direction is important for you and for your customers and prospective customers.
What is your business and what does your business stand for?
Be clear, short and succinct. Hone it down from the novel you’re reciting to a simple statement.
Claim the space in the market that your products and services occupy. Where are you and your services different from others?
Plant your flag, your logo, in your color with your mission statement, right there.
Align with Your Brand
Figuring out your mission was the hard (or easy depending on how much you thought about this when you started your business) part. Now that you have it, the rest is easy. Just align with it. Your mission statement is the filter through which everything flows.
Tape your mission statement above your computer so you see it every day as you work. It’ll guide you through your day so that everything will flow from it.
Make it an evergreen post on your blog, a sticky tweet, a line on your signature and your letterhead, and give it some space on your business cards.
Put it out there as the sum of your business so that you, your employees (if you have them), your contractors, your suppliers and your customers all know what your business is and what to expect from you!
If you’re going to post something to FB, ask if it fits with your mission statement. The words, the sentiment, the statement – is it in alignment with your business and your mission?
What you post to your blog, what you send out in emails, how you answer your phone, how you respond to a rude customer should all go through this filter!
What would company XYZ do?
Create a Brand Alignment Plan
Now that you know the message you want to communicate, you need to sort out a plan and decide how you’ll implement it.
For example, can you do all this yourself or will you need someone else to create the content? Take a look at all your social media profiles with the intention of giving them all a little tweak, tune-up and alignment.
How will you communicate to your target audience? Will you use social media posts, blogging, videos, etc.?
Plan and choose the language you use or don’t use.
What sort of images will you use? How will the images strengthen your message?
Having a plan will keep you on point as you work to make updates to your profiles and create your brand. It’ll keep you consistent and in alignment going forward. A plan will also make you memorable and recognizable for your customers.
Implement Your Alignment Plan
Implementing the plan begins with updating your social media profiles. Let people know who you are, what your business is and what you do for whom! By color and design, by imagery and words, there should be a similarity about all your sites and pages.
When people hop from one to the other, they should feel that they’re in familiar territory. Within a second they should know if they’ve landed on the right site because there’s an overall consistent feel.
There should be a similarity in the “voice” of your site and pages as well. Even if you have ten people writing on the site, there should be a “voice” that’s recognizable as your brand.
Implementing the plan often means updating your website. Update pictures and language so all is reflective of your brand and mission statement.
A Brand Brings Trust
Just as people will recognize your page immediately because of the colors and images and voice and tone, branding will help define your values to your audience. Anyone who takes a look at your business should be able to tell what you stand for just by looking.
Just like you recognize the famous Facebook “f” anywhere, even without the letters spelling out the word, people will recognize your business, too.
So the brand brings recognition and with that brings trust. It brings credibility. It brings legitimacy. It’ll make you proud. It’ll inspire your employees. It’ll bring in referrals. It’s necessary, so get busy.
But what if you’re just a little business with a little budget? How can you create a brand?
Brand Strategies on a Small Brand Budget
Today with the Internet and online technology from DIY lead pages, website builders, photo design sites, social media management dashboards and auto-responders (to name a few) – even as a business-of-one you can look huge.
You can do a lot of things that big companies do when it comes to branding your business and making your mark on your industry.
There’s actually an advantage created over big business by being a small. A smaller company means a smaller budget. Less budget equates to less red tape! You can act on new ideas quickly. You can put innovation up front and center.
As a small business, you don’t need a large budget to brand yourself. You simply need the ability to focus on your values and ideals in a way that speaks to your audience. And you need to take care of your customers.
As a small business, you can personalize everything you do to focus and really show your customer that it is all about them. Every customer should feel like THE ONE. Your email messages and all marketing messages should be or feel personalized to that audience of one.
You can provide exceptional customer service. You can over-deliver and give excellent personalized service. You aren’t separated from the details like a large company, so you won’t have volumes of complaints and when you do get one you can deal with it efficiently.
Keeping your niche small and tight allows you to personalize and provide great service while not spreading yourself too thin.
You also have the advantage of being able to outsource work, bringing in help when you need and rein in when you don’t without maintaining a huge staff. That lets you focus on branding smartly and efficiently.
Without the worries of a huge business, you have more time to focus on the passion you feel about your business and your offerings. If that shines through to your audience, they’ll respond by becoming raving and passionate fans, too.
Over time, good service brings recognition and a level of credibility and satisfaction in the customer’s mind. It becomes your brand. But don’t wait for time to pass and hope for the best.
That’s not how you take care of other relationships, is it? Did you just hope that maybe your spouse would marry you one day? Or did you take an action? Buy a ring or ask a question? My guess is you probably put some effort in.
The same should go for your business. You don’t want to just hope. You can speed up the process by being clear about your brand and working to put that image in your customer’s mind.
You might be working in the nook under the stairs for a few more years, but today is the day to begin building your brand!
What’s in your mission statement?
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