- “Branding isn’t necessary for small businesses.”
- “I’m too busy.”
- “I can’t afford it.”
You tell yourself these things, and yet you still feel a little uneasy. You know that your business needs an identity. So what do you do? First, it’s important to understand what branding is and is not.
Branding is not a logo. Branding encompasses much more than a symbol, name or web design. However, once you establish your brand, a logo is crucial as its visual representation. It helps to accelerate company recognition, which speeds up customer engagement with your brand.
Branding is the personality of an organization. A good brand provides a clear and memorable sense of what your business stands for. It can bring to mind product attributes, or it can reflect buyers’ values. A powerful brand has brand equity, which brings you customer loyalty, trust and an emotional connection to your company. Some examples of brand equity are name awareness; perceived quality of goods and services; and assets like patents and trademarks. This doesn’t mean there has to be a public face to your organization, like Virgin’s Richard Branson. Having a persona-driven brand can cause complications if you’re looking toward an eventual exit strategy.
Branding is not your marketing materials. Although the development of marketing materials often forces a small business to do some self-reflection, this is putting the cart before the horse. Ideally, you would have a clearly articulated brand for your small business long before you invest in expensive printed materials. It’s a lot easier to rethink an intellectual concept, like a brand, than to redesign your marketing brochure.
Branding is reflected in all communications about your company. When you do create marketing materials, your brand and company vision should be translated into distinct messages and clear positioning in relation to your competition. Ideally, these messages will appear in all of your promotional materials, including collateral, publicity, the company website, and social networking efforts.
Particular attention should be paid to the last two points:
Branding and Your Website
A company website is a must today, particularly for small businesses. Yet, if executed poorly, your website can drive away more customers than it attracts. There are some important things to remember when using a website to facilitate branding:
- Reinforce familiarity with your brand by being consistent with your brand name and domain name.
- Capture loyal visitors by making sure that Web copy is short and catchy and “chunked” into easily digestible sections. Don’t just repurpose the text of your marketing brochure online.
- Speak to your different audiences by segmenting your website into distinct areas.
- Boost product qualities and benefits so that visitors feel they are still getting what they would in person, i.e. the ability to touch and feel your product.
- Replicate the total experience associated with your brand in your web presence.
- Complement product offerings with service experiences, including ratings, reviews, recommendations, message boards and proprietary advice.
Branding and Social Networking
You may think of social networking as a communications vehicle for companies that only serve young, hip audiences. While this was true a few years ago, now everyone from baby boomers to grandmothers are embracing Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. These inexpensive communications channels, particularly if they link consumers to a thought leadership vehicle like a blog, are essential in building customer relationships. In fact, blogs are particularly important for small businesses because they are a means to pass along content that demonstrates your company’s knowledge and expertise. If customers have a sense of who you are and whether they can trust you, you will be paid back with loyalty and repeat business.
At the end of the day, you may be able to achieve your business goals without investing in branding. However, having a brand that expresses who you are and what value your business offers will pay dividends in the long run. Your brand takes your customers along on your company’s journey now and in the future.
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