Quick – what comes to mind when you think of Mercedes Benz? What about McDonald’s? While these two businesses are very different, they do have one thing in common: they have distinct, memorable brands.
Your brand is your business personality, reputation, and your promise to your customers, all rolled into one. Think about it: what does McDonald’s promise its customers? I suggest that it is an affordable meal that tastes the same no matter what McDonald’s you walk into, anywhere in the world. McDonald’s spends a lot of money on marketing every year to make sure that that is what we think when we think about their business.
While people might form an opinion of your brand in a split-second, for some companies, building an effective and powerful brand is a lengthy and strategic process that can take up to a generation. A lot of big businesses understand the art of branding and take it seriously, but I believe it is even more important for the small business. Why? Because of the 30 million businesses in the U.S., 99% are small businesses. That is a lot of competition. And the only way to stand out is by having a specific brand.
While a lot of small businesses think they have a brand, most are by default, not design. Yet the purpose of all of your marketing efforts – your social media, your networking, your signs and logos, your slogans and ad campaigns, etc – should be for one main purpose, namely, to increase brand awareness, and that should be a strategic process.
The importance of using your marketing to create that strong brand is almost impossible to understate:
- Credibility. If you need a tax pro one day because you are going to be audited, who are you more apt to hire, someone you never heard of before or the woman whose ad you have seen several times and who you saw being interviewed on TV at tax time? Exactly.
- An aura of success: Again, consider our tax pro. Which one seems more successful to you?
- More income potential: People like brands and are willing to pay more for one. At the market, will you buy a name brand cereal that costs a little more or a generic brand that is less expensive? Most people are willing to pay a little more for a brand they like.
- Different and better: Because people do like doing business with businesses that they have heard of, those businesses have a leg up on the competition. They are seen as better.
- Top of mind: All of this leads to one place: being remembered when the time is right. You come home from work one day. You get the mail. And there is the audit notice from the IRS. Who can help you? And then you remember that sharp woman. All of her marketing efforts paid off in that instant.
However, as I said above, most small businesses have not put a lot of thought into their brand and therefore do not have strong brand awareness. The good news is that is fairly easily rectified.
The first thing to do is simply to consider who you are as a business and what you stand for. Great brands offer something that is unique, different, and in some way better. Maybe your business has lower prices, or is more convenient, or has better quality. Maybe it is hipper, or is a family business that has been around forever. You should have a really clear grasp on your business differentiator, objective, and customer benefit – and should be able to describe it in one sentence. If you can’t, you should figure out how to, or chances are your customer won’t understand it either.
The next step is to make it easy for people to remember your desired brand. Signs, social media, networking – it all helps. Another easy way is to have a tagline that says who you are: The low price leader or The king of big screens or whatever. If you use that line consistently, in all of your marketing, it will start to sink in.
Finally, remember that repetition is the key, repetition is the key, repetition is the key. What is the key? See?
If you create a consistent message with all of your marketing tactics, one that reinforces your unique brand again and again, when the time is right, your desired customer will think of you and not someone else.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.