Branding 101: A Small-Business Guide

Branding is not a difficult thing to do if you know who you are and how you want to be perceived by others. Yet quite often you might not be focused on your brand, instead putting your attention on your products or services to lead you to customers and revenue. That’s fine if you’re the only small business selling a particular product or service, but that’s a rarity. This is why branding is imperative not just for big corporations, but also for small businesses. In fact, it may be even more important the smaller your business is. Many get caught up with the word “brand” and believe it’s this colossal term reserved for corporate powerhouses. The reality is that every company—and in this day of social media, most individuals—should establish what their brand equals. To get started, go to your whiteboard or a piece of blank paper and write the name of your company and, to the right of it, a big equals sign. When it comes to Branding 101, it’s like getting hits in baseball. If you hit the ball well and cover all the bases, you can score with a winning brand and excel in the game of growing your consumers. Think of it as “The Baseball of Branding.” The following tips will help get you started in the right direction. 

Know What Your Brand Means

The first step in building your brand is to actually know what your brand equals or what you want it to equal. Write down all the characteristics to the right of that equals sign that describe what you are and how you would like to be perceived. Once you compile that list, you should fine-tune it and make sure you have full command of your brand in order to reach your customers and, more importantly, your potential customers. The adjectives and characteristics that make up your brand should differentiate you from your competitors and provide a clear understanding of what your business is not only capable of doing, but also what it is known for. It should also assist you in how you positively move consumers to favor your products and services. These three swings below will lead you to getting a Brand Single. Three Swings to Hit a Single 1. Understand the business niche you are in and how you differ from competitors. 2. Know your target audience to the core. 3. Fully grasp how your product and services hit the sweet spot of your audience’s needs. Every small business believes it serves a need for a particular audience. The problem is knowing if that potential customer base is large enough to build a business. To build a strong brand and hit a single, you want to make sure you have a viable business that will lend itself to building that solid brand and assist the business’s growth.

Make Your Employees Brand Ambassadors

To hit a double in building your brand, make sure your employees know what the brand stands for and are true to the brand in everything they do. Often the owner and management know what the brand equals, but the people actually interacting with customers do not fully grasp the brand and its intent. It is important that everyone is reading from the same playbook and knows what the brand stands for and how to represent it properly. You would think these first two steps are so rudimentary that any business would have them down to a science. Wrong! Many companies do not know who they are or how to convey what the brand equals, and employees at these companies have brand confusion and questions. Instead of being sure when it comes to their brand interactions, they guess how they should represent the brand. This is an area where you can and should outshine large corporations. Your employees can have a much deeper relationship with consumers, and, because of the multiple hats they wear, should be able absorb the brand to the fullest. If your business focuses on these three simple steps, that goal is very obtainable. Three Swings to Hit a Double 1. Fully capture what your brand equals in an easily digestible format. 2. Train your employees to embody the brand and what it equals. 3. Have systems and protocols in place to aid employees in keeping the core of the brand top of mind. The key is keeping your employees engaged, informed, and empowered. Capture the brand so they understand it and know what you want to convey; don’t just assume they will get it. Train them with examples that are both pro and con so they are fully schooled to represent the brand properly. Once they are trained and understand the brand, put in a system to encourage them to support the brand message and reward them for acting in your brand’s best interests. The systems and protocols should help reinforce the importance of representing your brand. This is less about what they are saying to customers and more about how they are acting and embodying the brand. For example, if the brand is all about precision and cleanliness, then untucked and soiled uniforms are not properly displaying the brand.

Communicate Your Brand to the Public

This step takes knowing and living the brand as a company, as well as communicating what you equal to others. Communicating your brand positioning is not just about the adjectives you choose to support what the brand equals. It also involves the methods and manner in which you are communicating the brand to the general public and, more importantly, to your target consumers. When you and your employees know how to communicate what your brand equals, you have hit a Brand Triple. Unlike the Brand Double, which focuses on how employees display the brand, a Brand Triple has to do with the messaging and communication of the brand to others. Three Swings to Hit a Triple 1. Devise the manner in which employees should interact with customers. 2. Put together a check and balance system to ensure employee-to-customer messaging stays on brand. 3. Carefully consider the first and last impression you want to make when communicating the brand with the public. To aid yourself and your employees, you can create phrases, copy and descriptions that hit the bull’s-eye when communicating with customers or clients. You have to not just know what the brand stands for but also how to properly communicate in order to not cause brand confusion. Create a checklist of points to touch on while engaging with customers, to stay in line with the brand and what it represents. It should include situational encounters where a customer makes a request or has a question and the employee has a guide to the appropriate answer or response. Also make sure there is a set opening and exit when communicating to punctuate the brand and its positioning so the first and last impressions are always on brand. You do not want staff flying by the seat of their pants and making things up on the spot. Lead them to the right path in consumer engagement and help them support the brand.

Get Target Customers to Amplify Your Brand

Finally, when your target consumers understand the nuances of your brand and can distinguish how your brand differs from the competition, you have absolutely hit a Brand Home Run. Brand Home Runs are harder to achieve because you lose a bit of control of the message through its interpretation by consumers; however, if you have solid techniques in place to keep the message on-brand, straying from what the brand equals will be minimized. Three Swings to Hit a Home Run 1. Make sure all communications, individual or mass, are consistent and in line with brand positioning. 2. Have one person/group review all outside messaging and any brand associations. 3. Reward loyal customers and fans with perks and special treatment to show your appreciation. You should have a brand filter or a systematic questionnaire to ensure all communications and associations are consistent with the brand. This filter needs to have questions that help you determine whether or not your brand is being properly communicated and represented. For example, one question could be, “Is the vehicle or manner of communication consistent with how the brand is perceived?” If you are selling pizza dough, you may not want to promote it in a restaurant review magazine that is more targeted to people who dine, whereas a baking, cooking, or trade publication may make more sense, depending on your brand filter. Another example question in the brand filter: “Does the association help or hinder the brand?” Using the same example of the pizza dough, you do not want to sell your dough in a bakery that has terrible reviews. Sure, the fact that it is a bakery provides relevance, but their terrible reviews could assist in eroding your brand. Also remember, it’s always best when one person or group is in charge of determining the relevance of the association, to keep the interpretation of the brand filter more consistent. If you communicate your brand message to your target audience properly and your brand positioning is easy to understand, not only will your employees be great brand ambassadors, but your most avid consumers will be as well. When your consumers are fans of your brand and identify with it, they, too, will become vocal in spreading your brand’s message. Word of mouth marketing has always been important in extending a company’s brand and offerings, but it is even more crucial in this age of social media. You want your consumers singing your praise across the various social media platforms, not only in the form of “Likes” but also in sharing their positive experiences and pictures. Just as you reward your employee, you should give perks and special treatment to those avid customers and fans of your brand who promote your products and services. Their endorsement is more powerful than any commercial or copy you could produce. Lastly, always remember that you are the company you keep. Hiring the wrong employees and aligning with the wrong vendors and partners will erode your brand. Fully understand everything about your brand and make sure that everyone who is a caretaker of the brand does so in the manner that you expect. A strong group of caretakers of your brand will lead to further reaching brand ambassadors with your consumers. When you build that consistency and integrity and it flows through your customers, you will hit a Brand Grand Slam!   Source: American Express – Small Business