Why Do I Need A Brand as a small business?
For the small business owner, the conducting business comes first, last and always, which is entirely understandable! If you’re not doing the work, you’re not making money. Without money, you can’t keep your doors open. The problem is, like it or not, you already have a brand! The moment you score your first customer, client or contract, you have a brand…and it’s either going to make or break your business. Instead of thinking of it as your “brand,” try looking at it as your “reputation.” The two go hand-in-hand, but they are not necessarily the same.
Knowing this, how can you balance the direct, material needs of your business with the necessity of nurturing, building and managing your brand? To answer this, we need to ask a couple of questions.
What is a brand?
When you think of branding, you may think of companies like Coca-Cola, Ford, and AT&T. All of these are brands with clear, direct linkages to specific markets. You probably see the logos, the fonts, and the colors these brands employ. All of these are elements of the brand, but they are not themselves “the brand.”
Confused? Don’t be. A logo is a symbol, a sort of verbal/visual shorthand that represents the company. In this respect, a logo is no different than a pine tree with red balls on it to symbolize Christmas or a pumpkin carved with a grinning face stands in for Halloween. A logo helps differentiate your brand from the competition, but it is not in itself the brand either. It is a visual cue that stands for the company’s reputation, services, and market share in the minds of consumers.
Your company’s (or your own) name is the first step in creating your brand. What does it say about your business? For example, “Simple Solutions.io” was chosen because it’s short, direct and to the point. It tells exactly what the company offers and does, clearly and concisely. It under promises and over delivers, which is the linchpin of any successful company. Does your company name tell prospective clientele what you do, how and why you do it?
The next step is to ask what colors you associate with your brand. Red and orange are often associated with urgency, while blues and greens are more calming. There’s an entire subfield of advertising whose entire concern is how people react psychologically to colors, but beware! Western color interpretations vary greatly from Eastern color codes. In Western nations, black is often associated with mourning; in Eastern cultures, white is often the color associated with funerals. Knowing your target audience is critical, but once you do, you can start working out a color scheme that suits your company.
Now we get to the tricky part: reputation. A brand automatically has a reputation. A writer’s name is their brand. You may associate Stephen King with horror, Nora Roberts with romance and George R. R. Martin with fantasy. Likewise, you need to consider what your name stands for. Do you have a reputation, or are you in the process of building one? If you’re in the latter category, you’re fortunate, because this is the time you can shape and mold your reputation to what you want it to be. If Xerox made crap products that didn’t work, it wouldn’t exist now, nor would its name be synonymous with copying.
How do I build a brand?
This is paradoxically both very easy and very difficult. Billionaire Warren Buffett rightly said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” Be careful of what you promise, say and do both to your clientele and in the wider world, on the street, in the shop and on the Internet. Building a brand is not just one thing, but an amalgamation of a lot of different interactions, all of them working together to create the whole.
Always underpromise and overdeliver. The surest way to wreck your brand reputation is to promise the moon and stars, but only deliver a comet. Consistently delivering a great product, on time and at a fair price, is the first step in forming a brand reputation that clients will come to associate with reliability.
Start a conversation. Today especially, marketing is not a one-way street. The best marketing engages the potential consumer and gets them asking questions about your brand. By being responsive to the advances of consumers, you are more likely to build trust and respect. When you consider that 89% of messages from potential consumers go unanswered, this means that brands which demonstrate responsiveness and active communication are far more likely to capture market share.
Keep an eye on reviews and social media. One of the greatest mistakes brands make is not being diligent about monitoring discussion about them. It takes between five and ten great reviews to offset one bad one, and with consumer perception driven by social media commentary, this often-neglected step can change everything about how your brand is considered in the marketplace for better or worse.
Maintain and expand communication channels. It’s simply not enough to rest on your laurels when it comes to brand and reputation management. Companies that become lazy and complacent about their brand and don’t constantly strive to define it in terms of the existing and projected market frequently position themselves at the back of the pack, instead of on the cutting edge. This is a dangerous position to be in because it shows consumers that their opinions and concerns aren’t taken seriously. When you’ve reached this point, it’s time to start back at Step One and reevaluate what you have learned and the gains and losses that have come with it. In this way, your brand and reputation will continuously be evolving for the better.
This sounds expensive…
Building a brand reputation doesn’t have to cost a mint. What it does require is a top-down, companywide focus on improvement and evolution at every turn and through every outlet. You already have a brand. What you need is to be able to effectively manage your reputation, which in turn directly influences the rise and fall of your brand. This custodial approach coupled with a customer-service mindset that always keeps the target consumer uppermost in mind is the best way to ensure your brand reputation says what you need and want it to say about your business.
The advantage is, if you spend any time on social media promoting your business, you probably already have 90% of the tools you need to ensure your brand portrays the right message. The issue often comes when owners and management staff say that they don’t have time to engage with customers in cyberspace because they’re too busy producing the products and services that keep the company viable. There is some validity to this concern, but just imagine what earmarking 20 minutes a day for brand reputation management could do for your business and the perception of your brand! Engaging consumers and keeping a conversation going is just one of the Simple Solutions.io to establishing, building and maintaining the brand presence you need and want for your company!
Also published on Medium.