by Les Kollegian
I have to say that I really admire American Express and how they take care of their business customers. My admiration goes above their great support and customer service… it is also about their amazing understanding of what it takes to market and make a global brand. I think it would be hard for anyone out there to disagree that they are known as the card of choice for business. Sure… they have cards and campaigns directed toward consumers, but it is their true intention (and they dominate) to attract the business customer.
Recently, I received a pamphlet geared to help small business grow by creating differentiation in their brand and marketing strategy. Well… I guess they didn’t realize that they were sending this to our San Diego advertising agency, but I have to say it’s an extremely well written piece and it is something we try to explain to our clients everyday. For our business friends and clients that don’t use American Express as their card of choice, I am sharing this with you below.
A brand identity can be among a company’s most valuable assets. Your brand is what sets your business apart from your competitors. All companies, regardless of size, need to brand themselves. Branding – establishing a clear and differentiated identity among your prospects and customers – is especially important during challenging economic times when no company can afford to lose a customer or a sale.
Here are six branding strategies your business can use without spending too much money.
PERFORM BACKGROUND RESEARCH
Before you begin to work on your brand, you should first gauge the market’s perception of your business today. Query loyal customers and others who know your business to gain an outside perspective. Ask them why they selected you over the competition and what they like most about your organization.
Next, determine if your current value proposition resonates with your customers and market influencers. There could be intangible benefits you provide that haven’t been articulated that you can leverage to greater advantage. If you know what your customers truly want and need, you can better tailor your products and services toward them. Use this as the foundation for building or updating your brand.
Review your business plan and any other materials you have on your company. Examine every aspect of your brand, from business cards and on-hold messaging to your email signature and website imagery. Make sure every element is consistent with the image you want to convey.
DEFINE YOUR BRAND
Put together a one-page description of your business. Think about how you want to differentiate your company from your competitors. What is it about your products or your customer interactions that set you apart? Identify these parts of your business and focus on how to make them highly memorable.
The goal is to get your target market to attribute certain qualities to your business in a way that spurs them to take a desired action. One organization may strive to become the most trusted name in its industry, while another may fulfill an untapped need in the marketplace.
Stay relentlessly focused on expressing the attributes of your brand, whether you are talking to the press, writing an industry article or speaking directly with a customer. It’s also important to realize that every customer interaction can be an opportunity to reinforce your brand. This extends well beyond marketing materials, including:
• The appeal of your product packaging
• The look of your office lobby
• The expertise of your support personnel
• The ease of use of your website.
Be sure you maximize opportunities to reinforce desirable brand attributes at every step of the way. This consistency can help strengthen your brand and build customer trust in your company.
TAP SOCIAL NETWORKING TOOLS
Many businesses have learned that social networking is an effective tool to find new customers and build relationships with current customers. This is why it’s important to use social interaction to reinforce your branding message. Start a Twitter feed and send updates or offers to your followers to demonstrate your unique value proposition. Create a Facebook page and build a community by offering exclusive content or coupons.
If your company doesn’t have a blog, start one. A successful blog can draw attention to your business, attract new customers and turn current customers into diehard fans. However, a blog isn’t the place for a direct sales pitch. Instead, use it to share information with your prospects and customers. If people comment about your company, take the opportunity to engage them. Address any concerns head on. Letting customers know you understand their needs demonstrates your commitment to their satisfaction.
TRACK YOUR PERFORMANCE
Brand measurement is tricky, but it is possible. One way is to have a third party vendor, such as The Nielsen CompanyTM, reach out to an external audience and see if they recall your brand when given a product category but don’t mention your brand specifically. This will help you to determine if your view of your business rings true with those who use your products or services. The SocialSeek service from SensideaTM allows you to track brand mentions on social media sites, including Twitter, YouTube, FlickrR, Blogger and more.
You can also do similar analysis yourself by creating a spreadsheet and tracking online mentions of your business with GoogleTM Alerts and other online monitoring tools. Using Twitter’s search function, you can monitor every mention of your brand, products and people. IceRocketTM, TechnoratiTM and other blog search engines can help you track what bloggers write about your company. Put all of this into your spreadsheet and see if any of your branding work leads to an increase in business.
STAY TOP OF MIND
Branding is a long-term effort that may take several months before you will see any measurable results. It’s important to pick and choose what areas you want to focus on first and really follow through on those elements. Otherwise, you may not notice any tangible results and decide that your time was wasted. Because a company’s brand evolves over time, it’s important to stick to your messaging and stay positive. As the economy turns around, you will want your prospects and customers to remember that you were there all along.
How to Build Your Brand from Within
When building your brand, your employees are an important resource to tap since they are the ones who engage with your customers on a day-to-day basis. If they respect your company and your brand, that message will be conveyed to your customers. Follow these five steps to integrate your brand among your staff.
1. ASSESS EMPLOYEE KNOWLEDGE. Hold information sessions to share your brand vision with the entire team. Give employees the opportunity to voice their concerns so any objections can be tackled head on.
2. ALIGN STAFF WITH THE BRAND. Create a powerful workforce of brand advocates from the very start. Recruit talent whose skills lend themselves to reinforcing your brand and make brand identity a key component of new employee training.
3. EMPOWER YOUR TEAM. Let employees know that you are committed to delivering on brand promises and that they have the authority to do so within their individual roles. Allow some room for personal interpretation of the brand by encouraging them to share creative ideas on how to demonstrate the brand within their own business functions. Once they know they can contribute, they will feel more included in the organization and proud of what the brand stands for.
4. RECOGNIZE AND REWARD. Offer employees incentives to take that extra step to strengthen your brand through prizes, special awards and mentions at company events.
5. MEASURE PERFORMANCE. Regularly reach out to your frontline employees to tap into the conversations they have with customers. Check with customers, prospects and the media to see if your values are being conveyed.
Interested in learning more about branding? Here are three links to help you get started:
American Marketing Association
The American Marketing Association is a professional organization for individuals and businesses involved in the practice, teaching and study of marketing worldwide.
BrandWeek is a magazine that provides breaking news and analysis in the marketing industry, along with expert commentary that helps put the news into perspective.
comScore’s Score Brand MetrixTM can quantify a campaign’s branding effectiveness by measuring increases in awareness, message recall and intent to purchase.
What Becomes a Small Business Brand?
Small business owners are often confused about the term brand, and rightly so. Big businesses obsess about this thing called branding, yet I think on the whole it has become a pretty soulless term.
Every small business has a brand. The question is whether the make-up of the brand is created intentionally or accidentally. There is little doubt in my mind that small businesses that find themselves in possession of what some would call a strong brand are far more likely to achieve great things than those that simply go out there and compete.
But a small business brand is so much more complicated than a tagline, colors or logos; a small business brand is everything the business does and has done, much like a biography – or in thise case maybe a brandography.
There is a wonderful line in the book Divisadero by Michael Ondattje:
“Everything is biographical, Lucian Freud says. Why we make, why we draw a dog, who it is we are drawn to, why we cannot forget. Everything in collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border we cross.”
A small business brand is very much like this collage – made up of who the owner is, who the customers are, what the employees say, what the press says, and who you had lunch with today – in your business, everything is brandographical!
So the question is: If you knew that ine very action your business took you were in the process of creating a brand, if you were given the chance to create a strong brand through your actions – would that change the way you viewed your business? In short, would you write your brandography with a different intention?