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Many activities go into building a small business. Marketing, advertising, product development, inventory sourcing, sales, and a host of others help to establish a small business. However, one area that small businesses often neglect to invest in is brand building. For most small business owners, branding is the preserve of big businesses like Coca Cola, Red Bull and Nike, who pour millions of dollars into brand-building activities. While these are the most visible examples of branding, small businesses too can benefit from building credible and unique brands. In this article, we take a broad look at what small business branding is and how investing in it can benefit your business.
Brand vs. Logo: What’s the Difference?
What does a brand mean? Does it mean the logo, color palette, font and other identifying elements of a business? Or does it refer to other things like company culture, type of products sold and leadership style? Discussions around branding can be confusing because the term tends to mean different things to different people. To understand what a brand is and how this relates to a logo and related assets, think of a business as having an identity and a personality.
A business's identity is communicated through identifying elements. For example, when you see the BMW logo on a car, you immediately identify it as a BMW. Similarly, when you see the Nike swoosh, you immediately know it’s Nike. Logos, names, colors, and other identifying assets all contribute to the identity of a business. For your small business, your logo, name, and others give your business identity. However, your business’s identity isn’t enough to build a strong brand. For this, your business needs personality.
Think about one person you know and like. Is their personality friendly, generous, empathetic, fun, and interesting? How much would you say their personality contributes to how much you like them? Probably a lot. A business’s personality works in the same way. When a business has a personality made up of attractive attributes, people gravitate towards it, even though its products may be similar, or even inferior to others in the same category. This personality contributes most to the business’s brand.
While identity is important when building a brand, personality is more crucial. You must first create a strong personality for your business before your identity can stand out. For instance, if Coca Cola did not have such a strong personality, its identity wouldn’t matter.
In summary, your brand is first and foremost your business’s personality, and then its identifying assets. Building a strong brand, therefore, requires you to focus on creating a strong personality for your business, one that people can connect with, like and love.
3 Strong Brands and Why They Matter
Strong branding helps a business create a strong emotional connection with customers. If you think about the brands you value, some of the words that may come to mind are trust, reliability, honesty, focus, inspiring, and even loving. Here is a list of three great brands, and why they have become household names:
Nike – Global Brand
The word “Nike” comes from the Greek word for victory. The swoosh logo, styled after a checkmark, indicates a completed task. The brand’s tagline “Just Do It,” encompasses what the brand’s personality is. As such, when you think about Nike, you see a brand that is there to help you get things done. Want to get fit? Nike will help you “Just Do It.” Running a marathon? Nike will empower you to “Just Do It.” As you can see, the brand signifies a feeling of boldness and achievement, things many will readily identify with.
HubSpot – Mid-sized Niche Brand
If you have spent any time on the Internet, then you have probably bumped into a HubSpot article. HubSpot has built a strong brand by focusing on helping small and mid-sized businesses grow. The brand’s values include humility, empathy, adaptability, transparency and being remarkable. If you think about it, any small business owner can not only identify with these values but aspires to them as well.
Death Wish Coffee – Small Niche Brand
“Wake Up with The World’s Strongest Coffee.” That’s the promise Death Wish Coffee makes you when you purchase their coffee. The brand works because it addresses a common concern for people who struggle in the morning, “Will this coffee help me be more productive in the morning?”. Since the brand promises it is the strongest coffee in the world, then the answer must be a resounding, “Yes!”
These three brands have one thing in common - they have each created a strong emotional connection with their target audience through effective branding. They have managed to build brands with a strong brand strategy, brand equity and a brand promise. These are the three elements of an effective brand. Let’s take a closer look.
The Three Pillars of a Strong and Effective Brand
All strong brands do a couple of things well. They create an emotional connection with customers, they offer clear value, and they help the business meet its business objectives. As a small business, you also want your brand to achieve this. To do so, you will need to focus on building the three pillars of a strong and effective brand.
Brand strategy is a broad approach to branding that guides your brand-building efforts. It incorporates everything from brand identity (logo, colors, etc.), to marketing channels (social media, email, print, etc.), to human resource policies and even return and guarantee policies. When formulating a brand strategy, you are determining what will define your business in the eyes of your target market.
Think of brand equity as the value your brand has in the eyes of your customers and target audience. To build strong brand equity, you need to consistently and continuously develop your business’s brand in keeping with your brand strategy. So brand equity is the commercial value that is not derived from products or services, but through consumer perception.
Coca Cola promises you that you can “Taste the Feeling”, Nike promises you can “Just Do It,” and Coors Light promises you “The World’s Most Refreshing Beer”. A brand promise captures the emotion and personality behind the brand in one statement. What is your brand’s promise? Even a promise as simple as “Always Delivered on Time,” or “Always Fresh Ingredients,” when lived up to, can create an emotional connection with customers.
Brand strategy, brand equity, and brand promise are the keys to building a brand that will stand the test of time. In the next section, we look at the advantages of having a strong brand.
5 Advantages of Having a Strong Brand
A strong brand is the most important asset your business can own. Today, the Apple brand is more valuable than all the money the company has in the bank. Why? Because as we’ll see shortly, a strong brand has certain advantages that can help a business make tens of times more money than it is currently making.
Often called brand recognition, a strong brand makes it easy for people to identify your business and products. For instance, anyone can identify a pair of Adidas shoes or a Mercedes Benz car. When you build a strong brand, your customers and potential customers will instantly recognize you, a valuable asset in a competitive environment.
Strong brands foster loyalty by making an emotional connection with customers. Through trust, recognition, and familiarity, people will stick to one brand throughout their lives, which works in favor of the business. As such, if you want long-term customers, building a strong brand is a must.
When you become known for certain positive things, you gain credibility. Strong branding makes this possible as it helps people associate your brand with traits related to credibility. Think of the last time you did a Google search – because Google has such strong brand credibility; you did not question the results it gave you.
4. Competitive Advantage
Strong branding and market domination go hand in hand. When you develop a strong brand, the recognition, loyalty, and credibility that comes with it make it difficult for your competitors to encroach on your market. Branding not only helps win new customers but ensures other businesses do not steal your current customers away.
5. Growth Platform
In 2018, Apple sold 77.3 million iPhones over 91 days, all without spending millions of dollars on marketing and advertising. How did they achieve this? Brand strength. Because of the strong brand they have built, simply announcing a new product resulted in billions worth of sales.
These five advantages of branding work together in a continuous cycle to help your business grow. As you can see, branding is not just an exercise in aesthetics, but one that results in tangible benefits to your business and bottom line.
Now that we have explored the virtues of a strong brand, how do you build one?
9 Steps to Building a Strong Brand
Building a strong brand takes time, effort and money but the effort is worth it. If your small business is currently stuck in a rut or has no brand equity it can draw from; then this exercise may very well propel your business into new growth. Let’s get started:
1. Identify Your Target Market
Called personas, your ideal customers are people who would be interested in doing business with you. Who are they? What kind of questions and challenges do they have that your business addresses? What messaging appeals to them? Knowing who to target is the first step because it will inform all the other steps that follow. From this step, you should have a list of attributes and characteristics of your target market.
2. Audit Your Current Brand
Is your current brand appealing to this target market? Does it have messaging, values, focus and other traits that help create an emotional connection with the target market? From the audit, identify gaps like brand recognition, brand identity, value proposition, and others. We’ll address these in later steps.
3. Look for Inspiration from Brands You Admire
You now know who to target and the state of your current brand. Where do you want your brand to go? How would you like to connect with your customers? Are there brands – local or global, that you admire and would like to draw inspiration from? Study these brands, identify what they are doing right, and where they are underachieving. Write down how what you have learned from others can help you build your brand.
4. Define Your Brand Strategy
Your brand strategy is the blueprint for your brand-building efforts. What areas of your business do you want to target for brand building? Is it customer care, transport, and logistics, sales and marketing, product development or all of the above? Identify what you need to do in these areas so they can contribute towards your brand.
5. Distill Your Brand Values and Brand Promise
While your brand strategy focuses inward, brand values and a brand promise focus outward. What values do you want your business to be known for? Integrity? Honesty? Speed? Accuracy? Friendliness? Fairness? How about your brand promise? What promise can you make your customers that captures their emotions? Here are some brand promise examples:
“15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.” - Geico
“To inspire moments of optimism and uplift.” - Coca-Cola
“The Ultimate Driving Machine” - BMW
“Think different.” - Apple
“Quiet luxury. Crafted experiences. Intuitive service.” - Marriott
“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” - Nike
6. Align Your Brand Identity with Your New Brand Personality
Sometimes, you might find that your existing brand identity (logos, fonts, colors, website, graphics, etc.) does not align with your new focus and direction. For example, dark, heavy colors and a traditional logo may not work well for a brand that wants to be light, modern, playful and energetic. As such, you may need to undertake an identity makeover to align your brand identity and brand personality.
7. Create and Execute an Action Plan
Now that you have the why and the what, you need to focus on the how and the where. In your action plan, add items that move your brand in the right direction. Simple action plan items include:
Brand identity – Hire a designer to come up with a new brand identity that is compatible with your new brand personality.
Messaging – Create a new messaging template with a voice and personality that conveys your new brand.
Marketing collateral – Take down all old marketing collateral (logos, graphics, posters, etc.,) and replace with new ones.
Communicate brand overhaul to the existing customer base and explain the new direction.
8. Measure the Impact of Your Brand
Are your branding efforts working? Measuring can answer this crucial question. To measure the impact of your brand, use social listening tools like BuzzSumo and survey tools like Net Promoter Score (NPS) to gauge customer sentiment. Use the data you collect to evaluate your efforts and determine what you need to fine-tune to get better results.
9. Protect Your Brand
As your brand grows, things will inevitably happen that will threaten its very existence. The comments of a dissatisfied customer can go viral, your supplier can ship a defective product resulting in negative reviews, or a disgruntled former employee decides it’s time for payback. Whatever the case, you need to have a crisis plan in place that will help you protect your brand in such adverse moments.
Although these steps follow a linear format, brand building is more of a cyclical activity with each step building on both the next step and the previous one. In the next section, we look at how to use social media to build your brand.
How to Use Social Media to Build Your Brand
Social media platforms are used daily by billions of people worldwide. By effectively leveraging these platforms, you can accelerate the growth of your brand at a fraction of the cost of building it via traditional channels like TV and print. To help you make the most of social media for branding, follow these tips:
Pick the right channel
Different brands work well with different social media platforms. For example, if you are a B2B business targeting senior managers, LinkedIn would be an ideal fit. On the other hand, if you are targeting millennials, you may want to focus on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Utilize visual branding
Header images, logos, profile pictures, and other graphics should be professionally made and consistent with your brand. Using templates can help with this.
Use a unique voice
All the posts you create should conform to a predetermined brand voice and personality. They should reflect your brand culture and appeal to your target audience.
Great brands are built when you consistently communicate one underlying message. Use editorial guidelines to ensure all your posts conform to certain topics and messages.
Branding is about helping your audience learn your values and promise. Just like any type of learning, the message must be repeated regularly for it to sink in. Using scheduling software can help you post regularly without investing too much time.
Promote your profiles
As your social media profiles are part of your branding strategy, your customers need to know about them. Share them on your website, newsletter, catalog, prints ads and any other place people are likely to see your brand.
Communicating personality requires your business to engage with people so they can see and experience it.
In the next section, we look at content marketing and how it can accelerate your brand-building efforts significantly.
Content Marketing – Brand-building on Steroids
Content marketing is the use of content to drive inbound leads to your business. Although content marketing is primarily thought of in this light, it can also be used as a brand-building tool. Today, content is an essential part of how people experience the web, which creates a great opportunity for small business seeking to grow their brands. To show you why content marketing works, here are three advantages of using content marketing for brand building:
When you create high-quality, relevant content, it gets picked up by search engines and ranked. When people who are searching for terms related to your content click through to your website, they gain exposure to your brand. For example, HubSpot has published hundreds of high-quality articles that rank for thousands of keywords, all of which drive traffic to their website and enhance their brand value.
Thought leaders have the respect and trust of those who consume their content. As a brand, your business can also attain thought leadership status by publishing in-depth thought leadership articles, and other types of content. In so doing, your business’s brand value grows not only in status, but also in reach as people share and link to the content. If people come to you for advice and answers, it is a sure sign your brand is strong.
Lastly, content marketing leads to the organic growth of your brand. Going back to the HubSpot example, articles published on their site years ago are still attracting traffic, and helping the HubSpot brand grow as we speak. Your brand, too, can enjoy this organic growth when you implement a long-term content marketing plan, that is focused on building and enhancing your brand.
Differences Between Brand Marketing and Sales Marketing
A common question small-business owners ask is, “What’s the difference between brand marketing and sales marketing?” Although there are many similarities, there are also major differences between the two. In this section, we look at the three main differences between brand marketing and sales marketing, also known as product marketing.
1. Brand marketing promotes values while sales marketing promotes products.
When you watch a Coca Cola advert, pay attention to the fact that they never ask you to buy a Coke. Instead, they show you how happy people are as they consume the drink. This compels most people, at a subconscious level, to associate Coke with happiness. Sales marketing, on the other hand, focuses exclusively on convincing you to “Buy Now!”
2. Brand marketing creates a lasting impression while sales marketing doesn’t.
Today, brand marketing is more of a cinematic experience than a fleeting advert. Employing famous Hollywood actors, directors and props, these ads are designed to elicit as much emotion from audiences as possible. Sales marketing, conversely, is designed to drive the sale, making most sales adverts similar, predictable, and ultimately ineffective for long-term brand building.
3. Brand marketing generates more value than sales marketing.
When a sales marketing advert runs, it promotes the sale of an item or items at a certain price. In most cases, one at a time. Brand marketing, on the other hand, markets the entire organization as a single compelling brand. When you watch a Nike branding advert, you probably won’t buy the items in the video, but you will feel compelled to visit their website to see what else they have to offer.
As a small business, it is understandable that you may need to run sales marketing campaigns. However, it’s important to strike a balance between the short-term gains of sales marketing and the long-term benefits of brand marketing.
Working with Brand Ambassadors to Build Your Brand
Whether internal brand ambassadors (employees or business owners), or external ones (influencers, consultants or agencies), brand ambassadors can help your brand grow exponentially. To get the most out of working with a brand ambassador, look out for these five traits:
1. Brand-building knowledge
While not all brand ambassadors will have a marketing degree, it is important to find one who understands marketing and brand-building basics. Look for someone who can mirror your values and project the type of vibe you need for your business promotion.
2. Established online presence
Today, building a digital brand is a must for every small business. Working with brand ambassadors with an established web presence can help increase the exposure and reach of your brand. Do note that just having thousands of followers is not enough. They must also show that these are dedicated and engaged followers too, verifiable by the level of engagement past posts have had. Followers can be bought, and fake followers do more damage than good.
Although most influencers consider themselves creatives, this does not mean the ones you work with should be unprofessional. Working with an unprofessional yet wildly famous brand ambassador may do harm to your brand. The bottom line is that an influencer should think of themselves as your employee and act accordingly.
4. Brand leadership
As you will be entrusting your brand to this individual, they must have strong brand leadership skills. What this means is they have the knowledge, and vision to take your brand to the next level, even though they may not be the brand owner.
5. Passion for brand building
Unlike salespeople who focus on closing multiple sales, brand ambassadors are relationship builders. They understand that brands are built slowly - one relationship at a time. As such, the brand ambassador you work with must not only deeply understand your brand, but also have the passion and patience to build meaningful relationships.
5 Branding Mistakes That Will Kill Your Brand
When branding, mistakes will inevitably be made that cost the brand. Big brands like Pepsi, Guinness, and the American Red Cross have had their fair share of blunders. However, there are some mistakes that even these big brands try their best to avoid. Here’s a quick list of such mistakes and why you must avoid them at all costs:
Inconsistency is the multiple personality disorder of branding. When your brand lacks consistency across social media, your website, print and other channels, the net effect is a weak brand that lacks impact, identity or personality.
2. Focusing on fads
Trends can be a strong asset in brand building. However, there’s a big difference between subtly leveraging fads and overhauling your brand whenever a new trend shows up. To avoid this mistake, stay true to your core brand identity and personality and only use trends as inspiration for your next campaign.
3. Reimagining an already successful brand
Whether from me-too-ism or trend-chasing, sometimes a well-established brand will try to reinvent itself as a new brand. In many cases, this kills the brand or resurrects it as a weaker version of its former self. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
4. Associating your brand with the wrong things
Influencers, products, events, political parties – all these things, though possibly helpful in building your brand, can also kill it. Be ultra-careful where your brand is mentioned and what it is associated with it.
5. Focusing on building an exclusively local brand
The most successful brands have a global appeal. Even if your business is small and only serves a local market, your brand must also have global appeal. Why? Because the people who buy from you come from a diversity of backgrounds, which means your brand must cut across these boundaries.
While it is rare for a brand to die overnight, it is possible for a brand to become a zombie brand in the blink of an eye. When this happens, impact, relevance, and value are lost, leaving the brand to live on as the living dead.
Brand-building is arguably the most important exercise you can undertake for your small business today. Although it may not seem urgent or immediately lucrative, the long-term gains of creating a personality and identity for your business can be far-reaching. Take a good look at your business and identify how it can grow as a brand. By doing so you can significantly impact the way your customers interact with your brand, as well as the level of emotional connection they form with your brand over time.
Having an amazing logo, equally amazing website and wonderful graphics is great; but remember, customers are emotional beings. While logos and the like will excite and even attract some customers, your business’s brand personality is what they will relate with and connect to. By pursuing brand development, you are not only investing in the long-term growth of your business but also ensuring that all the customers you win today stay with you long into the future.