Yes, it’s true that the word “branding” has become an overused marketing industry buzzword, but that doesn’t mean the importance of it is diminished in any way. In fact, with the surge in small business startups over the last few years, it’s more important than ever to make branding your small business a priority.
Much of what’s said or taught about branding has to do with making sure that your business has a professional, uniform appearance across all your marketing materials and online presence. However, branding is much more about the art of staying on message with your core customers rather than on creating the same presentation wherever you go.
Branding your small business goes far beyond website design and what your business cards look like, although those things are also important and should be done with thoughtfulness and professionalism. But where creating marketing material is a start, middle and end sort of process, branding is a longer term and more dynamic endeavor that requires constant vigilance to be truly effective.
Difference #1: Your Brand is More than What You Do
Once small business owners get over the hump of trying to serve any and every type of customer, they begin to niche down and get more specific about who their customers are and what they want. This is a great first step in selling to your base, but becoming “branded” dictates that the relationship with your customers becomes reciprocal. You do the work and the research to understand what your customers want from your, but you also then have to become a strong deliverer of your core message so that your customers know what to expect from you. Big brands like McDonald’s changed some menu offerings to include healthier items than people were not used to getting from them, such as salads and low-fat yogurts. Then, when Starbucks and flavored coffee became a thing, they added lattes and mochas to the menu. Some of the products changed, but the pitch remained the same: satisfying, popular foods and drinks, served fast.
So ultimately, it’s not what you deliver, it’s how you deliver that dictates whether you stay on brand.
Difference #2: You Can Have a Strong Brand Image and Serve Different Niches
Celebrities have done quite well with this one. There was once a time when a celebrity was “branded” as an actress, singer, dancer, musician, athlete or politician. With the popularity explosion of the internet and reality television, entertainment industry crossovers became commonplace. No longer do aspiring artists have to choose where to spend their time and energy because once they’ve found success in one arena, many of them find it quite easy to dabble in related and non-related ventures with varying degrees of success. If these celebrities have strongly established their brand, their core fans usually follow along with the journey and continue to consume whatever movie, music, perfume or fashion line the celebrity is selling.
As a small business owner, you may not have the following of a celebrity, but you can execute the same type of crossover if you’ve done a good job of branding your small business. One of the smartest ways to do this is by keeping an open dialogue with your customers and being transparent about trying different things. Your customers, like you, have varied interests and if they they’ve been resonating with your brand and the image you present, they’ll appreciate your authenticity about trying something new. If you’ve been consistent with your branding, your message and your honest communication, chances are your customers will follow along, even if your new product or service offering is outside of your usual niche.
Difference #3: Branding Your Small Business Means Being Selective, Not Exclusive
Again, good branding requires a dynamic approach – meaning that it’s not a “one and done” type of thing where you pick your niche, create your website and set up all your colors and taglines to match. You can set your sights on a particular niche and market to them, but it is possible to cross the “niche” line without going off-brand. This doesn't mean trying to be all things to all people, but it does mean that when you do look at ways to offer products and services that are a little out of the ordinary for you, you stick to things that will meet certain criteria. Going back to the McDonald’s example, they can offer healthier foods and fancy coffee drinks because they can be served fast and through the drive-up window. However, it may not have gone over so well had they tried to suddenly market valet parking or waiter service at their eat-in tables.
If you need some help in shaping your specific brand image, drop us a line and we can give you some actionable ideas.