This post was written by Lynne O’Connor, Senior Director of Client & Brand Strategy at Vistaprint.
There is a lot of buzz about branding, and while it might seem to be the domain of large corporations, small businesses can harness the power of branding too. The fundamental principles are essentially the same whether you’re a start-up or an established corporation. Brands serve as shortcuts for decision-making, and a strong brand has real value — it can increase the odds of a business being chosen versus the competition, and as a result, help build sales and profit. Here are seven steps to get you on the path to effective brand-building:
1. Know thyself.
Ask yourself what makes your business special. Why should (or do) customers choose your business over competitors? If you’re not sure, conduct an informal survey with some of your best customers. Also, think about the ideals that guide you in operating your business — these values should be reflected in your brand.
Hint: Don’t skip this step. Determining your unique value proposition is the foundation for brand building, and you don’t want to start on shaky ground.
2. Know your target audience.
Define who it is that you aim to attract and serve, and think about the needs they have that you can fulfill. Start with the basics of their demographics and behaviors that are relevant to your business, such as home ownership or hobbies. Next, layer on the perceptions or attitudes that might make potential customers most receptive. The key here is to make sure that the combination of what you offer and what makes you special appeals to your target audience.
Hint: Current and potential customers will likely include multiple segments. A tip we’ve seen work well is to profile each target segment. For example, describe your ideal customer in terms of age, gender, family status, key needs, attitudes, and purchase behavior. Use this info to guide you on where and how to communicate effectively with each audience.
3. Position yourself to win.
Your brand “lives in the minds” of your current and potential customers. How do you want them to think about your business? What needs do you fill in their lives? How do you want customers to feel about doing business with you? Establishing an emotional connection with your customers adds power to your brand. Attracting customers and then keeping them coming back requires more than just a relevant offering — you also need to stand out. A clear positioning statement that articulates how you’ll differentiate yourself will provide a blueprint to drive your planning, marketing and sales efforts.
Example: Target differentiated itself from other big box stores by creating a new position that included not only delivering good value, but also offering the appeal of design. Think about what added dimension you might offer to further stand out versus other options in your market.
4. Find your voice and define your look.
With your strategy in place, the next step involves creating and communicating a “brand identity” that not only looks professional, but also reflects the unique you. While a brand is more than a name or a logo, those elements along with the colors, visuals, and tone of voice you use in your marketing materials, website, etc. all say something about who you are and what customers can expect if they choose to do business with you.
Hint: Ask yourself how you’d like people to describe your company, product or service and then think about how this description might be expressed visually. For many business owners, the first tangible expression of their brand comes in the form of a business card — a sign to the world that you’re ready to do business.
5. Be consistent.
Project a professional look that rivals the “big guys” by coordinating your look across the full range of marketing materials you use — from your business cards and other printed materials such as envelopes and letterhead to your online presence via a website or Facebook page. Your communication and marketing materials should signal that you’ve “got it together,” and you’re someone customers can trust to get the job done well.
Hint: As a busy business owner on a tight budget, you may be wondering how on earth you’ll be able to find the time and money to create a professional, coordinated look. That’s where Vistaprint can really help. Check out this example:
6. Live the brand.
At its essence, a brand represents the promise of an experience. How customers think of your company will be based on all of their experiences with you. Impressions start forming as customers become aware of your business, whether from word-of-mouth referral, advertising, or some other channel. Their image continues forming at every touch point from purchase and delivery to customer service and ongoing communications including social media. All of these experiences should support your positioning and reflect your brand identity.
Hint: One tool to help insure that your business delivers on your brand promise is to create a customer experience map. Outline each of the key interactions a prospect and then customer would have with your business and then define the type of experience you’d hope to create. Compare this to the actual experience you’re delivering today and identify improvement opportunities.
7. Stay the course.
Establishing your business takes time, and so does building your brand. Perhaps you started your business on a part-time basis and are now looking to ramp up to full time. Alternatively, you may be well established, but looking to grow. You’re sure to have lots of ideas about how to promote your business. My advice? Try them out. Find ways to stay in front of your customers and prospects so when the need arises for your product or service, your brand is top of mind.
Hint: Have fun along the way. Think of your building your brand as sharing your passion for what you do!