Today, more than ever, your brand is the most important resource you have. Especially online.
Why? Because 90% of customers check out a business’ online presence before making a purchase decision.
The question is: “What do people experience when they Google you, visit your site, or engage with you on social media?” In fact, a better question might be: “What do you want them to experience?”
In order to build awareness and loyalty, here are ten branding strategies any small business can use—no matter where you’re starting from. But first –
Branding definition: What is a brand?
In simplest terms, a brand is the core truth of your company brought to life.
Through branding, you leverage the following building blocks into a written, visual, and emotional connection with your customers:
- Define your mission and target audience. You should be able to tell people in one sentence what you do and who you do it for. Once you have that nailed down, work on a 60-second elevator pitch.
- Consider how you differ from your competitors. Maybe you’re the tech-savvy maverick in your industry. Or perhaps you’re the long-established, dependable one. Clarify how you stand out from the competition.
- Develop a brand voice. Giving your brand human characteristics—like outgoing, fun, and quirky—will help you communicate consistently and connect with your audience. As a small business owner, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine.
- Test your ideas. Before you apply your identity to all your other materials, run your logo and key messages by members of your target audience. Do they understand the benefits you are communicating?
- Be consistent. Branding is about applying your values to everything you do: clearly and consistently. From the way you answer the phone to the design of your Twitter avatar even to creating personalised invoices, everything you do should map back to your brand’s core concepts.
With those elements in mind, let’s dig into the strategies.
1. Nail down your brand’s positioning
Your brand tells people who you are, what you do, and who you do it for. The first branding strategy, then, is to establish your positioning and identity. Do you want to be pithy and clever? Silly and humorous? Serious and sophisticated?
The answers should depend on your target customer. Imagine the type of person that will buy your products, actively use them, and recommend them to others. Then write for that person—always.
Nike’s “Just do it” speaks to millions of athletes and non-athletes who know, in order to become great, you have to practice, work hard, and (well) just do it. Nike is a personal trainer—a bit demanding, but inspirational at the same time.
Likewise, Burger King’s “Have It Your Way” and McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” represent two different but effective approaches to presenting their benefit statements. Burger King says, “You have choices!” and McDonald’s tells you, “Everyone loves this food, and you’re going to love it too!”
2. Invest in design and stay ‘on brand’
According to a study by Kinesis Inc, 75% of customers will judge a business’ credibility based on its design. That means that if you’re not taking care of your visual aesthetic, you could be turning away valuable customers.
“Use photos of you that reflect your personality and style to make your website and brand stand out from the crowd,” says Cori Burchell, founder and CEO of Dear Miss Millionaire. “You’ll attract your ideal clients and get your message across with less effort.”
This should involve—at the very least—a logo and colour scheme.
For the first, a simple icon that represents your business is all you need. Look at Apple as a prime example. The symbol of an apple with a bite removed is iconic. For the second, once you pick an “anchor colour,” there are countless colour-scheme generators you can use to match and compliment it.
Don’t be afraid to work with a designer to capture the essence of your business. You’ll place your logo and colours on everything—so you better like them, and (more importantly) so should your ideal customers.
3. Show off your personality (like a person)
“Branding adds spirit and a soul to what would otherwise be a robotic, automated, generic price-value proposition,” says brand specialist David A. Aaker. “If branding is ultimately about the creation of human meaning, it follows logically that it is the humans who must ultimately provide it.”
No one wants to feel like they’re doing business with a faceless corporation. Adding personality to your brand and showing off the human side of your business allows your customers to feel emotionally invested.
Take some time to think about what your brand’s personality is like. Imagine what your business would look like if they were a person; what kind of quirks and personality traits do they have that make them unique?
Once you’ve figured that out, show off your brand’s personality at every possible opportunity.
Each time someone stumbles across your small business, they should feel like they’re interacting with a real human.
4. Give away valuable content
One of the best ways to build trust and loyalty is to not just have a website but to also publish valuable content on it. By valuable content, we mean content that was created with the express goal of enriching your audience’s lives.
Oftentimes you’ll find businesses make the classic mistake of creating a blog just so they can promote pieces that talk about themselves and their achievements.
“Over 90% of websites are still ego-centric corporate brochures,” says Jeff Leo Herrmann, president of Madison, Michigan and Market. “What about resources and education for prospects and customers? Why do we have to dig so hard to learn something?”
Avoid this mistake by:
- Listening to your audience
- Finding out what they’re struggling with
- And then solving those problems through content
That could be as simple as posting an article providing advice or as complex as creating a video series designed to entertain and educate.
“Think about your audience before you start, but know that you will only know so much. Then listen. Listen. And your audience will tell you what works and what they crave more of,” says Jerod Morris, founder and managing editor of Midwest Sports Fans. “If you do this over the long haul, you’ll win.”
5. Focus on the right social media channels
Social media is one of the most important channels businesses can use to promote their brand online: through both paid advertising and organic shares.
More than just being a place to promote your message, social media allows you to have a conversation with your audience.
“The one thing marketers should be doing to stay ahead of the curve is to build communities. It’s all about people,” says Samantha Kelly, founder and CEO of the Women’s Inspire Network.
“People are getting sick of automation and being sold to. We want real experiences and real humans. When you create a loyal, engaged community and reward them by surprising and delighting them for their loyalty, then those people will always share your content and feel part of your brand’s journey.”
Find out where your audiences already live. Instead of spreading yourself too thin, focus in on the two or three platforms that your audience is most active on.
For example, if your target customers are business professionals then LinkedIn might be your best bet. If the majority of your customers are millennials, then Twitter or Instagram would be more effective.
6. Put social proof everywhere
Coined by professor of marketing and psychology, Robert B. Cialdini, the term “social proof” describes the psychological phenomenon where we base our decisions off the experiences of others.
“Social proof is most powerful for those who feel unfamiliar or unsure in a specific situation and who, consequently, must look outside of themselves for evidence of how best to behave there,” writes Cialdini.
A great way to ease the worries of those unfamiliar with your brand is to show off its positive impacts on other people’s lives.
Remember, you’re not your best salesperson. Your customers are.
Do this by showing off the success stories of previous customers and clients, promoting positive reviews, and taking advantage of influencer marketing.
7. Encourage customer advocacy
Speaking of customers, according to a report by Nielsen, word-of-mouth marketing is by far the most trusted form of marketing. 92% of customers say suggestions from friends and family being the most significant factor when making a purchasing decision.
“The best advertising you can have is a loyal customer spreading the word about how incredible your business is,” says Shep Hyken, customer experience expert and strategist.
Done right, brand advocacy is inexpensive and can generate a significant return on investment. One way you can encourage customer advocacy is to simply ask customers to leave a positive review online, as the same Nielsen report found that 88% of people trust online reviews written by other customers as much as they trust referrals from their personal network.
Another way to encourage advocacy is to hold competitions and giveaways which involve customers posting reviews or mentioning your brand in order to enter. Give your customers opportunities to create and share user-generated content and become positive ambassadors for your brand.
8. Partner with influencers
Take advantage of the reputation and audience that influencers have already built up by partnering with them. Teaming up with other influencers and authorities in your space can give your brand a boost in credibility and reputation.
Traditionally, the extent of work a business will do with an influencer is to ask them to promote their brand for them.
It’s better to think outside the box when it comes to working with influencers.
“Working with influencers to co-create content can be an incredibly effective way to build authority and credibility for brand content,” says Ashley Zeckman, Senior Director of Digital Strategy at TopRank Marketing.
Doing so can also increase the reach of your content and put you in front of new and engaged audiences.
9. Pay attention to what’s trending
This branding strategy is a three-for-one.
One, paying attention to what’s trending in the news gives you a golden opportunity to engage in conversations with your audience. Two, it helps your brand stay relevant and up-to-date. Three, it gives you a near limitless supply of inspiration for social media and even onsite content.
You can do all that by keeping your ear to the ground and seeing what new topics are trending within your community.
Follow the same sites and consume the same content as your target audience. Endear yourselves to your customers by showing that you understand and value the same things they do.
Consistently doing this not only opens up more opportunities for you to have a conversation with your customers, but it’ll also give you a chance to show off your personality.
Consumers crave brands that take a stand on social issues like sustainability, green business, and more.
10. Monitoring your brand’s online reputation
As your business gains popularity, people are likely to start talking about it online more frequently via blogs, consumer-review sites, and social media networks. But is everything they’re saying positive or even accurate?
In order to combat inaccuracies and manage a positive brand reputation, it’s important to frequently monitor what’s being said about your business.
Google Alerts used to serve this purpose relatively well, but it doesn’t monitor alerts on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter.
Here are three tools to consider:
Without a strong brand, you could get lost amidst other businesses competing for your customers.
Building a brand takes time, consistency, and commitment. But if you put in the effort, you can take your business to the next level.