Let’s be honest. When you start your own business your main concerns are keeping afloat, getting customers and providing a good service. The idea of branding your business is way, way down the list of priorities. After all, even the idea of ‘branding’ is a little bit nebulous, a little bit insubstantial.
However, it is essential you start to consider what your brand is and what it means as soon as you can. This is particularly true now because search engines such as Google are giving brands more weight in their results.
So, I guess the first question that needs to be addressed is: what is a brand? A brand is the identity your business has that separates it from other business. It is what your business does, what it stands for, how it resonates with people outside of what it actually sells or produces. As I said in the intro to this piece, this does sound a little vague and ill-defined so let’s take one example: Nike.
Nike is a very well constructed brand. If I said ‘sneakers’, Nike is probably one of the first companies that would spring to mind. But Nike’s brand identity goes beyond that: it sees itself as a sports lifestyle ideal that everyone should aspire to and buy into. In this way its brand is completely divorced from the products it sells.
When we think of Nike, we think of Michael Jordan, the Swoosh, basketball, cool sneakers, physical fitness, athletes and athletics, even hip hop. These are aspirational ideas that Nike, as a brand, associates itself with so – in the mind of us as consumers – by buying a Nike product, we are buying a piece of these things. The brand is what we buy into and it’s this that allows Nike to sell us $150 sneakers that cost about $10 to make.
This is what you, as a small business owner, need to do with your own business. Spend some time thinking about what it is people are buying into rather than what you are selling. Every service or product ever sold has a value that is external to its actual function. Huh? Well, let me give you an example:
Dishwashers are machines that wash dishes: that is their function. Could you wash dishes without a dishwasher? Yes, of course you could – it just takes longer and the dishes don’t get as clean and you don’t want to do it.
So the reason people buy dishwashers is not to wash their dishes: it’s to save time that can be spent on more pleasurable activities.
If you have a retail dishwasher business, your brand is about freeing up time to do stuff that’s fun. That’s what you have to get across to people so that they associate the idea of having more time free from chores with you and your products. This is what really differentiates modern businesses from one another: not cheaper prices, not even better service. Branding is the reason people will come to your company and not someone else who sells the same or similar thing.
Let’s go with another example and here I make no excuses for using one of my clients. They are an online gift company that sells a wide range of gifts – from fortieth birthday gifts to gifts for babies. Clearly, all the other websites in the space are selling pretty much the same things and they are competing with some big names such as Amazon and Play.com so brand differentiation is essential.
So, just what is it that people buying from a gift company are actually getting aside, obviously, from the gifts themselves? Well, almost without exception, people buy gifts to give to other people. Sometimes they do this out of duty but primarily to make the receiver happy. In other words, gifts create good memories both for the buyer and receiver.
The plan is to build the brand around the idea of ‘making memories’ so that this intangible value of gift giving becomes associated with my client’s company more so than with its competitors.
To do that, the whole process of visting the website, ordering, receiving the goods, interaction with staff, etc must also be memorable (in a good way!)
Brainstorm within your own company or with your customers and clients to determine what benefits you are really delivering and build your brand around those not around things like ‘we have more dishwashers than anyone else’ or ‘our prices are cheaper’.
The trickiest part of the whole process, however, is exactly how to go about building the brand once you’ve determined what you are really all about. This is particularly true for small and mid sized businesses that don’t have huge budgets to throw at glossy TV and magazine ads.
The good thing is it can be done. One of the methods that big brands use is sponsorship. They sponsor events, competitions, even schools: anything they think that will reflect well on their brand where they feel there is some synergy between that event and what they believe their brand stands for.
Clearly, small businesses don’t have the money to sponsor events like a Rolling Stones tour or the Reading Festival, but the same sort of things can be done on a local level. Find out about local events that reflect what your brand is about and I’m sure that if you approached them about sponsoring a prize or the whole event, you would get a positive reaction. If you can’t find anything that suits, start your own.
Once you’ve done this, then make sure the local press are aware of it. Indeed, with low cost national Press Release distribution services readily available, you may be able to get national coverage.
Additionally, as well as the usual types of online advertising and marketing, you should start to look at pushing your brand values online. This can be done for peanuts, particularly if you use Google PPC and their content network.
Create some banner ads that are solely about your brand proposition rather than your products, service or prices.
IE: You could have an ad that reads ‘Spend More Time With Your Feet Up….DishwashersRUs.com’
The goal here is not to generate clicks so much as make people aware of you and to make that connection between your brand and their leisure time.
Be creative: there are loads of ways of leveraging the internet to build your brand. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started (still using the dishwashers company as an example):
A series of amusing YouTube videos related to things people hate to do.
Create Facebook and Twitter competitions where entrants have to write about the thing in their life that is the biggest chore.
Regular website promos on specific days of the week or month,. These can be named things such as ‘Timesaver Saturdays’ where anyone ordering on Saturday between 9 and 10am gets free dishwasher tablets.
Competitions where the winner gets all their chores done for them for an entire weekend (yes, including washing up).
By now, you are getting the idea. It is time for you to brand your business. It doesn’t matter how large or small, it is branding that will make you stand out from your competitors. By doing that, you will be the go-to place to buy whatever it is you are selling.
Even better, once search engines like Google come to view you as a brand and associate you with the products you sell, it will become ever more easy to obtain top ranks in the search engine results pages.
About The Author: Mark Stockton is an internet marketing consultant, who works with small and medium businesses such as Find Me A Gift Ltd and, yes, he owns a dishwasher.