By Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO iVIBES
After my last post about being authentic, a number of people have asked me to do a follow up post on how to build a brand. However, in speaking to several aspiring entrepreneurs over the past week, something occurred to me - many people are still not clear about what a brand actually is. The importance of branding should not be underestimated, as the results of good branding can:
- Build the trust relationships necessary for strategic growth
- Help customers make purchasing decisions
- Convey authenticity and transparency
- Set appropriate expectations for quality and consistency
- Build customer loyalty and advocacy
What's a brand?
Well, for starters, a brand is not a logo. Sure, a logo is associated with a brand, but a logo, in and of itself, is not a brand. The easiest way to think about branding is that your brand is everything your customer knows about you - it's your story told in the context of your customer, the difference your products or services make in the lives of your customers. Image, products/services, reputation, and social media presence are all important components of your story, so it's important to keep a few things in mind when crafting your brand story.
What's your why?
If your brand is your story, you first need to think of who you are as a company, what you do, and why you do what you do. You can't be all things to all people, so this really requires some deep reflection and introspection. What was it that drove you to start your own business? What problem are you trying to solve, and for whom? What are your key strengths and core values? The answers to these questions will inform the crafting of your brand. Remember, there are lots of other companies offering similar products and services, and if you want customers to choose you instead of your competition, you need to create a brand story that resonates with them.
Know your customers
If your customer is going to be the hero of your brand story, it only makes sense that you have a clearly defined view of who exactly the customer is. Ask yourself specific questions about your customers to make sure that you're actually addressing their needs. You will need to determine things like an age group, education level, socio-economic status, their hobbies or interests, the need that your products or services will solve for them, and what would make them switch to your brand.
Once you figure out who your customers are, you need to figure out how you will connect with them - social media, store fronts, e-commerce - and how you will keep the relationship going after the initial dialogue. One thing to consider is that for many entrepreneurs, the impetus for starting a business is to solve a problem that affects them personally. If you find yourself so annoyed by a problem that impacts your daily life that you feel compelled to find a solution, you can model the solution you will provide for your customers by being your own customer. Once you put yourself in your customers' place, you can better relate to their concerns, and you can ensure that your brand resonates with your customers.
Show some personality
Also, take the opportunity to let your personality shine through when connecting with your customers. People don't want to feel like their talking to robots or a distant corporate machine. In fact, large companies are spending lots of money these days to try to re-brand themselves as smaller companies. Take advantage of actually being a small company and infuse your unique personality throughout your brand communications and show your customers that you are someone they can relate to.
Be a pro
If you want customers to trust you and be loyal to your brand, you had better be professional. Go ahead and spend a few bucks on a designer who can craft the image you want to represent your brand. Hire a business coach to help you with your strategy, and invest in cloud-based systems that can handle your billing, proposals, and communications. A simple rule of thumb goes like this: as you treat your business, you will treat your customers or clients. You know what they say -it takes years to build a good reputation, but only 5 minutes to ruin it. I'm not saying you have to go broke on tools and support systems, but customers can tell when you're being cheap, and in this age of low monthly payment for cloud services and outsourced gigs on the internet, there's absolutely no reason for you to go to market with a shoddy business image.
Mind your business
Once you've identified your customer base, you need to make sure that you keep them engaged in the manner that they've come to expect. If you have 10,000 followers on Twitter, tweet to them daily. Instagram? Use Instagram stories to keep the connection fresh. Go live on Facebook and continue to tell your brand story and keep your audience involved. Occasionally, you will want to switch things up and try to tell the story with real stories of your customers and the impact your business has made in their lives. Again, the key is resonance, and consistency.
Make it happen
Take some time and give some meaningful thought to who you are, your why, and who your customers are. Don't be in a rush to put out something and then realize that your presence doesn't convey they image you'd hoped. That's a sure way to miss out on the customers you're hoping to gain. However, after you have carefully planned your brand strategy, take a deep breath and get out there and make it happen.