by Helen C. Holt
Now and again when I’m out shopping, I face what I call the stilettos vs. rent dilemma: Is the item in front of me a necessity or a luxury that can wait?
My “stilettos” happen to be housewares. A cute indoor water fountain or an expensive candle set can elicit an out-of-body experience. They’re awesome – but only necessities after monthly bills are paid.
As a freelance marketing copywriter who works with small businesses, I’ve discovered I’m not alone. Small business owners also face the stilettos vs. rent dilemma. When discussing brand strategy, they often feel that branding is more like buying stilettos – a luxury, not a necessity for their business.
Why branding is not a luxury but a necessity
In today’s digital marketplace, your competition is no longer just the store across the street. Online you’ve got tens, hundreds or even thousands of businesses just like yours vying for the Google spotlight.
When potential customers look for a product or service, they have more to choose from than ever before. Everyone knows who Walmart or McDonald’s is. People in the personal development industry know who Tony Robbins is. In the customer satisfaction niche, people know what Angie’s List is.
That’s why it's critical for small businesses to have a strong brand identity. I’m probably restating the obvious here, but buyers’ options are plentiful. Small businesses don't have the capital for huge marketing campaigns to compete with larger businesses, so it’s even more critical you know who you are, what you offer and who you’re offering your product or service to in order to succeed in today's digital marketplace.
I often meet with business owners or startups trapped in the midst of a brand identity crisis. Many are technically doing the right things, like launching a website and getting a logo and a slogan; they’re just not doing it in the most effective way. To them, these things can seem like sheer window dressing in the midst of their business’s daily demands and operations. The reality is that a loyal brand that connects intimately with its audience is the razor’s edge that small businesses have in a world of impersonal global conglomerates.
What is a brand, really?
A brand is a living, breathing organism, not stagnant or one-dimensional. Your business is like a person—it has a personality, a life purpose, a mission and a set of goals. This person (your company) has its likes and dislikes and own way of doing things. It functions as a medium, controlling how you interface with the world.
Growing a brand starts with great brand storytelling. Your business is a person and every person has a backstory. Tell the right story and you can capture attention, entertain, enlighten and persuade all in the course of few minutes. Your audience will connect emotionally with your service or product—especially if the story ends with a genuine promise to make their lives better in some way.
In my line of work, I typically spend just as much (or more) time explaining the importance of a strong brand as I do writing the actual copy. Once the fun part of brand storytelling is over, the next vital step is brand execution – the ability to make a company brand into something they may have never thought of before: actionable.
Decoding branding vs. brand execution
A brand is your promise to your customers. Brand execution is how you deliver on that promise. In short, brand execution means making your brand actionable.
A brand being actionable means it is not merely an idea or a concept; it has a tangible action plan. For that promise to be tangible, a brand has to be defined in clear terms that can be delivered across all marketing channels in direct, actionable steps.
A few years ago, I received a crash course in brand execution with a highbrow client who hired me to do brand-specific copywriting for her website. She was a marketing executive launching her own consultancy firm after 15 years in the business.
This client worked with the biggest corporations in the world, offering a specialty niche she called brand execution. As I was helping her conceptualize her personal brand identity, she inadvertently helped me understand brand execution and its importance to a business’s growth.
3 ways to execute your brand
1. Employee engagement. Your brand personality and ideology compose the blueprint to the company’s work culture. They dictate how you engage your employees and colleagues. Some companies engage their employees with a work culture that’s more fun, casual and communal, while others are more formal and traditional. Hours may be flexible and working remotely is optional for some companies; for others, the standard is more of a traditional corporate culture with a 40-hour-per-week schedule, in the office only.
2. Customer engagement. Your brand determines the relationship dynamic you hold with your target audience. Are you one-on-one or an expert? How do your tone and voice reflect this relationship? Does your online presence echo who you are and what you’re about? Remember, first impressions are everything when it comes to online marketing. A sloppily created website with typos and a mishmash of elements thrown together without persuasive copy can misrepresent your brand and act as a deterrent to potential clients and customers.
3. Consistency. Everything about your brand identity must be consistent and recognizable across all marketing platforms. This includes your logo, brand colors, tagline and tone. The way you engage your customers should be the same on your home page as it is on your social media pages. If your tone is fun and conversational on your website, it should be the same on social media. The same applies if the tone is informative.
How to start today
Here’s the good news: Many small businesses are unaware that even a few simple, inexpensive tweaks can increase customer ROI.
Here are a few tweaks you can begin implementing today:
• Create a lead magnet collecting emails to build your customer list. Install promotional widgets to increase website optimization. You can also use CRM software. Both do not require coding, are user-friendly and are very affordable.
• Create a strong call to action on the home page, linking the reader directly to your contact page. Readers need encouragement to seize the moment and take their casual browsing to the next level. An urgent call to action looks something like this:
You're here, I'm here. What are we waiting for? Let's talk TODAY! Contact me.
• Optimize keywords throughout your website copy to make your company's name show up in search engines. This includes the page title as well as the content. Google has a free tool called Google My Business to help small businesses leverage local search engines to their advantage.
• Create a Key Message Copy Platform. This is a comprehensive document (usually around 10 pages) that contains all relevant marketing messages and statements about a product or service. Its purpose is to serve as the master messaging document for that product or service. Once completed, a Key Message Copy Platform becomes the springboard from which your company can write all the marketing pieces related to that service or product. This includes things like sales letters, video scripts, brochures, website pages, email campaigns, blog articles, white papers, employee manuals and ads for recruiting new talent.
They say no one plans to fail, they fail to plan. Your business has a brand with a plan, so get started executing it today.
Helen C. Holt is a freelance marketing writer specializing in brand execution. She creates Key Message Copy Platforms for small and medium-sized businesses. The bulk of her work includes drip marketing campaigns, newsletters, website pages and blogs. Her online home is at The Writing-Preneur and on Twitter, where she shares her musings on writing, branding and anything else she feels that day—stilettos and candles included.