by Kerri Konik
“Once I’m up and running, I’ll invest in building a brand.” Does this sound like you? It’s a common mindset among small business owners who focus on marketing and selling, converting leads into customers. We set up a business, but fail to see a business as both a business and a brand. Defining a brand, what? Hey, I’m good. I have a name, a logo, and a website. Let’s sell.
As owners, we wear many hats throughout the day and night. Strapped for cash and time, many small business owners go the DIY route: assembling a mishmash of images and graphics, whipping up a website and some messaging and combining disparate images in order to start selling. The focus is on getting it done and getting started on sales. After all, that is where the revenue is generated, right?
The pitfalls to this approach
Foregoing branding means your messages may be getting through loud and clear, but produce undesired results and create long-term problems. While not immediately apparent, the impact from this approach will rear its ugly head all too quickly and painfully in various ways:
• You’re getting more questions than sales
• Audiences are not clear on what you’re all about
• Potential customers buy from your competition
Customers today are very sophisticated, and they innately expect a lot from a brand before they decide to align with them and “vote” with their dollars. They demand to know who you are and where you fit in the world, and they’re impatient. If your brand information isn’t readily shared with them, they will decide on their own what to think of you.
Big brands with big budgets have conditioned customers to expect to understand a brand and to feel a strong connection with the products, services and the companies before they decide to buy from them. There is a decision point at which customers select which brands to become a part of. Customers form a connection and a relationship with their brands, and if they are happy in the relationship, brand loyalty is born.
In order for small businesses to compete, we must create and cultivate emotional connections with our audiences though our messaging, marketing and engagement. To succeed, we must elicit the desired perceptions and be able to evoke the desired emotions and feelings about our brand to convert prospects into customers—loyal customers.
Audiences make meaning of everything
When we market, we are communicating. When we communicate both intentional and unintentional messages, our audiences are in turn generating emotional responses and automatically developing perceptions—our brains are designed to do this.
These meaning-making events are experiences with our brand. These brand experiences happen right from the start with our target audiences, our competitors and in our industry landscape. Branding later is not an option.
Without clarity and a focus for messaging, small business owners use images, language and content that are not on strategy. Sending inconsistent, mixed messages with the wrong signals generates unintended perceptions among prospects, wreaking havoc on our businesses.
Flip how you see brands, and branding
Usually as business owners, the way we think about brands is upside down.
When we define our brand as our branding —the logo, colors and images, we are really talking about our design and implementation. In this definition, branding’s role is a support to marketing, not a business driver.
Small business branding is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Investing time to ensure clarity and development of a professional business brand is essential. A brand is the critical business driver to all communications, and it’s what impacts every aspect of the business.
Try this on: Flip the concept of strategic branding being a part of delivering the marketing and sales strategies, to being a top-line business communications strategy – one that is defined by the business model.
This flip unleashes the brand to be an appreciating asset that you should protect, nurture and help evolve. This is why you hear big brands speak of their brand as their most precious asset. It is the same for the small business owner.
Brand strategy aligns with business strategy, and when clearly defined, it easily informs all internal and external communication strategies. It develops and cultivates meaningful relationships—internally, with leadership, teams and talent partners, and externally, with prospects, customers, the industry, influencers, investors and the media.
Your brand is the most valuable asset in your business, yet it is an invisible asset. When branding is delivered right, the benefits and ROI are visible, measurable and immediate.
When you communicate what your brand stands for, you resonate with your audience. They feel inspired by you, your products and services, and as a result, they connect, engage and willingly choose to become your customers who are proud to be part of your brand. You are trusted, and your industry sees you as an authority. Your brand is one of the governing pillars of your business, and when constructed well, will support your customer relationships, company growth and expansion over time.
The exciting news
Even companies with the smallest budgets can define their brand, design a brand look and feel and develop key messaging. This lets them resonate with and inspire their perfect customers, and successfully deliver experiences that cultivate connection and community, close big business, foster relationships and create loyal customers. Now that’s branding.
By adding in one critical step to the process, you’ll be on your way to a knockout brand and branding strategy. By inserting the clarity component to the front of that train, you will transform your business and your brand, not to mention your profits.
Every small business owner must prioritize the investment in branding as part of business ownership. As a business grows and matures, brand evolution is part of the business plan.
A little clarity goes a long way
Anyone can get clear on definition and articulation of their business. Then, creating on-target branding is a cakewalk. Engaging customers and providing extraordinary customer experiences is fun, rewarding and profitable.
5 brand clarity keys you must define:
• Define the business model. Keep this simple. Describe how you envision the customers, the offerings, the size, revenue goals and the team in one, three, five and 10 years and beyond.
• Define the solutions you provide to match the problems your customers have—not the specific features and benefits of your awesome product, but the transformation you enable for your customers, from A to B.
• Define who who your perfect customers and target audiences are. Define who they are, what drives them, what transformation are they seeking, where they shop, their values, their personality and their preferences and attitudes.
• Define the why for your organization. The reason you exist, the problem you want to solve, what you wish to bring to the world and why it matters.
• Define the emotional solution you deliver to your customers and the emotional result they experience from being part of your brand.
Armed with your clarity, you’ll find that designing the brand and messaging is fun and easy. Keep it simple, as less is more. Planning the build is only an investment of time and focus.
Here are a few simple ways the small business owner can DIY the design phase:
• Create an image collage for the who. If there is more than one, do one for each.
• Create a visual collage of the big iconic brands you resonate with.
• Collect samples of words and articles of the written tone that is your brand. Cut out magazine articles and ads from the big brands that market and message to your perfect customers. They have done the research and know what performs.
• Select colors and images that communicate correctly, and generate the responses you desire in your audiences.
• Consider all channels in your design process— online platforms, traditional media, all communications and all interactions with the world, such as phone, fulfillment, speaking, teaching, podcasts and videos.
The biggest challenge is to stand for something and to be brave enough to state it boldly. We tend to be cautious in our claims. However, you must stake your claim, and declare your value. Then demonstrate it.
With your design plan, you now can develop your assets. What’s brilliant is you can develop it right the first time. Build the assets, platform and tools with an investment that is right-sized for your stage. Even the smallest budgets can develop on-brand messaging. Just be sure to remember these key points:
• Free tools and resources are great; it’s how you use them that matters.
• Less is more. Invest in the primary assets, and add as you go.
• Level up your communication assets as you level up your business.
Branding is not about you; it’s about a relationship with you. It’s about hosting interactions with you that are valuable. Shift from selling to engaging with your audiences. Adopt the mantra it’s not a transaction, it’s an interaction. This doesn’t cost anything.
• Smile. Even when you’re only on the phone, or in a webinar.
• Be interested. Care about customers, their goals and their journey.
• Respect them and treat them well.
• Think about how you can surprise them.
How you engage with your audience is your brand. The way you interact and how you make them feel is your brand. Your brand lives in the hearts of your customers.
Deliver extraordinary experiences. Wow them, care about them, and they will love you back.
Kerri Konik is a seasoned senior branding executive who has committed her expertise to bringing big agency strategies to small business owners so their brands can resonate, compete and prevail. Kerri is the CEO of Brandscape Atelier, a women-owned boutique agency specializing in strategic branding for small business. They develop brand identity, messaging and marketing that creates emotional connection, increases sales, drives growth and profits and results in sustainability and enabling a greater impact in the world.