Before you start, keep this in mind. The average SME doesn’t need to worry too much about SEO or spending money on a web consultant. If you’re out there and relevant to your audience, that’s as much search engine optimisation as you need. There are plenty of opportunities to build a strong brand on a small budget.
Regardless of how the message is articulated and distributed, the core mission of branding remains the same: Communicating to customers who you are, what you do and how you do it. The web is the simplest, most direct channel to convey that information.
Every company should have an online presence, and the cost of developing a site has come down significantly in the past few years. Organic search can still drive traffic.
People go online looking for a firm’s service or product, and all you have to do is get found. It doesn’t matter if you’re a single retailer and can’t afford the time or don’t have the expertise to drive traffic. Most people are just looking for directions to your store anyway.
Websites serve different purposes for different companies. Sometimes the goal is generating new business, sometimes it’s about relaying messages to clients and other times it’s defining or even redefining the firm’s image. If someone wants to find out more information about you, they go to your website. It’s the convergence of all your marketing messages. It’s easy to create an identity because it’s virtual.
Getting your brand message right
The challenge is getting that identity across in quick, broad strokes. Businesses have just moments to succinctly communicate their purpose and value to consumers before they click away for good.
You’ve got to be bold, you’ve got to be provocative, and you’ve got to be daring. Create a language and vocabulary that allows people to get that.
Branding is what sets you apart – it’s a natural magnet.
If people come to your site, they need to say, ‘Yes – this is who can answer my problem.’ If you make a bad impression in the first five seconds, you’re toast.
The most essential component of successful online branding is the human element. People are craving a story. They want to know something about who they’re buying from, and they feel like they need to like and trust you.
You’ve got to shout what it is that makes you special and makes you different. Our personalities are what drive our brands. Look at Richard Branson – his personality is embedded in all of the Virgin brands. You need to put a face on your business.
Perhaps no tool is more effective at putting a human face on a firm than social media – and no tool is less expensive, either. In addition to utilising social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, you can also introduce your own blog as a means to pass along content that underscores the company’s knowledge and expertise, with an emphasis on local information that directly affects customers.
Make sure you’re regularly adding fresh content. Not only are you providing value, you’re also adding pages to your website – that’s more pages for search engines to index, and more opportunities for customers to find you.
All businesses have information to share, regardless of vertical. Not enough companies take advantage of the opportunity to tell a story that’s bigger than the company itself. There’s always a story you can tell. Maybe your merchandise is made from local products or from sustainable materials. You’ve got to find that unique angle.
Social media outreach also lets businesses keep tabs on their online reputations and interact directly with fans and foes alike. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the ratings and review sites.
There’s no hiding from that. If you’re getting a bad review, you need to fix it and think about how to encourage good reviews. No longer does the general public believe in ads – they believe in what is said on Facebook.
Branded for life: Boosting your online image
Although experts agree that an engaging online presence is a must for any business, a user-friendly website and compelling products and services aren’t enough to distinguish your brand from the rest of the pack.
Getting your brand out there and setting yourself apart should be easy, but it’s not. You’ve got to be fearless, and you’ve got to live out loud – make yourself unmistakably unforgettable.
Here are some suggestions for making it happen:
Establish an identity.
If you can’t work out what the unforgettable, differentiating spark is, you’re a dead brand walking. It’s a matter of working out what you want to do and working out the attitude of your brand. Your brand has a behaviour and a tone. A brand likes to show off and have fun. It wants to come out.
Be easy to find.
You want to make sure you’re not invisible to search engines – that’s why some people avoid all-Flash websites. Make sure you’re represented in all the local directories. Go to GetListed.org, type in your business name and see where you come up on searches.
Steal good ideas and make them your own.
It’s important to create a look and feel that represents your business in the best way, but not everyone has a design aesthetic, so you might need a little bit of help along the way. I recommend that people look around and see what speaks to them.
If you can identify that, then track down the person who worked on that website. But be accountable, give the designer some benchmarks, and be clear about how you want to express your business.
Watch for opportunities.
Lots of people miss the boat in terms of call-to-action. Once you get people to your website, it’s not always clear what you want them to do.
Make sure there’s a clear path of motion through the site. The goal is to get customers to convert. Insert subtle cues throughout the copy, and give them some incentive to make that initial contact.
Remember other marketing channels.
Don’t forget about basic digital tools – email marketing still works. Email can feature posts from your blog; repurpose content you’re using elsewhere.
Also, leverage your offline promotions to complement what you’re doing online. For example, list your Yelp page on your business card and encourage customers to go there to let you know how you’re doing.
Some people are so intense about their brand, but it shouldn’t be a struggle. People like people who are friendly and relaxed. So have fun.