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.
Brush Up On Your Personal Branding To Cement Your Success As An Entrepreneur
Check your life skills ratings in these three key everyday areas to see whether you need to pull back from the edge.
When you run your own business, you are the brand champion and the brand ambassador – in fact, you are the brand. That is why in all the turmoil of start-up or getting a new product launched, you need to spare a moment to step back.
Think about how you are presenting to the world the brand that is so precious to you and that means so much for your future. Your clients certainly want to know and even see evidence that you are deeply committed to your brand. But there is a fine line between living the brand and letting the brand take you over and cloud your better judgement.
This is where personal branding becomes as important as your innovative product solutions or your customer service excellence. Edgy entrepreneur is one thing – but clients might shy away if they think that you have stepped over the edge and are more involved in process than delivery.
Check your life skills ratings in these three key everyday areas to see whether you need to pull back from the edge:
- Time management: Despite traffic problems or transport schedules, getting this right is vital. If you do not make it on time to an initial meeting with a client, this will raise alarm bells. The client’s immediate thought is, “Can I trust this person’s word about delivering on time?” Time is money and not being on time could ultimately cost you money.
- Look the part: If you look tired, dishevelled or have poor hygiene, instead of giving you a high five for pulling an all-nighter trying to troubleshoot a new product, clients might simply think that you do not fit with their corporate culture. Ask yourself if you even fit with your own corporate culture? Is this the way you want to present your brand and your business to the world?
- Clear the decks: You might just get away with your office or workshop looking like a tip where only you know where to find something. But do not let that attitude spill over into the world outside.
That apparently friendly and innocent courtesy of being escorted to your car by your host when you leave the meeting could cover them checking you out. Many business people judge potential service providers or partners by their car – not the brand but what it looks like.
Is it covered in dust and badly in need of a wash? Is it full of the rubbish of several lunches on the road and a muddle of paperwork? It is likely that they will deduce that this is how you run your business and how you would run your business relationship with them. In other words, the state of your car might get you the thumbs up or put an end to what had been a promising negotiation.
You can be how you like, do what you want when you are off duty. But when you are on your own business’s time, you are your own brand and you need to live up to it if you want to make your mark.
5 Things You Can Do To ‘Humanise’ Your Brand
Face it: Consumers don’t automatically trust your brand or anyone else’s. Whaddaya gonna do?
Let’s face it, consumers don’t trust brands. Most people view companies like faceless enemies; they’re just out to make money; they’re just telling us what we want to hear. So, if your company wants to win over more customers, you’ve got to get them to trust you.
In fact, according to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey 2018, more than one in three consumers surveyed ranked “trust in brand” among the top three factors, other than price, influencing their decision to shop at a particular retailer. How do you get consumers to trust your company? You do it by showing them the human side of your brand. That will inspire more trust from consumers and boost your conversions.
To form meaningful relationships with your audience, check out these five ways to humanise your brand.
Show off your funny bone
One easy way is to show off your funny bone. According to researchers from the Turku PET Centre, Oxford and Aalto universities, social laughter leads to an endorphin release in the brain and may promote the establishment of social bonds. So, if laughter can make us feel good and encourage connections between people, you should consider using it to get the same results for your business.
Not a comedian yourself? Don’t worry; you can share popular and funny content that already exists. It’s what Netflix does when the media giant shares funny images from its shows.
Showing your more playful side will help consumers see that you’re not just a business focused on selling a product; you’re a human who can put aside your seriousness and have some fun.
Put your team members in the spotlight
Letting consumers see the people behind the business is a powerful way to humanise your brand. If consumers are looking at just your logo all the time, they might not see your brand as human. So, put your team members in the spotlight.
Shoot some quality photos of your staff members and display them on your website and your social media platforms. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer; iPhones today can take some pretty stunning shots. You might even share your employee of the month and include a story about what makes that staffer so great. Seeing the amazing people “behind the curtain” will help consumers put a face to the brand name.
Share user-generated content
Sharing user-generated content works to humanise your brand in two ways: First, it’s exciting and flattering to the user who gets his or her photo featured on your website or social media feed. Second, it shows other consumers that you have great relationships with their peers and that those people already enjoy your products.
Instead of being asked to blindly trust a company’s claims, consumers will see real-life people falling in love with your products, which will promote trust in your brand. Example? Airbnb does user-generated content well by sharing with its followers the amazing experiences its customers are having around the world.
If you don’t have any user-generated content, ask your customers for it. Do this in an email marketing campaign; add it to your branded packages for shipping; or create a post on social media encouraging users to take a photo of/with your product and share it in combination with a unique, branded hashtag.
Tell authentic stories
Don’t spend all your time online just talking about how great your company is; humanise your brand by telling authentic stories. Sharing real stories about your failures, hardships and lessons that you’ve learned will help customers better relate and sympathise with you. According to Psychological Science, research suggests that shared pain may have positive social consequences; shared pain acts as a “social glue” to promote solidarity and togetherness between groups.
So, tell your target audience members stories that they can relate to, instead of simply presenting your brand as perfect. You could even share stories of your customers who previously struggled but then achieved success with help from your company/product. This will not only humanise your brand, but boost sales too.
Show appreciation for your customers
Letting your customers know that you care about and appreciate them is one of the best ways to humanise your brand. So, show appreciation for your best customers by sending them company swag or offering special discounts with a personalised message.
Buffer thanked one of its stand-out customers with not only company swag, but a personalised gift. I’m sure that those customers then became lifelong fans.
Not every company can afford to send out swag to all of their best customers, but sending a gift to just a few of your rockstar fans can go a long way. For a less costly strategy, show appreciation to new customers by simply sending a welcome/thank you email. Not only will such appreciation for your customers humanise your brand, it’ll turn those customers into brand ambassadors.
Over to you
Be prepared for your business to have a lot more die-hard customers. With these tips for humanising your brand, consumers will be able to connect with your business, relate to you on a deeper level and want to have a relationship with your company for the long term.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How A Strong Brand Protects Your Business
Brand enthusiasts are welcome to follow Kyle Rolfe’s latest thoughts on brand building in South Africa and his analysis on relevant global trends and issues via Twitter @kylerolfeSA.
It is all too easy for small businesses to become victims of intellectual property theft and seeing their products and services copied by unscrupulous competitors. A clear case in point is that of Woolworths, which was recently accused of copying a baby carrier made by Ubuntu Baba, having a cheaper version made in China and selling it as its own in-house product.
Woolworths eventually apologised and withdrew its product, after Cape Town entrepreneur Shannon McLaughlin exposed similarities between the retailer’s baby carrier and that made by her company, Ubuntu Baba.
Small business owners can protect themselves from having their products or services copied by developing a strong and unique brand.
Brand uniqueness and an authentically developed product will give you a level of protection in the market, as it will be more difficult for a competitor to copy your offering.
What small business owners should avoid is the “white label solution”. This is taking any product, even one manufactured overseas, and putting your own branding and packaging on it and reselling it as your own.
There is nothing stopping your competitor from sourcing that same product and putting their branding on it and selling it as their own. In this case, as a small business owner, you would have no recourse.
Ubuntu Baba’s unique brand and authentically developed product, designed and manufactured locally, is what helped the small business successfully take on a giant retailer like Woolworths. They didn’t simply take someone else’s product and rebrand it as their own, they actually designed and built their own product.
A unique brand and product will position you as more than just a reseller and will give you a certain level of strength and protection in the market. It allows clients to differentiate you from your competitors and can also positively affect their purchasing decisions, directly impacting your profitability.
Effective branding, that is well defined and distinct, will not only help build your reputation, but it will also make you stand out from the competition.
Ultimately, your brand is your business identity. It is the image that you show to your client, making it one of your company’s most valuable assets. Effective branding portrays a company’s values and attracts the right client.
A strong brand identity also has the benefit of making your company appear bigger and stronger than your competition and consumers are generally attracted to well-established companies. So, ask yourself whether your branding conveys professionalism, reliability and trust.