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The Importance Of Brand

The issue of ‘brand’ is often discussed these days, but what does the concept actually mean for the average SME?

Ed Hatton

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Brands and branding have become the focus of much marketing attention and some hype. Hands up all who recognise all or most of these brands: PrivateProperty, Sorbet, Rocking the Daisies, Turrito Networks, GetSmarter, The Creative Counsel, MiX Telematics and Paycorp? These are all highly successful fast-growing businesses that have featured as success stories in Entrepreneur in the past year.

Their markets must have valued their brand for them to have achieved such remarkable successes, and many of them are far from household names. So how important is your brand to your entrepreneurial business? Who should be familiar with it? What values should it portray?

Related: How Fashion Start-Up ToVch Built A Brand Presence With Only A Little Budget

Back to basics

A ‘brand’ derives from the brand mark burned on livestock to mark ownership. Technically, it is a trademark for a company or product, but in the modern sense it is the value consumers place on the advantages or qualities of the person, company or product. There are many definitions of brand and branding and this adds to the confusion about what to do about branding your business and products.

This is a good one: “Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are,” says Anne Handley of CC Chapman.

A more cynical one from David Meerman Scott: “Branding is what lazy and ineffective marketing people do to occupy their time and look busy.”

Sadly this last one is only too true of many companies selling brand development, and then delivering a logo, a pretty website and templates for letterheads, business cards, and adverts. That is simply brand design, and, yes, you need it for your business but do not think that this will produce the mysterious ‘branding’ that everyone says is so important.

Handley says your brand is “who people think you are,” which is a collection of all the experiences they have had, read or heard about your company and its products. This will include marketing messages delivered to them via your website, advertising, social media or PR, but consumer experiences or stories of the experience of others will always be much more important. What you do counts, not what you tell people you do.

Visibility

Customers (and potential customers) need to be aware of your brand, but that does not mean you should aim for universal recognition. You cannot compare your brand with the global icons such as Nike, Virgin and Coca Cola, which are so often used when branding is discussed.

Trying to copy them is likely to cost you a large amount of money that could be better spent elsewhere. Focus your brand messages on your customers and those that are reasonably likely to become customers.

The successful companies I listed earlier had no need to become household names. Many defined their target market tightly and then gave customers exactly what they needed with wonderful service. Their customers talked to others and word of mouth, the most powerful brand media, worked for them.

Related: 4 Ways To Protect Your Digital Personal Brand

Marketing budget will always be limited and you need to split this between brand building and generating sales enquiries. For many businesses this should mean spending most of your available funds generating sales leads and intensifying your efforts to give customers product quality and service levels they will talk about.

A ‘must have’ is a website which delivers crisp, truthful and easily digested information about your company and products. It must be visible to people searching for similar products via the Internet.

Always test your own website by making the sort of enquiries your prospective customers would and see how visible you are. Use social media sites and customer surveys to establish how well you are living up to your brand promise. Remember Handley’s words: “Brand is who people think you are.”

Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.

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Branding

Why You Should Prioritise Brand Image

Just because you’re a start-up doesn’t mean you can ignore the importance — and power — of brand image. Here are four simple and cost-effective ways to get noticed in a competitive space.

Jennilee Peremore

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It’s surprising how many entrepreneurs pay very little attention to their brand image even though the image is the first thing that customers see.

For most start-ups, the focus is the quality of their product or service — as it should be.

However, awareness is critical during the start-up phase of a business. Awareness is made possible through marketing that focuses on the brand image of the company. During the start-phase, entrepreneurs often exclude the marketing function because they perceive it to be a luxury expense only enjoyed by medium and large enterprises.

The problem is that many entrepreneurs have a limited view of marketing and believe that it must include extravagant television, radio and print campaigns. This is especially true for companies that provide more scientific products or services; those operating in accounting, IT, engineering or similar practical fields. Owners in these fields are usually not familiar with the benefits of marketing or how to effectively critique and implement their marketing plan.

Related: These 6 Online Habits Are Common, But They’re Killing Your Brand’s Credibility

On the other side of the coin, marketing or public relations firms tend to neglect their brand image despite it being their core function. Often, marketing specialists are so focused on the work they are doing for their clients, they forget that how they market their own company is the billboard for what they can offer clients.

Here’s how to get started.

1. Imaging

logo

A good quality logo is the starting point for the marketing of any business. Entrepreneurs often tend to put the logo on the back burner.

Your first logo will not be your logo forever. Throughout the lifespan of a business, the logo will probably go through multiple amendments.

A good quality logo is worth investing in. It’s your business signature, and will be used across all marketing collateral. The logo should be visually appealing, versatile and memorable. The best logos are clear, simple, easily recognisable, and unique to the business.

Once the logo is developed, the other basic marketing collateral can be designed, including the e-signature, business card, letterhead, social media graphics with a cover photo and profile photo for all social media accounts, as well as website graphics. These are the only items required in the start-up phase to launch the business with a professional and cohesive look and feel across all public platforms.

Related: The Secret Ingredients to a Successful Branding Strategy

2. Social Media

social media

Social media is an opportunity for businesses to become part of their audience’s lives by engaging with them. Business owners know their company needs to be on social media, but simply having a profile and cover photo on multiple social media platforms is not effective.

There must be a social media plan that details the platforms that will be used, the objectives for each profile, the type of content that will be shared on each platform, and how often and when content will be shared.

Platforms

Business owners often make the mistake of being on every social media platform — this is not necessary. It’s important to select platforms that are used by the company’s target audience and which complement the company’s brand personality.

For example, there is probably not much benefit for an insurance company to be on Instagram, which targets a younger market, but it would make sense for a clothing company to be on Instagram as their product is visual and fashion is of interest to the youth market.

Objectives

Social media should help the company achieve one or more of its overall business objectives. For example, if the business goal is to reach a new audience, then the social media content must be of interest to this audience.

Content

Social media can be time-consuming, and once the platforms have been selected, companies will have to create tailored content for each platform and have a consistent weekly schedule. Business social media profiles that are rarely and inconsistently updated can do more harm to a brand than no profile. There are many free and affordable social media management tools that can help entrepreneurs easily manage their accounts.

3. Personal branding

Personal branding

When a new business is launched, trust will drive the business forward. With few or no employees in the start-up phase, the entire business is run by the founder and the founder automatically becomes the face of the business. The credibility of the business is therefore initially determined by the credibility of the founder. Many entrepreneurs grapple with the task of marketing themselves and focus solely on marketing the business.

Below are some cost-effective techniques that you can use to boost your personal brand:

Optimise personal social media accounts

Share your constructive opinion on your personal social media accounts. Some people find it difficult to publicly share their opinion, especially with the legal liability that comes with using social media. Courage and responsibility are required to publicly share thoughts and ideas. Both are sought-after characteristics of entrepreneurs.

Educate

Entrepreneurs can educate their target audience and peers by contributing to their industry as guest bloggers, speakers, vlogging, contributing to academic research and blogging on their company website. By sharing your unique insights, you can prove that you are knowledgeable about your products or services.

Seek organic word-of-mouth

All client projects must be treated like gold — word-of-mouth about a start-up’s work is invaluable. Be bold and ask for recommendations after the completion of a project.

Be selective

Ensure that the projects you say yes to complement your brand image, and be willing to say no to projects that don’t, despite the financial loss. There is power in the word no. Saying no can help to differentiate your company from your competitors.

Related: Boutique Branding Consultancy Morake Design House

4. Direct marketing

Direct marketing

Nothing can replace the value of face-to-face communication. List the companies you want to work with and where you have identified a need that your company can address. Contact them, set up a meeting and tell them about your business. Even if the companies visited don’t signup, awareness has been increased and it will help you to become comfortable marketing yourself and your business.

Pulling it all together

These are just a few of the cost-effective marketing tactics you can use to increase awareness about your business. When meticulously executed, these marketing basics can help a start-up enjoy growth and success.

Smart and free

The truth is that marketing does not need to be an expensive exercise. Here are four marketing basics that can be implemented by every entrepreneur to give their business a solid foundation from which to grow, and which require limited or no funding.

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Branding

The 3 Biggest Mistakes CEOs Make With Their Personal Brand (And How To Turn Those Mistakes Around)

Don’t wait until you’re managing a crisis to decide who you want to be and what values you want your company to espouse.

Jeffrey Hayzlett

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The term “personal brand” denotes the phenomenon of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. I know, because I’ve spent a number of years perfecting mine.

I wear jeans and cowboy boots at every event I go to, for example – no matter how fancy the occasion. That wardrobe choice is just another way I present my brand, the C-Suite Network, as being brash and bold – like me – and refusing to do things a certain way just because they’ve ways been done that way in the past.

But what about other CEOs? Do they “own” their own brand? Should a CEO cultivate his or her own brand, separate from the company? The short answer is … yes!

There are good reasons why: A study by Burson-Marsteller concluded that 48 percent of a company’s reputation can be attributed to the standing of its CEO.

These leaders represent their company’s vision, so both should exemplify the same traits and values. However, a CEO won’t stay CEO forever of that same company. That’s why it’s essential to create a brand identity CEOs can own – a parallel brand of sorts.

A personal brand will travel, in other words. And while the public may have a fascination with a particular company, it’s the people in that company they feel the biggest connection to.

So, why do as many as 61 percent of CEOs, according to CEO.com, lack a personal brand because they have no social media presence? Because they don’t think that move will have an impact, personally or professionally. They couldn’t be more wrong.

study by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research estimated that 44 percent of a company’s market value can be directly linked to the CEO’s reputation. The same study highlighted other benefits when CEOs have a positive brand reputation, including: Attracting investors (87 percent), positive media attention (83 percent), crisis protection (83 percent) and [the ability to] attract prospective employees (77 percent) and retain employees (70 percent).

The takeaway here, of course, is that more CEOs need to own their brand. So the next question has to do with personal branding mistakes.

Related:  It’s Okay To Promote Yourself – In Fact, It’s Necessary. Here’s How To Do It Better

Here are three common ones:

1. Thinking you don’t need a personal brand

If this phrase describes how a CEO thinks about his or her personal brand, that person has no business being CEO of anything. This isn’t about “I don’t want to” or “I hate talking about myself.” This needs to be about what defines you as a leader and what defines you outside of your day job. What are your beliefs and values? How do you want to drive growth and innovation? Basically, this is anything that makes you, you.

Dave Newman, founder of Do It! Marketing, told me once that when a CEO “doesn’t own their brand, they lose control of the company’s story.” Therefore, “no story, no distinction.”

I stated before that your personal brand is forever yours, so it’s your responsibility to create one that blends your leadership style, ideals and values with your company’s brand. Together, these two brands should comprise the perfect complement, but should also be able to exist separately. Remember, you won’t always be the CEO of that company.

2. Thinking you can delegate your brand

I get it: As CEOs, we’re busy people, but that doesn’t mean you can tell your PR or marketing team to “create” a brand for you. There’s no shame in using your PR or marketing team to help you craft aspects of your brand, such as talking points, content or a new, improved bio. It’s just that shaping and creating are two different things.

Many executives believe that the hardest part about building a brand is not knowing what to write about and that that’s something your team can help you with. However, if you don’t know who you are by now and or what you stand for, no PR team can help you.

Sure, they can create a persona for you, but what comes through won’t be authentic, and it will cause irreparable damage, not just to your personal reputation, but to your company’s, too. Creating a brand persona shouldn’t be transactional; it should be (and feel) incredibly personal.

3. Thinking you don’t need a social media presence

Again, wrong! A 2016 report by BRANDfog said that 75 percent of those surveyed believed the executive leadership of a company is improved by those leaders being active on social media. If you’re a leader yourself, you don’t have be present on all platforms, but you should be highly present where most of your target audience lives; and you must use that platform well.

If you’re a strong writer, think about writing a blog – either on your company’s website or for a magazine that covers your industry. Also share the published article on your company’s platforms, including LinkedIn. The content you write doesn’t have to be lengthy or overly technical. It has to be accurate, thoughtful (or thought-provoking), entertaining and educational.

Think of the different social platforms as TV channels; you don’t have to watch all of them, but you do need to present in several mediums to get your message across.

Here’s the good news, then: It’s never too late to turn the ship around. Here are some steps you can take to do that.

Related: Personal Brand Or Business Brand: Which Is More Important?

Think about claiming your URL. Sounds simple enough, but we still sometimes forget to do it. I have my very own – which includes a small bio, social media information, TV interviews I’ve done, a link to my podcast, listings of my books and more. That’s mine and mine alone. No one can claim to be me (as they do on other platforms).

It is also through my social channels that I get more “personal” with my followers. Dave Farrow, CEO and founder of Farrow Communications, told me, “Your brand is just an image of who you actually are. Today, any difference between the two is seen as a betrayal.”

The message here is that people make connections with people. So, give them an insight about your thoughts, opinions and style. Everyone I do business with knows what I’m about. I live my brand 24/7. Everyone should.

As Hall of Fame speaker Mikki Williams said, “Don’t be different; be unique. Anyone can be different, but no one can copy ‘unique.’”

Get in front of the media. This is the part where your team comes in handy. Its members should have the connections to get you in front of a camera. I have been a frequent guest on several national shows and networks. One thing I used to do at one of those networks was have my team look at the “news of the day” and then pitch me to the show.

The producers knew I could be ready in a pinch, so it was a quick turnaround between prepping and going on air. In short, staying on top of the news is critical to getting yourself out there. CEOs need to be topical and, according to Linda Popky, president of Leverage2Market Associates, “use situations as they arise as an opportunity to reinforce the brand and tie the brand to what’s happening on a day-to-day basis.”

Related: They’re Your Rules, Break Them

Write a book: I’m now writing my fourth book, The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create Winning Cultures. As any author can tell you, books are a long, drawn-out process, but one that should help establish you as a knowledgeable and credible source.

In short, we live in a world that’s connected all the time. One simple click of a button can tell people nearly anything they need to know about you. So, in that kind of world, having a strong CEO brand is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. That’s why you should get on this.

Don’t wait until you’re managing a crisis to decide who you want to be and what values you want your company to espouse.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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These 6 Online Habits Are Common, But They’re Killing Your Brand’s Credibility

Just because ‘everyone’s doing it’ doesn’t mean your brand should follow suit.

Lucas Miller

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How do you build a loyal customer base? For most modern brands, the answer doesn’t actually lie with authenticity – rather, it depends on building credibility.

According to the Association for Consumer Research, “As a signal of product positioning, the most important characteristic of a brand is its credibility … Credibility affects consumer choices through perceived risk, information costs saved and perceived quality in most categories, even those with only moderate levels of uncertainty.”

Even for relatively low-cost purchases, whether customers perceive a brand as trustworthy – as someone who fulfills their promises – will have a big impact on their buying decisions.

Unfortunately, many brands falter in their credibility-boosting efforts as the result of relatively minor mistakes. The following online habits may not seem like a big deal, but they can easily derail your brand-building efforts.

1. You’re using vague superlatives

Every brand wants to position itself as the best in the business. But, rather than showcase their best work in an online portfolio, many businesses instead choose to use non-specific superlatives like “high-quality,” “best in the business” or “experienced team.”

Media experts have found that such vague superlatives actually crush your credibility, hinting at underlying insecurities about what your business has to offer. Instead, mention specific credibility-boosting examples, such as awards you’ve won or how many years you’ve been in business.

Related: How to Manage Your Personal Brand

2. You haven’t claimed your business on Google

google

Most potential customers (and even many of your returning customers) aren’t going to remember your company’s URL. To find you, they’ll do a search on Google. While your website should come up as part of their search results, many customers will actually look at your Google listing first – and if you haven’t added or claimed your business, you could quickly lose credibility.

Claiming your business helps prove to customers that you have an actual online presence. It gives them a chance to check out reviews and quickly find other essential information. If you don’t claim your business, you send the message that you don’t care about your web presence – and that your website probably won’t help customers solve their problems, either.

3. You’ve neglected the testimonials page on your site

Customer reviews can make or break your ability to attract new business – even for decidedly non-tech-savvy industries like plumbing or lawn care. However, far too many brands let third-party review sites do all the heavy lifting, even though a website without testimonials will have a harder time establishing credibility.

Related: Build Your Brand On Instagram By Avoiding These Common Mistakes

4. You consciously try to use smart-sounding words

A key part of building credibility is proving that you actually know what you’re talking about. This is why so many brands embrace the power of blogging – sharing facts and tips is a great way to showcase your expertise and improve your SEO rankings. The problem comes when blogs and other online content are peppered with “smart” words in an attempt to sound more authoritative.

Words like “deosculation” (another word for kissing) or “laodicean” (which means indifferent) may help you sound more intelligent, but they’ll only confuse your audience. Worse yet, trying to use more complex language makes it much more likely that you’ll make an embarrassing mistake. Keep it simple, and you’ll build your credibility with easy-to-understand language.

5. You’ve failed to humanise your brand

humanise-your-brand

Scams and fake websites are all too common these days, and as a result, many consumers are understandably wary when checking out a new brand for the first time.

Unfortunately, in an effort to save time and money, many smaller businesses use stock photos and a generic “About” page on their site. Such a move may be more convenient, but it illustrates a lack of transparency, and signals to customers that your site could be a scam.

Instead, humanise your business with pictures of the people who actually work there. Personalise the “About” page with unique details about your company’s past. Don’t be afraid to include personal info about your team or pictures of your office. Such additions can go a long way in proving your legitimacy.

Related: 9 Tips For Creating An Awesome Brand

6. You’ve passed on old-fashioned communication

A quality website is a great asset, but it likely won’t answer every question your potential customers might have. While email and chatbots can be helpful, many customers still prefer traditional communication methods – and according to the Harvard Business Review, “74 percent of people who have a bad phone support experience are likely to choose another business the next time they shop for that product or service.”

Including your business’s address and a contact phone number not only gives potential customers more ways to get in touch – it also helps legitimise your company for consumers and Google alike. Even a digital-only brand will gain legitimacy by giving customers a way to talk with a real human being.

As you avoid these negative online habits and take steps to correct them, you’ll make a better impression and build a stronger reputation with potential customers. Even more importantly, you’ll generate the sales growth needed to keep your business moving forward.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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