David Bakke is a small business owner based in Atlanta. He writes about his experiences and personal finance tips on the blog, MoneyCrashers.com.
If you're a first-time small business owner, you may know how to use Spoke.com to track your industry, your competition, and your customers - but how much thought have you given to your brand? According to the website SmallBusinessDelivered, branding "is the process of creating a clear, consistent message about your company or product." Crafting an effective and unique brand has become an essential element of all successful companies in today's business landscape. Here are six ideas for building an effective brand for your small business:
1. Be the Face of Your Organization If you want to build an effective brand, you've got to give your business a face. As an entrepreneur with your nose buried in numbers 18 hours a day, it's easy to lose sight of the fundamental principles of a consumer economy. A buyer doesn't identify with a product or service itself, a buyer identifies with a person who creates, sells, or uses that product or service - much like you don't put your hope and faith in an ideology, you put your hope and faith in a politician to champion that ideology. As the owner of a small business, it's your responsibility to be that person. Post a welcoming picture of yourself on your company website, or go out and press palms, getting to know people near your place of business. When potential customers see an actual human being who cares about their needs running a business, they're much more likely to patronize it.
2. Strive for Superior Customer Service Once you've launched your business and established your brand, constantly keep it in a good light by accepting nothing less than stellar customer service. It's a lost art in many organizations, but good customer care can turn a one-time buyer into a lifelong devotee. It can spark a word-of-mouth campaign that can draw business your way and christen new customers at an exponential rate. If you ingrain this philosophy into your corporate culture and practice it diligently, customer service can in effect become your brand - and that's a powerful tool.
3. Choose the Right Logo Choosing the right logo to represent your business is critical, and the sheer number of studies about visual brand recognition are dizzying. Many businesses try to convey multiple layers of meaning in their logos, and to use them as sort of subconscious attractors, but the most essential elements of a good logo are simplicity, attractiveness, and cohesion with your business. Hiring a consultant or designer to create your logo can be a pricy endeavor, but if done well it can yield significant returns. Two good websites to get you started are Red Antler or 99Designs, and once you've got your logo nailed down, distribute it as much as you can both offline and online. There are dozens of great free destinations on the web, such as Spoke.com.
4. Accentuate What Sets You Apart When creating your brand, it's important to understand and emphasize what it is that sets you apart from your competition. It can be as basic as specific services you may provide, or your pledge to offer lower prices than your competitors. If you offer free gutter cleaning as part of a roof inspection service, for example, emphasize that. If you offer "best-price matching," put that out there. In a competitive economic environment like this one, branding yourself as unique in a certain market can help your business break away from the pack.
5. Be Consistent With Your Message Once you establish the tone and message of your brand, never stray from it. Whether it's your social media posts, your email marketing strategy, or your in-person communication, being consistent is key. A business with an unclear or muddled brand is going struggle - no matter how intelligently conceived or positive its message is.
6. Make Sure Your Staff Fully Understands Your Brand If your entire staff doesn't understand the image you're trying to portray, all your efforts could be lost. The first thing to teach your incoming staff should always be your brand identity. For employees that have been with you from the start, constantly reinforce the importance of your message in staff meetings, memos, and in every task you assign. A company that lives and breathes its brand identity is a cohesive unit, and when every part functions to serve the machine, there's no stopping you. This will also help everyone involved to develop better communication skills in the workplace.
7. Centralize Your Brand Spoke.com is the only place on the internet where you can store all of your company's profile information and digital content from all over the web, whether links, videos, etc. And in doing so you can express the uniqueness of your brand in a much richer way and show your customers everything at once.
Final Thoughts If you're having trouble crafting an effective and unique brand for your small business, don't be afraid to ask for help. If you have the resources, bring in consultants or marketers to advise you. If not, ask your friends and family how they perceive your business. Sometimes it takes that perspective from a trusted person examining you from outside your bubble to help you really identify what it is that makes you so unique. Putting time, research, and effort into developing and projecting your brand is one of the early steps to creating a thriving business.
You can find more helpful advice on MoneyCrashers.com