Compared to Fortune 500 titans, start-ups and small businesses often seem at a disadvantage when it comes to marketing. Big corporations have vast resources at their disposal; small and new businesses rarely do. Established companies can build their new marketing initiatives on an existing infrastructure, where newer companies must start from scratch with many projects.
But a smaller budget doesn’t have to mean smaller results. The proverbial advice to work smarter, not harder applies to many aspects of marketing, and one of the best examples is branding. By selectively employing clever and effective strategies, you can elevate your company profile and create as strong and memorable a brand as your biggest competitors.
So what exactly is branding? While many people think of a company’s brand as their logo and graphic design, the full concept is more complex. Many factors contribute to your brand, including your customers’ experience, your retail personality, your web presence, and yes, your marketing. All of those add up to a perception that can expand your market share or shrink it.
It’s important to realize that you’ll never have 100% control over your brand. Although customer behavior and a certain amount of chance play a role, it’s still critical to deliberately shape your brand’s direction as much as you can. Fail to define your brand and the public will define it for you.
So how do you craft a successful brand?
- Your first job is to evaluate the existing impression of your company. Interview people who aren’t immersed in your company culture and get their perspectives on your business’s strengths and weaknesses. What do they think about your company? What have they heard? What would motivate or turn them away as customers? Don’t flinch from the negative feedback – it’s often more valuable than the positive. Analyze the answers, find the root cause of any image problems, and take steps to correct it.
- Next, you should take a look at your competitors. What are the power players in your industry doing? How about the smaller or local businesses? Who has an alluring brand and what factors seem to play a part in creating it? What should you copy, and how should your branding be differentiated?
- Now it’s time to develop your branding goals. Do some hard thinking about how you want your company to be perceived, then compare that with the feedback you received. If there’s a gap between the two, then either your branding or your business needs an overhaul. A powerful brand makes a promise to the customer – and that promise must be one your business can realistically deliver.
- Next, draft a plan. Put together a brand playbook that includes your objectives, target markets, budget, and strategies, with metrics for assessing results. Make sure you allow room for flexibility; external influences can take your brand in an unforeseen direction, so stay open and ready to adapt. Trying to follow too tight a roadmap might cause you to miss out on new opportunities.
- Infuse every facet of your company with your branding. The décor of your showroom, the tone of your social media, and the personality of your mobile app should all convey the same impression. Be thorough and be consistent. The best marketing plan in the world can be sabotaged by cheap collateral and an off-message sales force.
- Continue monitoring public perception through feedback. One advantage small businesses often enjoy over big corporations is agility; established companies can get caught in their public histories like dinosaurs in a tar pit, while smaller companies usually have more freedom to rehabilitate their public image after a misstep. Monitoring the success of your brand will allow you to correct mistakes before they take hold.
- As time goes on, review the changes in your products, customer base, and industry. Is your traditional branding still relevant and appealing? Don’t be afraid to reposition – but do make sure that you maintain your brand equity by respecting your loyal customers. The idea is to honor that initial promise you started with, while expanding the public’s perception.
The right brand is an invaluable asset for your company, attracting the right clientele while solidifying your market profile. Taking time to craft and monitor your brand can save you additional marketing effort down the road – and can help you compete with the biggest names in your field.