In the words of Robert Kiyosaki, “If you are not a brand, you are a commodity.” So why is it that so few small-business owners invest in building their brands?
Sure, you’ve got other demands on your time. Brand building may seem relatively unimportant when you’re still struggling to get your product to market or to find your product-market fit. But don’t dismiss the power of brand building entirely.
You don’t have to hire an expensive brand strategist to refine your company’s image. But you do need to go beyond picking a color pallet for your company and calling that your “brand.”
Ready to get started? Here are five powerful branding lessons you can learn from big brands:
1. Develop all-encompassing brand standards.
Think, for a second, about everything you know about the Coca-Cola brand. Now, imagine that the company released a new purple can with the words “Coca-Cola” in a bold sans-serif font.
You can’t picture it, can you?
That’s because Coca-Cola has one of the clearest all-encompassing brand standards out there. Everything from the company’s packaging, its social-media profiles to its television commercials draws on the same colors, fonts, motifs and experiences. None of that is by accident.
A big part of Coca-Cola’s success comes from its ability to transmit feelings and expectations through its branded elements. When you see that red and white can, you know you’re going to get a crisp, refreshing beverage, no matter where in the world you’re buying it.
2. Dedicate a single person to guiding and enforcing brand standards.
Now that you’ve got a set brand standard, make sure it’s followed by appointing a single “brand czar” within your organization.
If you’re working on new packaging, this person should be involved. Same goes for the creation of any new marketing materials.
Your brand embassador might even get involved in training your customer-service reps if you make exceptional service a part of your standard.
No matter how branded elements play into your company’s business processes, give this person the overarching authority to make changes -- even if they aren’t convenient (or cheap).
Just like Coca-Cola wouldn’t let that purple can go down its assembly line, don’t let anything your company produces interfere with the standards you’ve set for yourself. Doing so will only create confusion and diminish the effectiveness of your efforts.
3. Embrace storytelling.
Want to see a great example of storytelling in action? Check out one of the “Find Your Greatness” campaign videos produced by Nike.
The video unfolds like a movie, features an unexpected protagonist and includes a moral lesson shared by an accented narrator. Basically, it’s got all the hallmarks of a Hollywood movie, packed into a single minute of campaign footage.
Harnessing the power of storytelling isn’t limited to the big brands alone.
Share the story of how your company came to be. Post case studies that show how you’ve impacted the stories of your customers. Forget about talking like a marketer and instead focus on sharing the things that make your company unique.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly your customers adopt these stories and spread them for you.
4. Take advantage of big data.
“Big data” is one of marketing's latest buzzwords, but just because it’s “big” doesn’t mean it’s unattainable for smaller brands.
Chances are you already have a number of programs producing data for you, from Google Analytics to your customer-relationship management system and more. But are you actually doing anything with this data?
Start by figuring out what metrics matter most for your company’s success. Then, figure out how to extract reports from your data sources that will measure your progress towards these key performance indicators.
Once a month (or more or less frequently, depending on the length of your sales cycle), run your reports, read through them and make at least three changes based on what you find.
Don’t overcomplicate things, and don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of data you have access to. Begin with this simple process, but refine your approach as you get more comfortable harnessing the power of data.
5. Get involved in the community.
At its core, branding should draw people in. People who observe your branded elements should feel as if they’re part of a community, that they have a shared bond with others in the same situation.
Some big brands choose to make this relationship more explicit, as in the case of Expedia’s “Find Yours” campaign:
The campaign encourages participants to share their travel stories, creating a powerful sense of community amongst those featured in the videos, as well as those who view them.
No matter how you approach it, find ways to encourage your customers to share their experiences with your brand. It’s a powerful approach to community-building that serves the dual purpose of building brand exposure and awareness as well.
What’s your favorite “big brand” example? What lessons do you draw from it to apply to your own company? Share your observations in the comments section below!