In their book Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting your business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors explain the three-step process of creating a branding strategy for your business plan.
In addition to all its other parts, your business plan should include a branding strategy. This is your written plan for how you’ll apply your brand strategically throughout the company over time.
At its core, a good branding strategy lists the one or two most important elements of your product or service, describes your company’s ultimate purpose in the world and defines your target customer. The result is a blueprint for what’s most important to your company and your customer.
Don’t worry: Creating a branding strategy isn’t nearly as scary or as complicated as it sounds. Here’s how you do it:
Step 1: Set yourself apart.
Why should people buy from you instead of from the same kind of business across town? Think about the intangible qualities of your product or service, using adjectives from “friendly” to “fast” and every word in between. Your goal is to own a position in the customer’s mind so they think of you differently than the competition.
“Powerful brands will own a word—like Volvo [owns] safety,” says Laura Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing consultant and co-author of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand. Which word will your company own? A new hair salon might focus on the adjective “convenient” and stay open a few hours later in the evening for customers who work late—something no other local salon might do. How will you be different from the competition? The answers are valuable assets that constitute the basis of your brand.
Step 2: Know your target customer.
Once you’ve defined your product or service, think about your target customer. You’ve probably already gathered demographic information about the market you’re entering, but think about the actual customers who'll walk through your door. Who is this person, and what is the one thing he or she ultimately wants from your product or service? After all, the customer is buying it for a reason. What will your customer demand from you?
Step 3: Develop a personality.
How will you show customers every day what you’re all about? A lot of small companies write mission statements that say the company will “value” customers and strive for “excellent customer service.” Unfortunately, these words are all talk, and no action. Dig deeper and think about how you’ll fulfill your brand’s promise and provide value and service to the people you serve. If you promise quick service, for example, what will “quick” mean inside your company? And how will you make sure service stays speedy? Along the way, you’re laying the foundation of your hiring strategy and how future employees will be expected to interact with customers. You’re also creating the template for your advertising and marketing strategies.
In the Loop
Many companies large and small stumble when it comes to incorporating employees into their branding strategies. But to the customer making a purchase, your employee is the company. Your employees can make or break your entire brand, so don’t ever forget them. Here are a few tips:
Hire based on brand strategy. Communicating your brand through your employees starts with making the right hires. Look to your brand strategy for help. If your focus is on customer service, employees should be friendly, unflappable and motivated, right? Give new hires a copy of your brand strategy, and talk about it with them on a regular basis.
Set expectations. How do you expect employees to treat customers? Make sure they understand what’s required. Reward employees who do an exceptional job or go above and beyond the call of duty.
Communicate, then communicate some more. Keeping employees clued in requires ongoing communication about the company’s branding efforts through meetings, posters, training, etc. Never, ever assume employees can read your mind.
Your branding strategy doesn’t need to be more than one page long at most. It can even be as short as one paragraph. It all depends on your product or service and your industry. The important thing is that you answer these questions before you open your doors.