We’re all familiar with slogans like “Just Do It,” “Live Más” (Spanish for "more") and “Because You’re Worth It.” These slogans have become synonymous with the brands they represent, so it’s natural that small business owners would associate the notion of branding only with big corporations.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Branding should be a priority for small business owners, as well, despite its being one of the most difficult things to tackle. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of small businesses close their doors within five years of launching. And one of the causes might be the perception that branding is too “difficult” for founders to dedicate time and brain power to.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is a huge mistake.
Why is branding so important?
The answer is that it represents who you are and what your company is. It represents who you want to be and your core values and principles. The principles you set for your brand should be your guide, and compromising them means you don’t trust your own brand.
If you don’t trust your brand, how are customers supposed to trust you? In my book, Running the Gauntlet, I wrote, “Principles mean something only when they are inconvenient. As a small business owner, you must prepare to live your brand promise in good times and in bad times.”
Change is a constant in business and someone will always try to rival the services you provide; others may try to copy (or steal) your concept, logo and assets. But the one thing no one can copy? Your brand.
Here are four tips to develop a lasting brand identity:
1. Find your purpose.
A brand is nothing but a promise delivered; therefore, building a brand has to be the core of your company. Your brand’s purpose is to answer the "why." Why do you matter and why you exist? Why did you start your business?
I travel all over the country giving speeches, and afterwards, I am approached by entrepreneurs asking for advice on how to become successful. I ask them, “Why do you want to become an entrepreneur?” One of the standard replies I hear is, “Because I want to make money.”
Nothing is wrong with that; I love to make money too, but that cannot be a founder's sole purpose. In this über-competitive world, your brand needs to find the one thing that makes it different.
As a small businessperson, you don't need a purpose that's going to change the world. Aan example: If you have a small restaurant that serves a type of food similar to that of the restaurant two doors down, but you use locally-grown products to feed your patrons, that’s going to be your calling card.
Your purpose? To help local farmers and help the local community. Customers know that you’re looking to make an impact and will reward you with their loyalty.
2. Find your voice.
Is your brand quirky? Fun? Adventurous? Giving a brand characteristics normally associated with human beings is one way to ensure that people identify with it and that all your employees (or you) can communicate it with ease.
Look at Richard Branson and the Virgin brand. He embodies all of the brand’s characteristics: bold, daring, fun and adventurous. That’s how he describes his brand to anyone who asks. Basically, that’s his “118” right there.
What’s a "118?" you ask. Let me explain. One hundred and eighteen is the number of seconds you actually have to pitch -- eight seconds to hook people, and no more than 100 seconds to reel them in. You should be able to tell people in short sentences, or 118 seconds, what your brand is about.
In the beginning, this pitch helps you to create key phrases or descriptions and a checklist of touch points and then use those as bookends when interacting with customers. Opening and closing with a strong touch point leaves a lasting impression on the customer and helps you avoid derailing from your message.
If people are trying to get me to buy something and they launch into a hundred reasons why I should do that, I’m not interested, no matter how great the product. I don’t have time to stand there and listen to a whole sales pitch. So, take a lesson here: Don’t parrot your brand’s virtues; live them.
And, be short, concise and to the point: If customers feel and understand your passion, they’ll understand what the brand is trying to convey.
3. Make brevity and simplicity your best friends.
It’s tempting to think of the multitude of things that make your brand great; therefore, it can be overwhelming to try to simplify what to convey to the public. The key here is: simplicity is best. The most successful brands have the simplest brands. For example, Coca-Cola hasn’t changed its logo since the 19th century. The company may have changed colors and style, but that’s about it.
All of us are familiar with the brand, whether we drink soda or not.
Keeping things simple increases brand recognition and can help create an emotional connection, turning customers into brand loyalists. Also, avoid being vague with your messaging. It’s a trap that many people fall into -- if your messaging says nothing about your brand, your company becomes forgettable. Clichés are also a no-no. They make your brand look lazy and unprepared.
It’s tempting to use vague language to feel "safe," but it makes customers think you’re hiding something from them. Don’t be afraid of offending someone; just be honest. With all of the changes taking place in society -- culturally, politically and economically -- more consumers are looking for brands that align with their beliefs.
My personal brand involves wearing jeans and cowboy boots. It doesn’t matter how "fancy" the event is. Add to that the very loud patterns I wear inside my jackets. That’s my brand: bold, brash, simple.
4. Make them work for you.
Evangelizing your brand is already a part of your job and that of your employees’. It’s their job to tell your customers why you’re great and why they should buy from you.
When customers understand your brand, what you stand for, what you deliver for them and everything your brand conveys, they take on the role of "brand ambassadors" willingly. When your target consumers understand every nuance of your brand, you’ve hit the branding jackpot. When consumers identify with your brand, they become vocal about it -- on social media or through word of mouth, which is still a powerful medium.
A while back, I interviewed the president of Keds, Chris Lindner, and he said he doesn’t refer to the company's spokesperson (singer Taylor Swift) as a spokesperson. Instead, he said he refers to her as a “brand ambassador.” I asked him why and he replied that, “A brand ambassador has to have a tangible connection with the brand.”
When customers have that connection, they organically evangelize your brand; in essence, they are working for you. Reward them, especially when they’re not expecting it. A discount or special offer, especially if it’s unexpected, is cited as the top reason for brand loyalty, according to a Toll Free Forwarding survey.
Here’s a bonus tip for you: Every campaign should be personally authorized by someone who truly understands the brand before anything is revealed to the public. Never leave branding to chance, because even minor mistakes can have a significant impact on your brand.