Small businesses often consume themselves with the tasks at hand—so much so that they forget to brand themselves with a distinctive image that can attract the very customers they need to thrive. Here are some tips shared by brand consultant Maria Ross in the April 13 edition of Entrepreneur:
Culture, Not Product, Defines a Brand
Whatever the product or service, a business has a distinct culture. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, define what makes a company unique, and market to those people who are a good fit with the company’s goals and lifestyle. Spread the word about the brand through social media, which can attract brand fans quickly without spending the bulk of the advertising budget.
Prioritize Customer Interactions
Keep the lines of communication open to foster a sense of community among customers. Listen to their ideas and incorporate those that fit with the company’s brand image. Knowing why customers feel as they do can help a company tailor its image to better reflect the brand. Conversely, when customers know that there’s a real-life person listening to them, they become more loyal to the brand than ever before.
Define the Company’s Tribe
The group of loyal customers and fans that follow a brand grows out of the culture that the company has developed. When a company defines that group and caters to their needs, loyalty grows even more. Savvy businesses will capitalize on that loyalty by providing ways for brand fans to identify each other in a crowd. Whether by T-shirts bearing the brand logo or by membership in an exclusive social media group, the tribe’s cachet grows its brand awareness elsewhere, too, as others outside the group want to hop on the brand’s bandwagon.
Create Partnerships with Like-Minded Brands
Although a company won’t probably partner with its competitor, it can, however, build brand strength by partnering with a company whose business dovetails with its own. For example, Coke may not partner with Pepsi, but will certainly partner with athletic teams who sell carbonated beverages at their games. On a smaller scale, a high-quality small restaurant who doesn’t yet have a liquor license may partner with the wine shop down the street for a “bring your own bottle” dining experience in which the wine shop’s fine wine pairs perfectly with the restaurant’s gourmet meals.
Maintain Focus and Vision
A brand doesn’t build overnight. Have patience and maintain focus on the company’s long-term goals. Never waver from the brand image, though some minor tweaks may help spur it to success. Build on the positive attributes of the brand’s culture, promote it by word-of-mouth and by inexpensive marketing tactics (think social media, email list building, coupons for people who introduce their friends to the brand, etc.).
Maintain the values upon which the company was founded. Nothing shakes a brand’s core fans more than a company who suddenly veers off course. Just ask Coke, who almost lost its shirt when it changed its flagship product back in the mid-eighties. Fortunately, it steered back on course and recovered. A small company, however, may not recover from such a deviation. Stay on track, and the company will finish strong.