General Business News for April 2012

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Branding Your Small Business

Small business owners know that they must attract and retain customers, sell their products or services, and provide good customer service. But threaded through all of this is a single, overarching concept: branding. Without investing the necessary resources in a well-researched brand that uniquely defines who you are and what you offer to your customer base, your business could flounder. In contrast, establishing a successful brand will help burn your business identity into the memories of potential clients and enhance customer loyalty.

Invest In Your Brand

Just like buying inventory, leasing office space, stocking up on supplies or acquiring a new laptop, developing your brand is an investment. It’s an investment that, if done well, will realize substantial returns. A good brand will anchor your enterprise with deep roots, so that even during a slow economy, when competition is fierce, customers will think of you.

What Is A Brand?

A brand is the basic image and message you want to convey to your customers. It is made up of several elements, much like a personality. The most familiar are the company name and logo, but a good brand will include a variety of other elements, ranging from slogans to sounds and colors. Just like a politician, a brand must convey the right image, be memorable and stay on message. And that message must be properly targeted.

Among other elements, a brand might include the following:

  • Company, product, service or concept name
  • Tagline
  • Logo and graphic elements
  • Color schemes
  • Shapes
  • Jingles, music or sounds
  • Unique physical or conceptual characteristics of your product or service

Branding might mean hiring a consultant or gathering your best talent for some brainstorming sessions. If you are a lone entrepreneur with limited capital, you might even enlist the help of friends or family.

Whether you approach it alone or as part of a team, here is some general advice about the basics of branding your business.

Research your customer base and your competition. One of the first steps in branding your business is to study your clients’ needs and investigate what the competition is doing to meet those needs. In other words, understand the marketplace so that you can develop a brand that gives you a competitive advantage.

Differentiate yourself from the competition. After carefully researching your client base and your competitors, determine your niche. What is the competition not doing? What kind of mistakes are they making? What can you do better? How can your business fill the void or fit the niche; and how can you develop a memorable brand that makes your business stand out from the competition? What makes you different? How can you express that concisely and professionally to your customers?

Don’t be afraid to use social media. Sure, promoting your business on Facebook or LinkedIn carries some risk. You might make mistakes when dealing directly with the public. But social media outlets offer you the ability to interact with and relate to people, establish yourself as a thought leader in your field and come across as being human.

Using social media not only helps you promote your brand, it can also help you develop your brand and refine it as you learn more about your customers’ needs and expectations. And by researching social and digital media, you can learn what consumers think about the competition.

Get professional help for your logo. Stay away from cut-and-paste designs that look cheap. If you’re not a graphic designer with experience in logo design, hire an expert. Even the simplest looking designs (the successful ones) can be deceptively difficult to conceive. Great logos take many hours of painstaking thought and creation. Simple is best, but simple and effective are not easy to achieve. If you can’t afford to hire a graphic designer, consider bartering for their services.

Once your brand has been developed and you are ready to implement it, be consistent across all aspects of your branding campaign. A brand is like a company ambassador, reinforcing your value across all marketing, advertising and social media outlets.

Remember, branding is more than just a logo and a business name. It is the comprehensive look, feel and philosophy attached to the value proposition you are offering your customers. It is the meeting of customer expectations, wrapped up in a multidimensional and memorable message. 


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