Over the past few weeks, I've found it interesting that folks I have interviewed for Entrepreneurs On Call, have continued our conversation after we were off the air, and we discussed a few of my listeners emails. LaTely the emails and their questions inevitably took the conversation around to branding for small businesses.
I had to remind myself that understanding branding of a small business is something that is misunderstood by many entrepreneurs regardless of how long they have been in business. From the email I have received on the subject, it seems in this age of the Internet with all the potential for socializing and networking digitally, some are not sure whether they should be putting more emphasis on branding themselves as an expert in their field, or branding their business.
There is really no reason why you can not do both, but which should take priority depends on a number of variables. When you ask most folks what their brand is, you are as likely to get a blank stare in response as you are being shown a logo on a business card.
A brand for an individual or for a small business can take a lot of different forms so I thought I would open up a discussion here on brands, what I think they are or can be for an individual or their business. They in fact can and in many cases should be different.
A brand is not simply a product name, logo, or slogan. Your brand is your business' face to the world! Since the acceptance of your small business, employee attributes, consumers' perceptions and competitors have all worked to define your brand. In a sense, then, your brand is the sum total of all perceptions of your business over time. It is important to remember that, because brands are perceptions, the branding process is not an exact science and it is impossible to exert total control over the brand image. However, by paying careful attention to how your brand reflects the core values of your business, you can effectively focus and manage public perceptions of your brand.
Many business owners assume that it is unnecessary to develop a corporate identity, particularly in the case of small independent businesses and franchises. While large corporations develop brand names that are recognized around the world (for example, Nike and Xerox), branding a small business is equally important, although the process occurs on a smaller scale. In fact, branding is inevitable.
Even though you may not be aware of it, the brand image of your small business is constantly being shaped. Every time a business email is sent, a business phone is answered or business partners shake hands, these small-scale exchanges shape the reputation of your business – or, in other words, your brand.
Consistency is the key to successful branding. On your next walk around your business, ask random employees you encounter "What do we do here at company X"? You may be astonished to find that employees give vastly different explanations for what the company does. These inconsistent messages about the company are going out into the community and convey sloppiness to potential consumers or partners. This costs you money.
To brand your small business successfully, first take stock of the core values that make your company unique. What differentiates you from your competitors – is it integrity, dependability, customer service or a combination of values?
Everything that your company does should embody those core values, from the slogan to the logo, packaging, customer service and even music that plays over the telephone when customers wait on-hold. Your company must project a shared vision, a common message, a consistent color scheme and a coherent design. By ruthlessly controlling your brand image, you will ensure that your brand stands out above the competition.