Ah, “branding”. Is it an art? A science? A black magic voodoo dance practiced by highly paid marketing executives at Pepsi?
I think sometimes branding sounds so advanced, somehow both technical and artistic, that most small business owners shy away from it completely. Unless they’re a designer, in which case branding is pretty much their primary focus.
Here’s how I look at it: branding simply means influencing the public perception of your business. And yes, for a multi million dollar CPG brand, branding is a lot of work.
But for the average small business, it’s not rocket science, and it is possible to do it yourself without spending all of your time on it. The key is to remember that ultimately small business customers just have two questions for small business owners:
Can I trust you?
Do I respect you?
Doing a good job with your brand will contribute a lot to answering those two questions. (But if your product or service has quality issues, be warned – no amount of branding can save you.)
Portraying a brand that is organized, professional, consistent, and attractive will show that you are steady and you know what you’re doing – in other words, customers can trust and respect you.
And you can accomplish that much easier than you’d expect with a few little tricks.
Here are 5 ridiculously easy branding tricks small business owners can use today:
Use design templates
Here’s a very easy way to ensure your brand is consistent (and make less work for yourself): use the same template for every blog post image and social media image.
If you’re Photoshop proficient, that’s probably the easiest route. Create a template for blog posts and a template for social media posts, then simply change the text and the background image (if you’re using one) for each post. You can even add the same color overlay or brightness level to all the background images so they have a consistent look.
If you don’t want to go with Photoshop, which is admittedly a little hard to wield at first, you could still do this with pretty much any photo editor out there. Try Canva or iDraw or Microsoft Paint if you’re old school. Just use the same font, color, and location for the text overlay every time you create an image to share, and you’ll have a consistent brand look before you know it.
Share links from brands you want to be like
Are you aspiring to be a high end website or blog? Only share links from other high end websites. Want to be known for your beautiful designs? Only share links to websites that are beautifully designed. Are your target audience intellectuals with graduate degrees? Only share articles from research institutions that they respect and admire. You get the idea.
If you are careful to only associate your brand with other brands that match your approach, your audience will eventually begin to associate those brands with your own.
So sneaky, so easy.
Create a brand alter ego
Often times small business owners have a hard time figuring out what to say in their marketing. They could talk your ear off about their business any day, but when it comes down to figuring out what to actually put in that Facebook post or blog post, they freeze up and draw a blank, or they’re afraid of accidentally saying the wrong thing.
Here’s an easy trick to get around that: create a brand alter ego for your company. Is your brand the peppy cheerleader or the sarcastic best friend? Or maybe the funny frat guy or the tough love boxing coach?
Come up with a set of personality traits and even a fictional person to represent your brand, and whenever you write, imagine that you’re writing as that alter ego. The words will flow a lot easier, and you’ll have a bit more peace knowing that what you write is in line with your brand.
Always reply quickly and with a smile
This is so easy, and so easy to overlook. A customer’s perception of your brand is heavily influenced by his or her experience with interactions with you. If you have great design and marketing but you’re unkind or unresponsive in communication, that’s what will stick with your customer.
So instead of stressing about how you need to hire a better designer or pay for more ads, focus on replying quickly and warmly to every customer or lead who engages with you. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it will help your brand.
Do something unexpectedly awesome
I’ll never forget the day I discovered that Springhill Suites by Marriott offers free freshly baked chocolate cookies and wine every night in the lobby. Actually, I’m not sure if the wine was free, but by that point, it didn’t matter. I hadn’t slept in days because of baby girl’s night wakings and I was exhausted, grumpy, and a little haggard. Walking into the lobby and seeing wine and cookies put a smile on my face that stayed for days. I still smile when I think about it and I’m probably going to try and stay at Springhill Suits in the future, even if it’s not the cheapest option. They won my loyalty with something so small and so easy – why? Because I didn’t expect it, and it was wonderful.
I also remember the way Ruths Chris gave me and my husband free cocktails and free dessert on our 1 year anniversary, and how a donut food truck in Portland offered me a free super fresh donut, and how local coffee shops always remind me of their military discount even when I forget to ask. I bet you can think of a few times a business has pleasantly surprised you too.
When you’re a customer, you’re used to being disappointed and having buyers remorse. So when a business pleasantly surprises you, you remember that feeling, and it goes a long way toward giving you a positive impression of a brand.
Make this work in your favor by surprising your target audience with something special such as giving away some of your expertise for free in an ebook or offering a free class via webinar. Whatever it is, make it a point to regularly surprise and delight your customers, even in very small ways, and your brand will shine.
By Alana Le