As an entrepreneur, you’ve got a lot to think about. Finances. Satisfying customers. Competition. Economic downturns. Marketing. It’s hard to wear so many hats and keep everything straight.
And the decisions!
What strategic direction should we take? Our customer asked us to do this for them, but I’m not sure we should? We are growing and need help but who could we partner with? It’s enough to keep you up at night.
One of the most important gifts an entrepreneur can give herself is the ability to stay focused. A strong, clearly defined brand helps you maintain focus by:
- Helping you market to the right people — the ones who value your “brand promise,” or what your company stands for;
- Helping you attract the right employees who fit in with your company culture;
- Making the right products or offer the right services;
- Planning your strategic direction; and
- Making daily decisions on what opportunities to pursue.
If you don’t define yourself, someone else will.
A brand is not merely a symbol, a logo, or a name, but the culmination of communications and experiences that a person receives from every contact with your organization. More simply said, your brand is how people describe and feel about you or your company.
Here’s the bummer part. You don’t own your brand. It resides in the minds of the people who interact with your company – your customers, employees, competitors, advisors, etc. As people overwhelmed with information, we have an inherent need to slot people and companies we encounter. It helps us to make sense of the constant information flow. If you don’t clearly define who you are and what your company stands for, people will define it for you. And trust me, it might not be what you want.
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You don’t need a big marketing budget to build a brand.
“Power brands” Nike and Starbucks are easy to identify because people have so many interactions with the brand. We see the advertising, we buy the product, we see other people using the products, etc. Nike stands for courage, guts, and sportsman-like competitiveness. Starbucks stands for cultured relaxation. Both are business-to-consumer companies whose goal is to reach masses. In business-to-business companies, the goal is to create relationships with a more defined target audience. There may be fewer interactions with the brand, but deeper ones.
Sure, we completely understand that entrepreneurs don’t have the same marketing budgets or resources as a Nike or Starbucks, but they don’t need to. It’s not about how much you spend on marketing. It’s all about how clearly you communicate your unique value and how consistently you deliver on that promise. Don’t think that if you aren’t spending money on advertising or not really doing a lot of marketing, you don’t have a brand. You do! Every interaction with the customer helps them slot you in their minds.
Don’t be afraid of emotional reactions. Create them.
The brand is extremely important for relationships. Why? Emotions. Brands create the emotion behind your product or service, which helps people make a decision to spend money with you. People often don’t want to talk about emotions in the business world. But let’s be honest. We all know that the decision-making process for potential employees choosing a place to work, or for customers choosing a trusted adviser, is often partly an emotional one.
Prospective customers and employees need to feel that your company is going to provide them with a better product or service than any other competitor. Especially, if you are a small company competing with a “big guy.” Have a clear message about how you are better and then deliver it. If you deliver on your brand message, then you have a relationship built on trust. Trust leads to loyalty which ultimately leads to greater profits for your company.
Creating this trust and building emotions is actually easier for a small entrepreneur than a large corporation. It is easier for a client to build a relationship with one person or a few people than with a lot of people at a large company who doesn’t always deliver the same message or act the same way. Some argue that smaller companies can compete with their larger competitors because they are more nimble. I argue that they compete better because they are more consistent. If your customers believe that you walk the talk, you will be number one on their list.
If your brand promise is clear, you will attract the right customers who will benefit the most from your product or service. Then you’ll be able to build trust and a long lasting relationship with your customers.
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With a 20-year background in marketing and branding consulting, Sue Kirchner is passionate about building her own brand. She is the founder of Brand Strong Marketing. Sue is also the publisher of the Chocolate Cake Moments blog, which shares tips and ideas on how to schedule more family fun and laughter. When she’s not working, she’s home having fun with her husband and two kids.