In 2017, with the rise of would-be entrepreneurs and “gurus,” competition for your product or service is fierce. In less than a day, a competitor can have a logo, tagline, website and social channels (complete with hashtags re-tweeted by their friends and family). Furthermore, because they probably whipped these assets up themselves or hired their kid sister with a large Instagram following, their overhead isn’t as steep as yours — so they can afford to deliver on the cheap. So, what’s your next move? How do protect yourself against this type of competition?
This virtual pop-up-shop phenomenon can (and does) work, but there’s one element that can make it NOT work quickly: substance. Your product or service is more than just a product or service — your deliverable and its success (or failure) is grounded and solidified by your brand. And, well, brands don’t just happen overnight.
A company’s brand is its body, mind and soul — it defines the ethos and reason for being to your customers or clients, employees, and stakeholders. A brand is the ship: With carefully constructed design, built to weather the hardest of situations, it will guide a company through anything. Without a brand, products and services are simply the sails flapping in the wind without anchor or direction.
Let’s take a look at why a strong brand is so important for success. Along the way, we’ll share a few ways you can make your brand a priority in 2017.
The Importance of Cohesive Branding — Omni-Channel Marketing
Your brand should be recognizable from every exposure point: brick and mortar, mobile app, website, social media accounts, etc. This is described as omni-channel marketing, where consistency and continuity are key to elevating the level of familiarity, following and trust.
Why is this so important? It is, perhaps, more important now than it was just 15 years ago because there are so many more places your brand, and your audiences, are. In each of those places, if the message and presence are the same, it resonates and solidifies legitimacy and cultivates brand affinity (which, in turn, has been proven to drive profit).
Your logo, vision and mission statements, color palette, and tagline are all important elements of your brand. However, what’s really at stake here is how all of those elements collectively present themselves to a customer, or potential customer, in a way that makes them feel well-served. An omni-channel strategy is best built when it makes the customer’s experience its priority. A user’s experience on your website should be as seamless as the experience in-store and in-app.
This sounds a bit overwhelming, but really, it comes down to quality control and audience insight. Here are some ways to get started:
- Conduct a survey: Learn how your audiences prefer to engage with your brand. (Hint: Not all of your audiences prefer to use your website to contact you. Some still like to pick up the phone, and some even want to tweet you!)
- Do an audit: Set a day or two aside and pull together every single place your brand is exposed — website, collateral, Facebook, emails, vendor profiles, etc. Find the inconsistencies — old messaging, out-of-stock product, etc. — and commit to updating and maintaining your assets.
- Step back: Once you’ve done your survey and audit, find the places where inconsistencies exist, and also find where your messaging, logo and colors could use some updating. Your brand should never go stagnant.
Take Your Social Media Seriously (and DON’T Leave It to the Intern)
Your brand is the personality of your business, and just like first introductions between business prospects, you only get one first impression. There’s no better place to let that personality work for you than on your social media channels. Now that social media marketing has proven itself as a key player for ROI and conversions, using it as a method to grow your brand, build awareness and drive preference is a necessary part of the branding puzzle. Take note: 71 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase from a brand they follow on social media.
Still an evolving medium for marketers, social media is not the outsider it once was in the conference room. Obviously, selling on social is the end goal, but it should not be the only goal of your social media strategy. The presentation of your brand to your audiences should remain the driving force behind your commitment to social media.
One way to rethink your social media presence, or to begin thinking about it, is to see it as a direct connection to your customers — a connection more direct than any other form of marketing, well, ever. Through your social channels, you can discover new audiences, revelations about your current ones and opportunities for your company to better serve your customers or, even, beat the competition.
This is not a blog post about why your business should have social media channels. However, it is a blog post about controlling your message and making your brand the grand master of your organization. With the number of impasses and connections social media creates, especially as users embrace marketing messages, it is imperative that your presence syncs with your overall brand strategy.
Where and how to control your brand on social:
- Visuals: Sync profile, cover and header photos across all channels with your current campaigns, messaging or product/service offerings.
- Links: Keep them up-to-date and working. This includes campaign URL’s tied to landing pages, contact buttons and general “about us” links.
- Content: Don’t have time to create a separate content strategy for your channels? You should reconsider this as a priority, but in the meantime, repurpose what you have and tweak it for each channel to keep your channels timely and engaging.
- Engage and respond: Nearly 70 percent of consumers have used social for customer service-related inquiries, and at least 42 percent of them expect a response in less than an hour; if you are going to promote your brand on social, be prepared to respond and engage in a timely manner.
No Press Is Bad Press?
An often-overlooked arm of nurturing brands is how that brand or company is presented in the press or news. Unlike your website, your social content or even your brick-and-mortar stores, your brand representation and interpretation can’t be highly controlled in this space.
Small businesses in particular, due to constrained resources, are sometimes oblivious as to what “earned media” can be won out in the world. There are ways to help control your brand in this space, but it’s not 100 percent effective. Ways to get a handle on this are:
- Get to know the media: Do some research; find out who is writing in your local market and your industry, whether for newspapers, magazines, radio or TV. If you can, make some connections — they may become invaluable in times of crisis.
- Stay on alert: If you don’t have time to scan for any mentions of your company, set up Google Alerts; these will send you emails, based on your selected frequency, when a word or phrase (i.e. your company name, similar products, competitors, etc.) that you’ve tagged is mentioned.
- Read/watch the news: Staying on top of your industry’s news allows you to be better prepared to react, or even be proactive, with your own brand or messages.
Personal Branding for Brand Affinity
In the age of “Googling it,” having a professional online presence that you can be proud of isn’t only necessary when you’re looking for new employment opportunities. Consumers are more skeptical than ever of whom they buy from, and they research EVERYTHING. Just as someone may read up on your mission statement, investigate a corporate social responsibility commitment, or even check how your company interacts on social, they may even be inclined to research the people you employ. Personal branding is just one more intersection between a potential customer and a sale, because consumers want to feel good about where their money is being spent.
As a test, Google yourself, and then, Google yourself plus the company you work for (or even do it for some of your most visible employees). Review how the personal and professional information blends, review for facts (correct job titles, achievements, etc.), and be on the lookout for public mentions (published articles, quotes, etc.). Do you, or your employees, embody the brand you are trying to convey everywhere else? What assumptions could a potential customer, client or lead interpret from his or her own search.
This search can span across social media profiles, too. If your CMO is ranting about how incompetent your team is, or your retail manager is venting about “stupid customers,” you’ll want to know, because these are all ill-fitted opportunities for customers to turn away from you, or for potential ones to pass you over. Here’s a crash course on corralling your personal branding or that of your employees:
- Evaluate: Audit your social media and online presence, and request the same of key employees — and do it on a regular basis. Review the types of posts and comments you make and their sentiment. Ask yourself if it’s something you wouldn’t mind a potential prospect seeing. (Remember, the internet never forgets!)
- Review Privacy Settings: Don’t want to have to worry about what you say or just how many cat videos you share? Another option is to make your social accounts private and visible only to those you approve of or accept connections from.
- Consider a Social Media Policy: If you’re looking to get ahead of this task, consider crafting a social media policy for your employees, one that guides them in the best practices for using social media as a professional and that also provides them the resources to promote the brand and its lifestyle on their own social channels. Employee advocacy can be very powerful.
- Training: Consider investing in personal brand training, for example, training on how you and your employees can harness the power of LinkedIn, or how best to interact on social media on behalf of your brand.
The Power of Brand
Links have been made between a brand and a customer’s likelihood of purchase and re-purchase. Just look at megabrands like Dunkin’ Donuts, whose brand following is as strong as its dark roast — even leading some people to commit to Dunkin’ or nothing else. It has taken this brand years to perfect that pink and orange recipe for gold, but it’s not just with their ads, social channels or new donut rollouts that they refine and harness the brand loyalty among their customers. They LIVE their brand and don’t ask questions. Every shop, from the cups to the donuts, tables and employees, follows guidelines, and the company demands quality every time. And what happens when that medium iced coffee with extra sugar and double cream gets served one sugar short? Dunkin’ is there, replying on Facebook to their customer’s less-than-perfect experience.
Do you have to be as a big as Dunkin’ for your brand to be just as important? Absolutely not. Dunkin’ may have more resources to throw at the cause, but your company’s size shouldn’t stop you, either. Through our recommendations outlined here, along with some prioritization, your brand can also work for you in ways that you didn’t think were possible — and the same can be said about your employees.
Have you found your own methods for nurturing your brand? Or did you learn something new?