In Getting to the basics

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A few keywords and a Google search later, you can easily find yourself sorting through numerous perspectives, theories, opinions, and interpretations.  You can click on a few of those links or spend your entire day tracking down just the right insight to help you understand the difference, and I would argue you are probably still no closer to creating a plan to manage your brand and market your company’s products or services.  Why say such a thing?  Because the small business owner of today rarely has the ability to take a day off or go out for lunch, much less dive into the full time job of managing their company’s brand and launching multi-channel marketing campaigns to sell products and services.

Hmmm….maybe there is another way.

Here is the good news. There are some simple, cost effective solutions that you can integrate into your business to help you create or manage your brand and launch marketing campaigns to help increase sales and customer loyalty.

For today, let’s start with the important building blocks of understanding the differences between branding and marketing.  I will also drop some suggestions that you can take today to get a step ahead in brand management and marketing.

What Is A Brand?

Simply put, your brand is your identity.  Jeff Bezos was asked about branding and replied, “A brand for your company is like a reputation for a person.  You earn reputation by trying to do hard things.”  I like the way Jeff put it because it connects brand to reputation and that connection is where you make your brand work for you, assuming your reputation is a good one.

Is My Brand Really Just My Logo?

Absolutely not. A brand goes way beyond logo. However, if you are asking this question, you are correct in connecting your logo to your brand.  Consider your logo the visual expression of your brand. Your brand is the largest asset your company has, both on your balance sheet and in your company’s valuation.

If you are starting a new company or deciding on a logo for the first time, remember to pick a name that is easy to pronounce and spell.  I have met so many entrepreneurs that came up with witty or personal company names that later create confusion with their clients. Also, be cautious if you’re picking your company’s new name to match a cool domain name that is available.  Most entrepreneurs have learned how difficult it can be to find a URL and thus have incorporated with a company name that is some variation of the name they originally wanted for their new company.  The bad news is that using variations or word play can create confusion, which is the opposite of what you want. Don’t miss business opportunities because people could not find something as basic to your brand as your name.

Once you have decided on your company name you can turn your attention to the business of choosing a logo. There are experts who will tell you there are anywhere from three to six different type of logos. Don’t let the varying perspective scare you into thinking you can’t handle this for your small business. Here is the simple breakdown.  You can create a logo with a design (commonly referred to as an icon logo) or you can use one with your name (commonly referred to as a watermark logo).  Yes, you can combine an icon with your company name as well.  The key thing is to find something that resonates with the identity you want to create for your company. How do you make sure something “resonates” without spending extra money on research and analysis?  There are some basic practices that Entreprenuer.com did a good job of compiling and explaining. If you’re in the market for a logo, invest the time to understand your options.

Start Early And Stay Focused On Your Brand

Since you are building your reputation as you build your brand, you can likely see the importance of starting early and making the focus on brand management a constant part of your responsibilities as a small business owner. Given how social customers are today, I must slow down here and address briefly the connection between social media and your brand.

The good news is you can build brand awareness quickly using social media sites like Facebook, Yelp, and Twitter.  The bad news is if you don’t manage your social media channels with the customer’s experience top of mind, you run the risk of having a bad post that prospective customers see when shopping.  Remember, consumers are smart, savvy, and connected.  Consider Belle Beth Cooper’s article in Fastcompany.com that, among other cool facts, reported that 25% of smartphone owners ages 18-44 say they can’t recall the last time their smartphone wasn’t next to them. This means customers can respond to a customer experience immediately.

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Thus, when people are happy with you, they can tag themselves into your establishment and post something that seems inviting to their friends. And when they are unhappy with you they can post about a bad experience they just had and broadcast that to their entire social network.

Smart and proactive business owners are aware of what is posted about their company and proactively work with customers to turn bad experiences into better ones.  A phone call or email to settle a client’s issue may cost you a discount or freebie, but it may score big points when you consider your brand’s reputation. The primary takeaway here is that you will not know what people are saying or understand what options are available to correct the issue if you are not actively monitoring your social media sites.  Future posts will dig into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites with suggestions about how to get started or launch a growth campaign via these popular channels.

What Is Marketing?

Marketing is a process that delivers a message of value to your target market(s) about your products and services.  Not to get too deep into competitive strategies, but it is important to first know how you plan to compete for business with other brands.  Knowing this strategy helps you position your brand in your marketing campaigns.

Are you segmenting the market to offer a level of specialization your customers can’t get from your competitors? Are you differentiating your products and services from those of your competitors to deliver something unique to your customers?  Lastly, are you competing with low price?  You can read more about competitive strategies to determine how your firm is/should be competing for market share.  There are countless experts out there, but keep in mind most experts today will base perspective on Michael Porter’s work at Harvard, so consider starting there.

Once you feel good about your competitive strategy, you can engage in marketing campaigns via numerous channels; including mobile, email, social, voice, IM, or yes, you can still use print if you like.  Take a moment and review CMO magazine ‘s perspective on multi-channel marketing:

Are Coupons Enough?

Diving into coupons is a detailed topic for this post.  However, I have met so many small business owners who tell me their marketing approach is 100% coupon based.  Remember, coupons are one part of a marketing campaign, not a comprehensive one.

Coupons have saved consumers billions of dollars. They definitely get people’s attention.  Just remember, every time your customer saves money off the regular price, you collected less revenue.  I have worked with many business owners that mistakenly thought lowering prices or printing more coupons would generate new business.  While that is one possible outcome, the likelihood is you will only provide existing customers with lower prices and if those existing customers were loyal and happy, you may have lowered your margin without getting anything in return for it.  Consider this, you need an organized approach and a focused campaign with identified goals and budget before you start printing or texting coupons.  Identify a new customer campaign and structure benefits and restrictions to fit the goals of your new customer campaign.  Should your goal be retaining customers or increasing the amount of average sales per existing customer, then organize a loyalty program with rewards to increase loyalty and sales.

Bringing it All Together

Let’s summarize a few key points:

  1. Branding and marketing are related but not the same. It is important to implement a strategy to build and maintain a strong brand (reputation).
  2. When launching a new company or re-imagining your current company’s identity, it is critical to be smart about your professional identity, including your company name and logo.
  3. A marketing campaign should have a goal, a target market, and a budget.  Make sure to keep good records so that you can use the data from one campaign to help you set up smart campaigns in the future.
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