A survey by the Pew Foundation found that 71 percent of Americans view small businesses more favorably than any other institution, including religious organizations. Why? Small businesses are seen as a positive influence on the country. But it’s more than that. Small businesses are in a unique position to create valuable customer experiences. Their niche products and services target defined customers with agile business operations unconstrained by corporate rules and processes. Small businesses are also trusted for their integrity, community engagement, and customer service. A small business doesn’t rout you to an automated call center? These small things come together to create a hugely competitive value proposition. How can you leverage these assets to grow the appeal of your brand economically? Here are 10 tips that can help:
What is Your Brand? Your brand is more than your logo, merchandising, or products. It’s the sum total of the experiences customers have with your business. This includes the visual aspects of your business, what you do, how you do it, your customer interactions, and the information you share in your marketing and on social media. All contribute to your trust and credibility.
Stand Out. Standing out means being different. For your brand to be strong, you must pinpoint what makes what you do unique. Refine and emphasize what differentiates you from others in your industry. Weave your differentiators into your company’s messaging and marketing.
Have Great Products and Services. Word of mouth is often a business’ best lead generator. People talking about your products and services is critical to your brand and your business. Even the most charming business owner won’t bring customers back unless the product or service provided exceeds expectations. Don’t lose sight of your product. Refine it, test new offerings, and make sure you always put the product, not profit, first.
Make Sure Customers Know the Face Behind the Product. One cause of small business failures is the persistent absence of the business owner. Things can go wrong when a business is left to run itself. Without an actively engaged owner, employees lose motivation and structure. This can quickly lead to sloppy service, a poor product, and customer churn. Your business must be able to function without your constant presence, but it’s important to strike a balance. Find ways to make sure your customers know you as the face behind the business. Businesses really thrive when the energy of the owner is there.
Get Your Name and Logo Right. This is essential to brand recognition, and it’s important to get it right the first time (changing your name and logo is costly). Your logo and name must be easily recognizable, reflect the nature of the business and appeal to your target market. Aunt Ida’s Attic will attract more customers than Joe’s Junk, even with similar inventories.
Have a Distinct Voice. To ensure you deliver your distinct brand message consistently, focus on how you and your employees interact and communicate with customers, in person, on the phone, and on social media. Not sure what your “voice” should be? Look to others. What do they do that you’d like to emulate? How do they greet and interact with you? What do they do that makes you want to do business with them? Look at what you buy and what attracts you to it.
Build a Community Around What you Do. A successful brand is trusted and respected by its customers. Building a strong community online and off can help you achieve this. This isn’t expensive. Many successful brands focus almost exclusively on online and offline community building rather than traditional advertising. Facebook and Twitter are great tools, as is your blog. Offline participation in community activities such as local events, fundraisers, and charities (as well as hosting such events as workshops or loyal customer events) can all help you build community and extend the trust you’ve earned for your brand.
Be an Advocate for Your Business—Not Just a Salesman. You don’t have to be the greatest salesman to succeed in business. Selling takes many forms, and being a brand advocate pulls them all together. Many small business owners strive to be the number one salesman, the number one cheerleader, and the number one fan of their business (you’ve got to be excited if you want others to be excited). If you are passionate about your business, be an advocate for it. Make sure people understand what you do, the story behind your products, what your products have done for people, your methods and mission, and all that good stuff. Invite people in!
Be Reliable. Failing to live up to your promises and brand standards can be particularly harmful to small businesses that depend on referrals. The foundation for brand loyalty lies in great service. Happy customers are more loyal. Make sure you don’t make promises you can’t keep—whether you run a pizza business and pledge to deliver within 30 minutes, or are a painting contractor who promises to start a job on a Monday at 9:00 AM sharp. Stand by your promises.
Have a Value Proposition. Value, not to be mistaken with price, can help define your brand and differentiate you from the competition. What niche do you serve? What do you do that makes you different from everyone else? What are the emotional benefits of what you do? These questions will help define your value to your customers. It could be great customer service, product quality, consistency, innovation, or any combination of these.
Caron Beesley is a small business owner, writer, and marketing communications consultant who works with SBA and SCORE to promote key government resources to help entrepreneurs and small business owners start up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley