Chapter 1: What is your brand?
Small to medium sized businesses live and die based on the value of their brands. Brand is your biggest asset and what the marketplace thinks of you can either be an invaluable asset, or a huge liability.
That being said, most companies don’t have a strong grasp of what brand is, which makes it difficult to know how to improve it. These companies often make the mistake of underestimating the value of having a good brand due to the abstract definitions and consequently put a lower value on improving their brand.
Your brand is what other people say about your company when you’re not around. It is your reputation and what people expect when they work with you. Your brand is also a combination of:
- Your mission statement
- The advertisements your firm uses
- Your logo and tagline
- Your website and the marketing information available on it
- The name of your firm
All of this information combines together to be part of your brand, but there is also a sense of overall reputation that will come from the actions your company takes and how they are perceived.
There is an additional concept of visibility which is quite important. This is the idea that a company customers hear from often is perceived more favorably than companies who don’t communicate as much, assuming the content of the communications favorably presents the company.
Rebranding Your Firm.
Once you have an understanding of what your company’s brand is, you might want to make changes to it. This is generally referred to as rebranding, and it is a form of pivoting or making significant changes to your current brand. Often this involves a change of one of the more basic elements of brand, like the website, logo, firm name or something similar , but it will also include bigger changes like new content marketing and partnership strategies.
The intended effect is to build a more solid foundation for your brand to stand upon so you can reach customers more easily and constantly communicate your message with ease.
This act of brand building requires you to objectively assess which activities are consistent with your brand and which ones run against it. The ones running against it disturb your message and should be avoided.
That all being said, the most important thing you can do for your brand is live it. You need to constantly be delivering on the promise your brand makes. Whether through the work, the interactions or the feeling the customer has, everything should be consistent with your brand.
The Perception Divide.
One thing that can make it harder to attain this consistency is the difference between how the outside world sees your firm and how the current employees and clients perceive it. In this sense, you have an internal brand and an external brand, and not having them working in synchronization makes your core brand unclear.
By giving your current clients an experience that matches the perception of the outside world and potential clients, your company can attract more of the right sort of clients and continue to succeed
Chapter 2: What makes a brand successful?
Most business-owners don’t really take the time to question what their brand is and whether it is successful or not. They might have a loose conception of what their core values are, but they don’t see how certain day-to-day activities affect the perception of their brand and add (or remove) value from their company.
First of all, let’s get clear on what brand success for a small company means. Below are a few things that indicate a brand is doing well.
1) Lots of referrals – If your company is constantly getting referrals, your current clients are saying good enough things about you to make other companies want to do business with you.
2) Frequent warm leads – When your brand speaks strongly enough to a company that they reach out to you, you can be sure you’re on the right track.
3) High closing rate – The way you present to potential clients resounds so strongly that you seem to close more often than your competitors.
4) Few competitive bid situations – Not only do you usually win in competitive bid situations, but you also don’t have to deal with them as often because your brand differentiates you from the other options.
5) Premium fees – You are in such high demand and have so much reputational value that you can charge higher fees than your competitors and still get the client.
These are all telltale signs your brand value is strong and the results can be fantastic. Not only does your business do better, but other good things like solid publicity and stronger job applicants come more easily.
Now that we know what a successful brand looks like, let’s talk about what changes you can make to increase your company’s brand value.
Characteristics of a Strong Brand.
A Focused Target Audience: The temptation in business is to target as many people as possible and hope you gain some new clients. This is quite contrary from what tends to work best. By qualifying what types of clients you want and focusing on them, you greatly increase your chances of success in those cases. To state this another way, high visibility is only useful if your message is meaningful to those who see it.
Strong Reputation: Your reputation should be so strong that everyone, not just your target audience, is saying good things about you. Being seen in a favourable light by the entire market is the best advertising you can get.
Clear Effectiveness: It is one things to be liked by your clients, but you must be seen as effective more than anything. If you aren’t making your clients more money, then you are not effective.
High Visibility: Everyone in your focused target audience should know about you. And not just your reputation; they should know you make your clients lots of money and understand you are a top producer within your field.
Premium Position: You only earn as much as you value yourself. Assuming you are delivering great product and are the best at it in your field, you should have premium prices.
These four factors are more than enough to set your brand apart as successful while bringing your company to a higher level of performance.
Chapter 3: The psychology of brand strength
Certain psychological principles inform many of the decisions consumers make. One classic example of this is the Halo Effect. Discovered by Edward Thorndike in 1915, the Halo effect is our tendency to view someone’s performance as either all good, or all bad.
What this means is if you have a favourable impression of someone, you will see many of the other things they do as good, and vice versa. This effect translates to companies. Our impression of one person or interaction from a company will inform the way we perceive every other person or interaction at that company.
How brand Strength creates a halo effect.
We already know that firms with high brand strength do better in general. They attract better clients, business partners and employees, and this is all do to their high visibility and great reputations.
That being said, it isn’t always easy to communicate your brand strength to everyone. This is where the Halo Effect comes in. You don’t need to be the best at everything to have your audience think you are. You just need to be the best at something, and the Halo Effect will pull the perceived value of your offerings up.
So extending the Halo Effect idea thought further, by being the best at a few things, you will be perceived as the best at many things. The human tendency to generalize helps to improve your reputation because of your strong performance in a few core areas.
Most firms fail at this by trying to be everything to everyone rather than choosing one thing to do really well for a select audience. This dilutes their brand strength and they are never perceived as “great” at any single thing.
If you are chasing everyone at once and don’t have a singular focus, then your lack of differentiation will result in your brand will becoming commoditized.
The smarter approach is to choose a line of business where you have a clear strength or advantage and devote your resources to that. This way you can develop a good reputation with high visibility and leverage that into other businesses.
Chapter 4: How the digital revolution changes brand building
These days, the way we do business is rapidly evolving as businesses start to utilize the full power of the Internet . As a result, companies like yours will have to learn how to adapt their business processes to this new way of life, or fail. It used to be that sales were made by establishing trust through personal relationships while operating on a local level. The changes which have occurred over the last decade have shown us that there are many ways to establish credibility without being there in person.
Below are the five major factors driving this change in the ways businesses function today:
1) Technology: New technologies allow people to have professional interactions without being face-to-face. Communication is becoming easy and inexpensive, which is eliminating the distance barrier.
2) Digital natives: People are entering the workplace who have never known anything but the Internet and this means a whole new level of trust and dependence on technology. These new workers frequently Google queries and use the Internet as a means of research for everything.
3) Time efficiencies: The nature of the business world today is that executives are always working under time pressures. As a result, they don’t have time for face-to-face meetings to establish rapport. They want the deliverable emailed over now and will do everything they can to be more efficient with their time.
4) Credibility from free education: Companies who can educate their clients or potential clients are demonstrating value while providing value. The result is a level of trust in their knowledge that leads to a business relationship.
5) Transparency: If you are not open about everything on the Internet, potential users will think you are hiding something. This is why companies make so much information readily available – because they have to be.
These trends all point to a world where every company must be reachable and researchable over the web in order to survive. This is changing marketing strategies across the marketplace, as shown in the next chapter.
Chapter 5: Strategies for building great brands
We’ve already spent a lot of time discussing how important a powerful brand is, but we haven’t explained how to build yours. Brand building strategies are anything that improves a firm’s reputation or visibility within its target client group while making sure this target client group is relevant to the company’s offerings.
Top brand building strategies.
Content marketing: This is a form of soft selling by providing value rather than trying to “sell” your potential clients. As they continue to learn from the content you post, they develop a trust in your firm that eventually leads to a business relationship. Of course, your information must be relevant in order to enhance reputation and visibility.
Develop visible experts: It is one thing to be knowledgeable about something, and another altogether to be knowledgeable to the point of influence and fame within a target group. These “Visible Experts” help increase the value of a firm’s brand by exploiting the Halo Effect. If one expert is this good, then maybe they are all this good.
Building reputable partnerships: By working with other prominent organizations with high brand value, a company can build their brand. Any business or charity you work with will add value to both of your brands, assuming the project goes well.
Seek high profile clients: Having big name clients will not only add to a company’s bottom-line, but will also increase the value of a brand and make it possible to charge premium prices. This is what happens when you can promote the work you’ve done with a company that others already trust. In a way, part of their brand becomes yours.
Dominate social media: Your visibility can be hugely dependent on your social media presence, so it makes sense that you dominate in that space. Participating is good, but dominating gives you a chance to be the perceived leader within the field because of always being top of mind.
By combining all these strategies, you have a good chance of becoming the dominant brand within your field. That’s why building your brand is the same as building your business.
Chapter 6: Using strategic marketing to build your brand
1) Decide on goals for the entire firm. by having an idea of size, growth, or products your company will have in a few years, it is simpler to plan your route to attaining of those goals.
2) Figure out your strengths. By figuring out where you are doing the best, you create the opportunity to double down on those areas and speed up your growth.
3) Find the long-term opportunities. The fastest growing spaces aren’t always the longest term. Do some research to figure out which is which and then realize growth means nothing if it isn’t around in five years.
4) Research the top targets. Get heavy into research mode and figure out what clients and verticals are going to bring the most profit, both in the short-term and the long-term.
5) Focus in on these targets. This will mean letting some other opportunities fall by the wayside while you pursue the clients and verticals that are going to serve your company best.
6) Develop your marketing strategy. Using a mix of new and old methods of reaching your audience, determine what methods you will use to increase your visibility and reputation with your target groups.
7) Start measuring your progress. None of this will mean anything if you don’t have a clear method of figuring out if what you are doing is working or not. Figure out what you want to track (e.g. sales, referrals, leads, searches, etc.) and then come up with a system to measure it.
8) Implement the strategy. Now it’s time to test out what you’ve come up with and see if it works.
9) Review and calibrate. Your strategy won’t be perfect on the first try, so be ready to adjust it quite a bit in the beginning.
Once you have done all of this, the most important thing you can do is stick to your strategy and not change things too quickly. Meaningful change takes time and you don’t want to sabotage your results by making changes too often. That being said, monitor your results on a quarterly basis and if you are not seeing changes in the right direction, rethink your strategy and try againy
Chapter 7: Top 9 branding tools
If you’re going to build a top brand for your company, you will need tools. Tools are the techniques you can use to build and refine your firm’s reputation or increase the visibility of your firm’s reputation. Below are the top 9 best tools for building your brand:
1) Write a book: This isn’t a book meant for other practitioners, it should be targeted towards clients. You are essentially providing value to your customers while giving yourself the level of credibility an author tends to have for being an expert on any matter.
2) Produce a video: The general trend has shifted away from reading to watching, which is why you want to produce a quality video that establishes your position as a leading brand. By explaining a concept, telling the story or your firm, or anything else that improves your reputation, you will increase your brand value.
3) Develop a Blog: You want to build a source that clients and leads can refer to in order to learn more about you and your industry. This shouldn’t be a half-assed blog, it should go into detail and have features that stand out.
4) Publish a Newsletter: This more formal version of a blog is a way to provide critical industry insights to your clients. The information shouldn’t be available elsewhere and should do a good job of portraying your perspective.
5) Organize a Conference: A more old school way of building a brand, you can use conferences to develop your reputation as a market leader. This also allows you to control the narrative of your conference and focus on topics that are your specialty. Choosing a focus means you can focus in on your target groups.
6) Conduct New Research: Another great way to establish yourself as a leader rather than a follower, doing research involves trying to answer a question where the answer can help you and your clients. By publishing your research instead of keeping it proprietary you show an abundance of value.
7) Share Your Data: The data you collect in the process of doing business is not only useful to you, but everyone else. By sharing it, you can show how well you’re doing and the value you’re providing, and also help your clients to make better business decisions in the future.
8) Cultivate “Visible Experts”: We discussed this earlier, but by increasing the visibility of the talented experts within your firm and giving them a “brand” of their own, you increase the profile of your firm at the same time.
9) Do An Interview Series: Your company has access to experts that not everyone else does. By interviewing them and sharing their knowledge, you can use their credibility to improve your own credibility. At the same time, your visibility goes up a ton.
Chapter 8: Common Branding Mistakes
Just as there are tools that will elevate your brand, there are mistakes you can make along the way which will bring your brand down. These mistakes will cost you time and money and can make any future brand development efforts much harder to implement.
Brand development is the process of creating or updating the brand of your company. It usually has three phases:
1) Getting the strategy right: This is the preliminary stage where you are choosing target audiences, positioning your brand and developing the messaging.
2) Creating brand development tools: Using the strategies you developed above, you build new tools around your company to further your goals.
3) Building the brand: This is where your marketing team takes your tools and plans and runs with them. By using your strategies and tools to increase your visibility and reputation, you can begin your brand development process.
This process will always consist of payoffs and blunders, but if you think ahead properly you can avoid the most costly mistakes like the 10 described below:
1) No differentiators: If there are no perceived differences between what you’re saying about your firm and what others are saying about other firms, your brand value is weak and your firm is being commoditized.
2) Being everything to everyone: Just like when you don’t differentiate yourself, doing this means you are going after every customer, not the best customers. If you go for everything, you will get nothing. Focus on a specialization is absolutely necessary.
3) Not knowing what brand is: If you think of your brand as your logo or website rather than your reputation or visibility, you are missing the point.
4) Ignoring the value of brand: Brand is the most fixed aspect of a company, which makes it one of the most valuable assets you have. It can bring new clients or it can lose you current clients – it all depends on how you use it.
5) Not listening to input: There is going to be a difference between what the management at your company thinks their brand is and what the customers and employees think it is. Better strategies will come from listening to everyone and making decisions based on a more complete picture.
6) Making it political: Many firms get embroiled in battles over the direction of the firm as it relates to brand. Brand development is hard enough already without a power struggle.
7) Aiming low: You should plan on being perceived as the leader in your area, not just an expert. Being #1 is very different from being #2 when it comes to the value of your brand.
8) Making impossible promises: Your brand value is also negatively affected when you promise things you can’t make happen. This hurts your reputation more than underselling would.
9) Forgetting the online approach: The more experienced marketers have less experience in online methods of branding and therefore tend to neglect it more. Avoid this mistake by taking a balanced approach to both.
10) Using “me too” branding: Don’t copy every good idea you see from competitors because it will leave you slightly behind and competing in someone else’s space. Choose your own space and run with it.
As you pursue the development of your firm’s brand, making sure to avoid even just these 10 mistakes will mean a ton of saved time and money. Check out the resources at our website for more branding and marketing tips for your company.
Most companies put the priority of brand behind too many things and miss out on a huge amount of long-term value. Your small-to-medium sized business will take a huge benefit from ongoing focus and investment in your brand, you just have to give it a chance.
So few companies take time to focus on this, which makes it an activity that is easy to leverage into massive improvements in your results.
By taking steps now, you can attract the best clients, the most talented employees and build great partnerships. The goal is to be a premium player in whatever space you choose to focus on.
And we’re here to make that a reality.