Branding and Marketing:
Creating the Right Image to Attract Customers
You’re open for business, but how will your potential customers find you? In order for someone to purchase your products or services, they have to know about your business. Branding your business helps you define how you want customers to view your business. Then, marketing is how your future customers will find out about you. By using a mix of differing types of marketing, you’ll find creative, fun and practical ways to reach out to your customers.
Branding Your Business: Who Are You?
When you create a brand for your business, you convey a consistent look and message you want to send your customers through networking, advertising and any interaction they have with your business. A strong brand can help you deliberately craft the way customers think about your business, and can help a small business present a more professional image.
The kind of appearance and values you want to present to your customers may be something you want to describe in your business plan.
- Appearance — You will probably want to design a logo for your business to help customers recognize your business. In addition, you may want to select a color scheme you use on all business cards, flyers, mailers, your web site and in your store. A consistent appearance can help customers recognize your materials and business more quickly.
- Values — Do you want to emphasize quality? Professionalism? You can do this by demonstrating these values as you interact with customers. However, you can also reinforce them by brands and organizations you align yourself with. For example, perhaps your store carries an exclusive brand of hair care products that are known for their high quality. Maybe you sell a handmade item that is known for its fine workmanship. Perhaps your business will participate in a charity fundraiser to help a homeless shelter. These are characteristics customers will remember about your business.
- Consistency — How do you treat your customers, vendors and other businesspeople when you interact with them? Are you or your employees friendly on the phone? Can customers count a certain level of courtesy and professionalism when they do business with you? Do all your printed materials and your web site have a consistent look? Will customers recognized them easily as coming from your business?
- Details — Reinforce your brand, right down to your e-mail address. Use a part of your name or your company’s name in your e-mail. Customers are more likely to have confidence in you if they contact you at a professional-sounding address such as firstname.lastname@example.org or theeyedoctor@(gmail, hotmail, Yahoo, etc.).com rather than a more casual address like partyjackson@(gmail, hotmail, Yahoo, etc.).com. Branding your business can help you attract the type of customers you want. For example, perhaps you are a cake decorator who enjoys making small, beautiful cakes, and you like working with brides who have limited budgets. You will want to develop a brand that emphasizes personal service, quality and affordability.
A consistent brand can build customer loyalty. When customers know they can count on you for good service and quality, they are likely to be repeat customers.
Designing a Logo and Business Cards
An effective logo is a first impression of your business, and it is an important part of branding your business. You may want a logo that can be used on signage, business cards, flyers, stationery, your web site, and more. If you are a skilled graphic designer, you will probably want to design your own. If not, you will want to find a good graphic designer to help you.
The right graphic designer — whether he or she works for an agency or is a freelancer — will be able to help you create an effective logo. When looking for a designer, you will want to work with someone who has experience, a portfolio of quality work that you like, and who is someone with whom you communicate well. Make sure you know how much the graphic designer will charge for a logo design. Will the designer charge you a flat rate for the logo or an hourly basis? If you don’t like the logo, how many times will the designer adjust it for you? Ask these questions ahead of time.
A good logo should be simple, memorable and easily recognizable. It should suit the theme of your business; for example, a childlike font and bright primary colors would fit a logo for a children’s clothing or toy store, but not a law firm. What feeling do you want to convey? Friendly? Businesslike? Finally, you may want to create a tagline, a one-line sentence that sums up the purpose of your business.
After you have a logo — or, if you prefer, a design from a computerized business card template — you can create business cards and other materials. There are many businesses and online locations that print business cards inexpensively. You can have professional-looking business cards, flyers and other materials without spending a lot of money right away. Then, be prepared to hand out business cards to everyone you talk to.
Marketing: Reach Out to Potential Customers
Marketing is about building relationships — with your customers, with other business owners who may become your customers or refer people to you, and with people who can help you promote your business. Many options are available for marketing your business. They can be as simple as telling your neighbor about your new business or as prominent as renting a billboard. Choose the marketing methods that you can afford and that are most effective for reaching your potential customers.
When you wrote your complete business plan, a marketing plan was probably included in it. Use that information to help you decide which types of marketing will work best for you. You can use two basic types of marketing — active and passive.
Active marketing involves personally contacting people you know and telling them about your business. The best way to do this is to literally write a list of everyone you know. Include friends, family, business associates, people at your church, colleagues in organizations to which you belong, acquaintances you know from your softball team or other activities in which you are involved. Start actively marketing your business to the people on your list. Active marketing is inexpensive and lends your business a personal touch. These people know you, and because they know you, they are likely to have a sense of trust and confidence that will make them want to do business with you. When they do business with you, or they tell others about your business, reward them. Offer them a free or discounted product or service, for example, when they refer a new customer to you.
If you aren’t in community organizations, a church, a local sports team, etc., now is the time to become involved. People buy products and services from people, not from companies. The more people you know, the more people you can tell about your business.
Passive marketing involves buying outside sources that market to the general public. Billboards, radio and television ads, Yellow Pages ads and web sites are examples of passive marketing. Passive marketing is typically expensive because you are advertising to a bigger audience — the general public. However, your customer is seldom the entire public, so you are spending money to market to some people who won’t be your customers.
When marketing your business, you need to confidently describe the benefits of your product or service and how your customers can expect to benefit from it. Tell them what sets you apart from your competitors. If you truly believe in what you are doing or what you have to offer, your customers will, too. You also need to determine who your customers are. For example, if you are a landscaper, do you specialize in landscapes that minimize water use? Do you cater to affluent clients, or are you an affordable lawn care and hedge-trimming service? Is your target customer younger or older, wealthy or on a budget? Get to know your customers’ likes, dislikes, and expectations, and then you’ll be able to create advertising that appeals specifically to them.
Then, plan your marketing carefully. Decide what your budget will allow and divide your marketing budget accordingly. Your marketing plan may include one or more of the following: advertising in newspapers, telephone books, on radio and television stations, in catalogs, through fliers, brochures, letterhead and so on. You may even want to consider magnetic signs for your vehicle or vinyl lettering signs for your car. Whatever method you choose, consider this: If you spend $250 to advertise on the radio, can you realistically expect to get $250 in sales as a result?
As you attract customers, ask them how they found you. What advertising did they see, hear or read that made them decide to go to your business?
Knowing your customers and knowing how most of them found you will help you focus on where you want to spend your time and your marketing budget. For example, are your customers older or younger? Middle-aged and older adults are likely to read newspapers as well as use web sites and e-mail. Younger adults are attracted to social media including Twitter, Facebook and blogs, although adults in their 50s and 60s are increasingly using Facebook. Use a mix of marketing to make sure you are reaching as many people as possible.
However, be cautious about working with marketing companies. It isn’t unusual for marketing companies to sell business owners on the idea that the company will do a complete market analysis of the community to give owners an edge in their business. Business people can spend thousands of dollars for this service, only to find out that they don’t use any of the information for their business. There are a number of cost-effective things you as a business owner can do to promote your business.
Networking with other business people in your community should be part of your active marketing plan. There are organizations specifically designed to help you get to know other business owners and tell them about your business. When you are in business for yourself, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to meet people who might want your product or service.
Your local chamber of commerce — The chamber of commerce is a voluntary membership organization for business and professional leaders in your area. Chambers of commerce promote economic well-being and quality of life in your community. And they offer many services that may be of use to you. Through chamber publications, by attending their mixers and other special events, or by volunteering for their committees, your local chamber offers a wide range of opportunities for you to promote your business. Chambers of commerce also maintain information and statistics about your community that could help you forecast your business’s growth potential. For example, if you run a landscaping business, is your city gaining more retirees who might need your service? Knowing this could help you target your advertising to a specific group of customers. There is a fee to join any chamber of commerce. Chamber membership costs vary throughout the nation; for example, some chambers base their membership fee on the services they provide. Others charge various membership rates based on the size of the business. Contact your local chamber of commerce for more information.
Business networking groups — These specialize in “word of mouth marketing.” Becoming a member of such an organization gives you a chance to meet other business owners in your area and improve your networking skills. Depending on where you live and what groups are available, joining one of these groups could be more expensive than joining a chamber of commerce. But you will network in a smaller group more often — these groups often meet weekly — and you can get to know other business owners who will perhaps refer you or use or recommend your product. Nationally, BNI, or Business Network International, has chapters throughout the United States. Their web site, www.bni.com, can help you find a chapter near you. There may be other similar organizations in your area, as well, that give business owners the chance to network.
Trade organizations or associations — Trade organizations represent a specific trade (bakers, interior designers, welders, retail stores, etc.). They can provide advice, educational opportunities, and can help you get to know others in your field. There are often annual conventions, web sites and newsletters that can help you stay up-to-date with trends in your field. Some even offer services such as health insurance to those who are self-employed. These organizations typically charge a membership fee and may require a certain level of training or expertise before you can become a member. Belonging to such a trade organization can lend you credibility in your community.
A web site can help you introduce yourself more quickly and easily to customers. Your customers will expect you to have one, and it may be one of the main ways they communicate with you. They are likely to look up your site to find out more about your product or service before they do business with you. Your web site will be a place where customers can learn about you and your business any time of day or night. No matter how small your business, Entrepreneur.com recommends that all businesses have a web site. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated or complicated, but it should help you brand your business by emphasizing what is unique about it. You can have complete control over the content. Your logo, color scheme, and information you use on your business card and elsewhere to brand your business should be on your web site so it is easily recognizable by customers.
Unless you are a technology or e-commerce site, your web site can be simple and affordable. You may need to invest only about $200 in getting a web site set up. You should be able to find a web site hosting service, where you can establish a web site for your business, that will cost you $20 a month or less. If you have some knowledge of technology, you can find free web site design templates. You can use these to create a simple web site for your business that will let you include some information and pictures.
If you want or need to hire a web site, this is more expensive. You may need to budget several thousand dollars to hire a designer and have him or her create your web site. When choosing a designer, ask for referrals. Compare several designers’ work and their prices. Hire a designer you are comfortable with, and who can answer your technical and design questions or find answers for you. Be sure to sign a contract with the designer that includes details of how your web site will be designed and managed, such as:
- Who owns the web site?
- When will ownership of the web site transfer from the designer to you?
- Who owns the domain name? How is the domain name renewed?
- Where should the site be hosted online? What will this cost?
- Can the designer help you choose the best domain name for marketing purposes?
- How many revisions of the design and content will you be able to make?
- Does the designer have experience with search engine optimization (SEO), a tool that can help your customers find your web site more easily?
Give your designer complete, detailed written information about your product or service to ensure that what is on your web site is accurate. Review all the pages of your site, page by page, to be sure each one is correct. Make sure you know how to update your site as needed, any time of day or night; will you do it, or will the web site designer? Make sure your address and phone number are correct. If you list any price quotes on your site, make sure they are accurate. Review your web site for typographical and spelling errors.
Whether you build a basic web site yourself with a template or hire a designer to create one for you, simply having a web site will not bring you customers. You will need to promote your web site to let people know your site is available and what it offers them. Can they find useful information there? Coupons or discounts? Can they order your product online? Use your other marketing resources — social media, printed materials and ads, etc. — to tell customers about your web site. You can add links from your Facebook page, your Twitter account, LinkedIn account and your blog to your web site.
If you want to sell products online, you will need a web site that is also an e-commerce site. This requires additional set-up. If you want an e-commerce site, find a web designer who has created other e-commerce sites. Ask to see the designer’s portfolio and references from the designer’s other clients who have e-commerce sites. Visit these sites to find out whether they are easy to use. When setting up an e-commerce site, you will also need to talk to your lender to find out how to transfer funds securely from your customers.
If you want to start smaller or cannot afford an e-commerce web site at first, you may be able to start out selling your products online by using free stores online. These stores are available through companies such as Yahoo! and Amazon.
If you have a web site for your business, check your web site at least daily to see how many visitors you have had and find out if customers have left you comments or questions.
Social Media: Reach Your Customers Online
Social marketing — making use of social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs — gives you a budget-friendly way to stay in touch with your customers every day. Content you put online should reinforce your business brand and be easily recognizable to customers. You can set yourself apart from your competition by reaching out to your customers. Give them information that is concise, focused and useful. Let them know what’s new at your business. Add high-quality photos or video when possible to attract their attention. When you find an article or another web site that might be of interest to your customers, include a link to it. You can also create e-mails lists so you can keep in regular contact with customers. Social marketing gives you many chances to connect quickly with lots of people.
Social media is an effective way to build relationships with customers, as long as you use this tool carefully. A business needs to interact with customers on a personal level. At least 90 percent of communication on social media should be focused on helping your customers, giving them useful information and getting to know them.
Remember, in using any social media, that you and your business are one and the same, so emphasize positive content that is related to your business. Anything you put on the Internet will stay there forever, so avoid content (criticizing competitors or customers, for example) that will reflect negatively on you and your business.
Make a habit of using an online search engine (such as Google or Yahoo!) to search for your name and your business name at least once a month. Find out what people are saying about you and what information is readily available online about you and your business. You will want to correct inaccurate information and minimize negative information as much as possible.
- Facebook — You can set up a personal page and add customers as friends, or you can create a public page for your business and ask people to become fans of your page. Consider Facebook the new Rolodex; instead of collecting a file full of business cards, you can connect with people through your Facebook page and have all of their contact information available any time. Update your Facebook page every day, with just a sentence or two to stay in touch with your customers. If you cannot afford a web site for your business right away, create a Facebook fan page and keep in touch with your customers that way until you build a large client base and you need a web site. To get started, go to www.facebook.com.
- Twitter — This is a forum where people can “follow” you and your string of short messages. Twitter gives you 140 characters (letters, numbers and spaces) each time you send a message to customers. Make any kind of message or link you post useful and interesting to your customers. If you sell children’s clothing on consignment, for example, keep customers updated about what’s new in your store, or what trends are popular in children’s clothing. People see tweets, or messages, on Twitter randomly throughout the day — much like you might happen to see a commercial on television. Therefore, you should post multiple times a day to give your customers more chances to see your messages. To build a consistent, credible reputation for yourself and your business on Twitter, consider tweeting information such as links to other people’s blog posts, links to newspaper articles that relate to your business, personal tips, inspirational quotes, or links to your own blog. You can also tweet information about yourself (an event you attended, etc., that will help customers get to know you. You might want to answer a question about your business field. As you interact with your customers, you’ll get to know what they need and like, and then you can post coupons, sales, etc. about once a week.
On Twitter, you can read other people’s information and also use Twitter’s search function to find tweets about topics that interest you. For example, perhaps you are chiropractor who wants to share an article about nutrition. You can search for tweets about nutrition, and you will find articles, quotes and tips you would like to share with your customers. To get started, go to www.twitter.com.
However, be sure you are not spending so much time online that you neglect other aspects of your business. Free tools are available to help you manage the task of making frequent tweets and posting messages on Facebook. HootSuite, for example, allows you to schedule tweets and Facebook posts. If you know you have a busy week ahead, you can use HootSuite to schedule tweets for specific days and times. You can also use it to schedule status updates on your Facebook page. After scheduling tweets and Facebook updates, you should use HootSuite once a day to be sure your messages were posted. You can also use HootSuite to find out who replied or commented on information you posted or who shared (known as retweeting) the tweets you posted on Twitter.
Blog — A blog is a personal platform to tell people about your business. You can share updates about new products and services with your readers. You can offer special promotions to customers who read your blog. Update your blog at least weekly, and respond to comments your readers leave you. That helps you build relationships with your customers. Although you don’t have the word limits of Facebook and Twitter, keep your content concise and focused on your customers’ interests. Write a few short, concise sentences and post lots of photos. If you cannot afford a web site right away, a blog is an effective way to begin promoting your business and getting to know your customers online. For example, if you are a chiropractor, you may want to use your blog to share tips about exercise and nutrition with your patients. There are many sites that will allow you to start a free blog; some of the best and most widely used are WordPress (www.wordpress.com), and Blogger (www.blogger.com). These are easy to use and do not require you to have a lot of technical knowledge.
YouTube — This site allows you to post videos, which you can then link to your blogs, web site or Facebook page or Twitter. You could make a video demonstrating a new product or something of interest to your customers. If you make cakes in your home, for example, perhaps you could create a video demonstrating how you decorate a cake for child’s birthday. Or, if you find a video on YouTube that would be of interest to your customers, provide a link to it. When you do link to a video, check the link monthly. Videos are sometimes removed and you don’t want to have a broken link on your blog, web site or Facebook or Twitter pages. To find out more about YouTube, go to www.youtube.com.
LinkedIn — LinkedIn is an online network for professionals. Use it to exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities. Think of LinkedIn as an online chamber mixer. You can talk about your professional experience, goals and what you hope to gain from joining LinkedIn. You and your business might especially benefit from a LinkedIn feature called “Recommendation” that allows people to leave positive comments about you in your profile. Your LinkedIn profile will allow you to use up to three web sites as places where people can find out more about you, so link your LinkedIn profile to your business web site.
E-mail lists — More businesses are using opt-in e-mail lists to stay in contact with customers. An opt-in e-mail list is a list of your customers’ e-mail addresses, which they have given you so they can receive newsletters, coupons and more from your business. The difference between this type of e-mail list and spam is that you are sending e-mail to people who have given their consent to get e-mail from you. Spammers buy lists of e-mail address and blast them with their messages. To build an e-mail list, you may keep a sign-up sheet in your store where interested customers can add their e-mail addresses if they want updates from you. If you have a web site, you can include a form on your web site that people can use to sign up for your e-mails. Use good e-mail etiquette and send newsletters, coupons or other business updates at least once a month, but typically not more than once or twice a week. These updates could advertise new products, sales and special events. These, in effect, are like putting a billboard for your business into your customers’ e-mail inboxes.
If you choose to send e-mails twice a week, make one an e-mail with content of interest to your customers, such as an article with a coupon attached. The other could be advertisements or special promotions for those on your e-mail lists; for example, if you run a restaurant or catering service, offer a buy one, get one free sandwich special for one day only for customers who receive your e-mails. At the bottom of all your e-mails, include your name and direct customers to other places they can learn about your business — for example, give them your website address, blog address, or tell them to look for you on Facebook or Twitter. There are free programs such as MailChimp.com and MerchantCircle.com that can help you set up e-mail lists if you have fewer than 500 customers on your e-mail list.
Working with the Media
Just like you are forming relationships with your customers, forming relationships with local media can help you get news about your business out to the public. If you submit a press release about your business without addressing it to a specific editor or reporter, it is likely to be overlooked. Newspapers, television stations and radio stations receive large numbers of press releases. If you send a press release to a specific editor or reporter, your release is more likely to be noticed and printed.
Some newspapers have pages or sections of the paper devoted to local and national business news. They may print announcements about new businesses opening, or news about business people who complete special training or win awards. Contact your local newspaper to find out who to send these kinds of news items to; your paper may have a business reporter. Then, submit a press release. It does not need to be a long, detailed document. If you want to send a press release about your new business opening, for example, include your business name, where it’s located, that it is a new business and what is unique about your product or service. If you are having a grand opening, include the date and time of the grand opening. Always include your name and phone number so that if the newspaper staff has questions or wants more information, they know how to contact you. After submitting your press release, call the editor or reporter to whom you sent it to be sure they received it and to give them an opportunity to ask questions or get more information if they want.
Your local paper might also write news articles about new businesses. Again, a business reporter could tell you whether your local paper prints these types of articles. If so, ask them if they will send a reporter and photographer to interview you about your new business. If they do, be sure to emphasize to the reporter what is unique about your business and what sets you apart from your competitors.
You might also want to contact your local television stations or newspaper if your business is involved in an event that would make a good human interest story. These might include:
- donations of time or services to a local nonprofit group,
- trends in your community or pop culture that create needs that your business can fulfill,
- spotlighting a person whose life was changed positively by a product or service, and
- coverage of an unusual sporting event, like a frog-jumping contest, that your business sponsors.
“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says Make Me Feel Important. Not only will you succeed in sales,you will succeed in life.” - Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics
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