by Ophelia Livingston, CEO of OWL Risk Management Consulting
Helping Your Business Grow Using Social Media
What's your brand? You may not know it, but if you've created a book, CD, or DVD, you've already started developing a brand.
Small businesses have always been focused on building the brand names of their companies and for good reason. How else would people know they exist, what they offer and even where they're located. Some small businesses invest in expensive PR companies, hoping for publicity in mainstream news outlets. Others, such as bootstrapper entrepreneurs, use guerilla marketing tactics to generate interest with almost no budget. We're living in a world where consumers and journalists alike are looking to connect directly with entrepreneurs and hear their stories. It's not just about what your company does, but why you started it, its purpose and your vision. Social technologies, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, have enabled entrepreneurs to become known, connect directly with their audience and build relationships on a global scale. As a small business, you need to become the brand.
Strong branding can help develop your following and expand your audience. But what is a brand? In its simplest form, a brand is a noun: the name attached to a product or service. In reality, however, a brand encompasses many more intangible aspects of a product or service; it is a collection of feelings and perceptions about quality, image, lifestyle, and status. A brand creates in the minds of customers and prospects the perception that there is no product or service on the market quite like yours. In short, a brand offers the customer a guarantee of a specific value or benefit from a product and then delivers on it.
Step 1: Define Your Core Value
To begin proactively establishing your brand, you'll need to ask yourself a few questions. What value do you want your target audience to receive as a result of listening to your CD, watching your DVD, or reading your book? What benefits can you give your customers in the course of reading, listening to, or viewing your work? Is your brand an experience, such as an emotional connection, or does it offer educational value? Essentially, what do you want to communicate through your offering?
Step 2: Create a Logo
Businesses, blogs – even individuals – can stand to benefit from a compelling and memorable logo. The best logos are almost surprisingly simplistic; for example, think of the lowercase “f” that immediately brings Facebook to mind. The reason why logos are so important in the branding process is that people tend to remember images more vividly than they remember words and names, so if you can create a visual representation of yourself or your business that really stands out, you’ve already accomplished half of the branding battle.
Step 3: Become An Expert On Something That Relates To Your Business
Small businesses looking to garner media attention, attract new clients and build their businesses should focus on becoming an expert in their field. For instance, Alexa von Tobel, CEO of Learnvest.com, has branded herself as a personal finance expert for young people. As a result, Fox Business, The New York Times, and other media outlets have interviewed Alexa, which provides exposure for her company. Avoid establishing an expertise that's irrelevant to your corporate mission, goals, and vision because you'll be wasting your time. If you own a record label, it's probably not wise to brand yourself as a nutrition expert.
Step 4: Focus on Making Genuine Connections
All too often, people think of networking as something they “have to” do for their business, and the entire process is suddenly imbued with a sense of dreadful phoniness. The real key to successful networking is to make an effort to forge real connections with people, both online and off. Every blog you contact for linkbacks should be one that you actually read and enjoy; every person you hand a business card to should be someone with whom you have found common ground. It may take a little extra work to network this way, but it will be far more effective in the long run.
Step 5: Establish a Website or Blog Under Your Full Name
The media and your customers both use search engines to research you, connect with you and potentially either do business with you or interview you. That's why you need to purchase your full name as a domain name (yourfullname.com). By developing either a static website or a blog under your domain name, you will own the first result for your name in Google and other search engines. This should be a separate site than your company's website. After purchasing your domain name, add your picture, a bio, your e-mail address and links to the rest of your online presence (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). This way, people can get in touch with you in their medium of choice. Claim your name before someone else does.
Step 6: Infuse Your Brand into Your Work
The first place to start building your brand is in your work itself. For example, an author's distinct writing style is part of a brand that will help readers know what they can expect to get out of reading a particular book, whether that style is grim and terrifying, or light-hearted and humorous. Audiences who expect a certain kind of listening, viewing, or reading experience will be drawn to music, film, or writing in the style and genre that delivers what they're looking for. Defining what category (or categories) your work falls into is critical to helping your customers find you.
Step 7: Carry Your Brand Through Your Marketing Materials
You can further develop the signature look and feel of your brand through your product's design and marketing materials. For example, choosing similar but distinctive layouts and cover artwork for multiple products can help develop the brand of a series. Designing a website and press kit that are consistent with your product's themes will also help you brand your marketing efforts.
Step 8. Learn How To Be a Good Source
Find out which media sources your audience reads, listens to or watches, research the types of content they provide and locate the exact gatekeeper to pitch. You or your publicist can also e-mail journalists and editors in response to one of their articles, with a note that you are available to comment on future articles. If and when a journalist e-mails or calls you for an interview, respond with haste because they are typically on deadline for their stories. Answer their questions thoroughly, while making sure that you get your message across.
When you're interviewed by the media, you will always be able to promote your company through your byline, which will help build both yours and your company's brand. Once the interview is complete, send a follow-up e-mail asking if they have any more questions, and make sure you include your bio and your picture.
Step 9: Generate Brand Awareness Through Networking
You should be connecting with other small businesses in your industry using social networks, such as Sprouter.com or Cinchcast.com and commenting on their blogs. Networking is one of the best ways to become known in your industry. By forming relationships with people in your audience you can grow your business relationships and your brand long-term.
The four rules of networking that you should keep in mind are mutualism, giving, targeting and reconnecting.
• Mutualism: You have to create win-win relationships in business, making sure that you don't benefit more than the other party.
• Giving: Help someone out, before asking for anything in return. This makes people want to support you.
• Targeting: You want to be very specific with the types of people you network with, in order to save time and to attract the right people to your brand.
• Reconnecting: Never lose touch, that way networking contacts remember you when new opportunities surface.
Step 10: Be Consistent
Consistent messaging is the key to successful branding. It is essential that you establish your core values from the beginning of your body of work and return to them frequently. For example, the creator of a weight-loss workout video could establish his or her brand as being reliable, easy to follow, and consistently producing results. To reinforce that particular brand, the filmmaker could carry that "can do" attitude over into any related book or print publications, provide examples of success stories on the video's website, and regularly update a blog with health tips. Finally, if the values you want to portray as a musician, writer, or filmmaker are different from your personal or professional values, consider adopting a pseudonym and establishing an alternative brand for that identity.
Building your brand identity in these seemingly small ways will enhance your credibility and promote customer loyalty. Creating a rock-solid brand identity will cultivate one of the strongest competitive advantages there is: mind share, which is the process of fostering favorable attitudes toward a product or organization. As a result, customers will think of you first when they think of your product category. If you consistently deliver on your brand's promise, customers will return time and again, bringing new customers with them.