Podcast Transcript: Welcome to Episode 7 of Grow For It! This is a podcast for small business owners, operators and professionals. I’m Jim, and my goal is to work in the space between your ears – you know, on your mindset – to help you stay focused on those activities that’ll help you to move closer to realizing your Vision.
Today’s episode is about Cultivating Your Brand. We’ll discuss a common misconception about branding. We’ll get into things you should be doing to establish a positive brand perception. Finally, I’ll give you some tips on how you can leverage your brand to achieve your business objectives.
But first, let’s review where we’ve been so far. In episode 6, we discussed how implementing a Blue Ocean Strategy can help you to discover new markets yielding higher margins with less competition. The goal is to integrate this strategy based on your SWOT Analysis, your overall business planning and the pursuit of your Vision.
Branding is a huge topic. There are tons of books, videos and resources that attempt to address it. My goal for this brief podcast is to break it down into a few steps that provide a foundation for your success. If you’re ready, Let’s Grow For It!
As a way to dive into today’s topic, let’s clear up a common misconception about brands. Your brand is not your logo. The representations of your brand, namely your icon (like the Nike Swoosh or the emblem on your car), your company colors, even the font-style that you use are nothing more than monikers that simply refer to your company and its brand.
As a small business owner or professional, you need to be keenly aware that your brand is what the market determines it is. What do I mean by that?
Well, the market assigns value based on experiences, interactions, reputations and a host of other factors that influence how the market itself views your company and its performance. Your brand is similar to your reputation.
If you do shoddy work, miss deadlines or hide price increases in the fine print, the market will take note. More importantly, it does this regardless of how cool the icon on your shirt is or the design of your business card. The market assigns a relative “brand value” based on what it knows and/or thinks about you.
Conversely, if you have a stellar reputation for performance, integrity and other factors, the market will often reward you with a very positive brand.
For most of us, the actions we undertake each day can constantly influence how we are perceived and how our brand is received or defined. But take caution, because it’s a sliding scale.
Speaking of scale, this isn’t to say large companies are any different. They, typically, have more resources including money and teams of people constantly pushing out messaging meant to influence brand perception. However, a single step in the wrong direction can literally overshadow and derail the cumulative impact of those efforts.
Many of us remember how badly United Airlines faired when officers dragged an elderly doctor off of flight 3411. Videos and comments went viral. The CEO later made matters worse as he tried to defend that actions as, “…having to re-accommodate” some of the passengers forced to give up seats. Interestingly, I believe it turned out that United overbooked the flight and needed to make room for its own employees. Once videos and photos of a bloodied, elderly doctor hit social media, I knew the memes were about to explode.
Let’s return to a small business. Sure, your mistakes might not make national news, but they can still have a negative impact on your brand’s local perception. For some, that can be just as devastating.
So, what are some steps you should consider in cultivating your brand? Two of the more important themes are Integrity and Transparency. I know, those sound fairly cliché, but think about it. One of the ways you can positively impact your brand is by simply making information available and then, standing by what you promised to say and do.
In a practical sense, this can be translated into your taking steps to join the larger conversation. Social media is one way, but there’s also blogging.
Now, my purpose for Grow For It! is to work on your mindset, so I don’t want to get into the mechanics of Facebook and blogging. There’s plenty of information about those topics on my website. Let’s consider the bigger picture.
One of the struggles companies encounter is breaking through the noise in the marketplace. People still want to feel somehow connected to the brands they choose and use. Fostering that connection takes time, but if done honestly and consistently, it can work.
The more opportunities you provide for people to engage with your brand, the more comfortable they may become trusting your brand.
The continuum is made up of creating brand awareness, leading to brand engagement, with the hope of eventually becoming a brand preference.
Obviously, there are more steps involved, but now consider how you as a business owner, operator or professional can affect that continuum.
I’m not saying you should haphazardly begin posting comments about random topics. That would only serve to confuse and even frustrate people who may be willing to consider working with you. But, if you were to begin offering tips and suggestions, you’d be offering helpful information that can lead to the resolution of specific problems or issues.
For instance, imagine you’re a veterinarian in a decent sized city. You’re obviously not the only alternative families have. However, if you were to begin blogging or video-blogging about seasonal issues, your take on various treatments and why they might be helpful, or even promoting services that are related to pet care, it’s quite possible (even probable) that your information will be shared on Facebook timelines or other channels.
What you’ve done is to provide helpful, but authoritative advice. You provided information without directly soliciting. Everyone loves getting something for nothing. In fact, that fact that you didn’t put the hard close on me might make me more apt to actually pass along that information to others.
Replicate that activity over a period of weeks and months and you’ll definitely feel the impact of your efforts. Interestingly, you may be able to cultivate a group of “brand champions” who are willing to share your information – for free!
See, I’m a proponent of providing free information. It’s a way to highlight your experience and expertise. There are always people out there looking for answers. Up ‘til now, maybe they just haven’t come into contact with you and your company.
Personally, I don’t think you should try to close the deal during your introduction. You’re rushing it. Too many people go straight for the close. No, I think it’s better to establish credibility so they trust your product, advice or commitment. Isn’t that how relationships are formed?
Even if your company is transactional, the power of an endorsement, a positive review, a referral is golden. That’s only going to be a possibility if your performance met the expectation they had of you and your brand, once they engage with you.
So, let’s put these ideas to work. As we’ve done in each episode, once again, I want you to take out a piece of paper.
In the left column, make a list of some of the key areas of your experience or expertise. These are the big buckets. Now, can you begin to break down some of those areas into subsections? For instance, if you’re an orthodontist, are there various types of services you provide such as traditional braces and the Invisalign product? How could you compare and contrast these alternatives? Which would be best for a particular patient group? Are there disadvantages to either?
Begin working your way across the paper creating breakdowns of specific products and services. Then, think about the calendar year. Are there specific times of the year you should provide information about seasonal issues? Let’s return to our veterinarian. Obviously, March is a good time to begin talking about flea and tick issues because the family dog might spend more time in the yard as spring arrives. For the orthodontist, can you spot trends dealing with back to school or summer breaks? CPAs know there’s going to be surge of tax prep in March and April. Painters may see an uptick in activity in October as people get their homes ready for the holidays.
Once you’ve identified specific products and services, then connect them with seasonal opportunities, you’ll want to work backwards to make sure you have time to prepare and deploy content. Again, the objective is for you to begin messaging to establish positive equity in your brand. Remember thought, this is something you, your partners and others should be doing throughout the year. Relationships take time. Building brand equity takes time. You have to give the market time to receive the information, engage with you and then evaluate the experience.
Don’t think of this as simply an initiative with a finite endpoint. Communicating directly with your market and engaging in the larger conversation are key steps in influencing how the market perceives and rates your brand. This should become one of your key activities on a consistent basis. Realize that you and your brand can quickly be forgotten.
One of the tactics I always recommended was to encourage each person in the company to focus on developing a personal brand. Everyone should be engaged in growing the business, not simply a select few. Each person in the organization has a different set of contacts, friends and family. Relying on one person or a small group to drive new client activity seems like more of a challenge that it needs to be.
If you want to create brand champions in the marketplace, you need brand ambassadors at every level. Even a small business can do this with focus and consistency.
Well that does it for now. As always, thank you for deciding to spend a few minutes of your time with me.
I want to let you in on an upcoming development. On May 9th, I’m launching a radio program focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. It’ll broadcast on Louisville’s TalkRadio 1080AM and stream globally on the iHeartRadio app. Stay tuned for more information about my program, LET’s GET IT STARTED! You’ll be able to hear each episode on a separate podcast, also available in iTunes and on my website JimRayConsultingServices.com.
Until next time, focus on Cultivating Your Brand. When you’re ready, Let’s Grow For It!