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A few months ago, a promising independently-run business shut its doors within a couple of years of startup. Though I enjoyed its product offerings, I had a hunch that it would not survive, not because of operational mismanagement or sloppy customer service but lack of a well-defined and relentlessly-communicated personality or brand.Though some happily embrace and effectively use branding to differentiate their businesses, many entrepreneurs are unconvinced of its value. Some rationalize that branding is counterproductive to a small business, especially a tiny one.
Skeptics may think that narrowly defining a target audience and its ideal customer limits revenue and growth possibilities. Reluctant owners might wonder if spending time and allocating resources to developing and managing a branded presence detracts from profitability. However, conveying an image that is in sync with a viable brand strategy can not only help even the tiniest of companies but can be a major driver of its success.
Branding touches and intersects with all aspects of a business: marketing, operations, sales and more. Consider how effective integration and consistent portrayal of a brand image can benefit your business.
Your ideal customers will recognize that they are being wooed.
The small shop mentioned earlier aimed to please a variety of people, primarily those within a ten-mile radius. This seemed to represent an appropriate target audience, homogeneous on a superficial level. But their lifestyles and consuming habits were wildly divergent, increasing the difficulty of winning favor among various segments.
Nevertheless, in its seedling form, the brand held promise of reaching this audience with its similarities in demographics despite dissimilarities in consumer behavior. However, the branding concept was minimally developed and focused on product offerings and an occasional special event. Infrequent mentions of the brand message were contained in its website, in-store signage, social-media messaging and face-to-face conversations.
All aspects of the brand image should resonate with your target audience, letting them know how their quality of life could benefit from connecting with your business. Ideal customers should understand and want the emotional connection and tangible benefits that differentiates your company from competitors.
Your customers will know what to expect from your products and services.
The types of products and services offered, along with their respective price tags, are influenced by the brand strategy. In the case of the failed small business, the primary message was generally consistent in terms of purchasing; that is, items procured for the business roughly matched brand criteria.
The message that needed more clarity, however, was how these disparate items were part of a more cohesive whole from the customer’s point of view. Unless they evaluated the business premise and, frankly, stretched their imaginations, most would not see the connections among boutique-style offerings and seemingly basic items and folksy product lines.
More intentional messaging with greater frequency could have better portrayed the brand image and helped endear the customer to the business and its unusual assortment of offerings.
Customers will know who to tell and what to say about your business.
Customers spread the word about the tiny business, telling others about its presence and encouraging visits. But, other than espousing the convenience of its location, they really didn’t know what unique benefits to promote or what points of distinction to emphasize. Initial interest was high, but then traffic seemed to flounder.
Given a clear brand message, both newly enchanted and long-time customers will know who to tell about your business and what they should say. They will intuitively insert the salient features and benefits of your products and services in conversations with friends, family members, professional colleagues, etc.
You will know what to say in social-media and face-to-face conversations.
The shop owner shared information that was useful but not relevant to the ideal customer. Over time, social-media messages, marketing campaigns, and face-to-face conversations became more and more disassociated from the original brand image. Promotional efforts and conversations began to resemble those of area competitors, further eroding the possibility of brand loyalty.
Endless possibilities for engaging audiences, educating customers, promoting key products, and showcasing special events through social media and daily interactions can overwhelm many business owners. But a brand strategy can serve to shape and channel this content so that the image is accurately conveyed and continually reinforced.
You can charge prices that support business profitability.
The lack of a narrowly-defined brand image caused price issues for the fledgling business. Pricing strategy seemed inconsistent as some items were bargains while others were marked up considerably. Worse, while some customers understood the benefits of premium products and unquestioningly paid store prices, many were confused about their value and were resistant to pricing.
Owners of the tiniest companies find that a properly expressed brand can not only reach target audiences, set expectations, and streamline business decision-making, but also help the business command desired pricing. Ideal customers understand, appreciate, and are willing to pay for unique expertise, specialized services, distinctive products, and one-of-a-kind experiences.
Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.