How Brand Identity and Strategy Gives Businesses a Boost
When you hear “brand,” what do you think? What conjures up in your mind? I bet it’s something like: brand name, logo, color scheme and maybe fonts and tag lines. But that’s the problem…
Those are just the surface-level (mostly visual) aspects of a brand.
The meaning of a brand – it’s identity and strategy – is what creates a real business advantage.
After creating a visual representation of their brand, most small business owners stop and switch focus. They may think, “OK, I have my brand name and logo now and I’m ready for sales!”
But sales can be an uphill battle without brand identity and strategy.
It seems to me that small business owners may view building brand identity and creating a brand strategy as an intangible luxury. But having these two key aspects carefully defined:
- influences business decisions. (Clarifies business direction.)
- shapes product features. (Of what your products/services comprise.)
- creates real business growth. (Leverage for sales.)
It’s about time small business owners flip the script on what we think of as “brand” so we can realize the full potential of our businesses. Only when we focus on building a brand identity and brand strategy are we are able to stay competitive, get recognized as unique and gain consumer trust in a rapidly-changing market.
How Brand Identity and Strategy Help Small Businesses Compete
How does building brand identity really help small business owners stay competitive?
It’s a crowded landscape no matter the industry. Pick a business category – any category:
- Designers (graphic, interior, clothing, etc.)? There are a lot of them.
- Brick and mortar store owner (Fitness, health products, financial services, etc)? There are a lot of them.
- Chiropractors? There are a lot of them.
- Therapists? There are a lot of them.
- Coaches and consultants? Well, you get the picture… A LOT!
So, why choose one product or service provider over the other? In a word -- brand.
A strong brand creates an experience and that’s a strategy that provides an edge over the competition.
Branding yourself as a small business has never been more important. At a time when small businesses were slowed down while big-box retailers expanded (2020-2021) how did some small businesses survive, compete or even thrive?
The answer: by creating meaningful experiences. Small business owners can thrive by offering something unique and special for their consumers. For example, during the disruption of the last few years, small business owners listened, they pivoted, they responded to the market and modified themselves to fit their client’s lives. That careful attention means something. Consumers notice and go out of their way to show their loyalty.
As Marty Neumeier says in his book The Brand Flip, “People are not focused on products but meaning.”
The premise of Neumeier’s book is that the whole model of brand is now flipped.
- It used to be… a Company creates a Brand, a Brand creates Customers and Customers sustain the Company.
- Now, it’s a Company creates Customers, who build a Brand, which sustains a Company.
Customers have more power and influence than ever before! Look no further than Twitter. One customer can tweet at an airline and get a written response – maybe even a corporate decision!
So, as he puts it, “a brand is not owned by the company but by the customers who draw meaning from it.”
Building My Business Brand to Get Recognized
In a word, your brand is your reputation. It lives in the hearts and minds of your customers. As Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
When you build a brand identity with strategy you are doing so to be recognized. The word “recognized” implies “by others.” So, your customer must be at the heart of your brand. What does that look like?
As Emily Heyward, author of Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love from Day One says, “Really figure out what you stand for. Why does it matter to people? Why do they need to care about it?”
For example, think of the words: sustainability, American made, recycled or save the ocean.
These words are adopted by brands because they hold meaning. They communicate shared values between the brand and the customers. And that means something.
When we decide to “like” certain brands over others it’s because those brands are articulating something that we too hold near and dear to our hearts. That’s what creating meaning through identity looks like.
Put this idea to the test, think of the last purchase you made that you felt really good about. Did you look into the brand to find out a bit about their story and what they stand for? My bet is on YES. Now, fill in the blank: Being a customer of this brand makes me ___________ (i.e. creative, smart, thrifty, conscientious).
As Donald Miller writes in Building a Story Brand, “Brands that participate in the identity transformation of their customers create passionate brand evangelists.”
Brand Identity and Strategy Help Build Consumer Trust
When customers trust, they buy. So, how can a brand be seen as trustworthy?
As marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk once said: the best marketing strategy is to care.
First, I must acknowledge that there really is no business-to-business marketing. It’s always a person (or group of people) that hears of another person (and their products and services).
It’s all about human-to-human interactions. In order to care, brands have to get human. That means personality, voice, tone all become important parts of a brand’s identity. These things make brands human and relatable and (ideally) likeable and trustworthy.
In his book Trust Factor, Paul Zak notes that “doctors who are trained to be empathetic inspire greater trust in their patients.”
If empathy builds trust, how do we convey it as a brand? Simple: We listen.
When was the last time you did market research phone calls? The gold that comes from such a listening experience with your customers will open up new ideas and angles about your brand – some of which you’ve never even considered.
A great example in brands listening looks like the small business owner of the restaurant down the street, when during the pandemic, they pivoted and started offering curbside craft-cocktails to go or the gym owner who started offering Zoom classes and then hybrid versions of classes. They listened to their customers and figured out how to serve them in a new reality.
In Zag: The #1 Strategy of High Performance Brands, Neumeier straightforwardly writes, “What people want today are trustworthy brands.”
Just like a person, we want to get to know a brand before we decide if we like them and way before we know if we trust them.
Do your customers and prospective clients feel the trust in your brand?
How to Build Brand Advantage
When I asked small business owners their biggest challenges, top responses were:
- Staying competitive, being unique and strengthening others who have to deliver on behalf of me (i.e. Virtual assistants, staff, contractors)
All of these challenges can be addressed by getting beyond the surface elements of brand. There’s so much potential to be realized in our businesses when we dig deep and uncover our brand identity and brand strategy. Have you uncovered your radical differentiator as a brand? Do you know your "onliness"? If not, and you feel your brand could improve its strategy, contact me direct and we can have a chat about it -- human to human.
And if you're reading this prior to 2-22-22 then you may be interested in an upcoming virtual workshop on Brand Activation, RSVP at: https://brandactivation22.eventbrite.com