A few months ago, I received a proposal from a provider. The proposal was sent in a Word document with no branding. I could see that most of it was copied and pasted from a previous proposal. The document had no real structure and didn’t look professional, although the content was kind of OK.
Then, we had a Zoom call. Not only was the person late, but she looked like she had just come out of the shower moments ago. However, she was very friendly and approachable.
Finally, we had a face-to-face meeting and she was 30 minutes late. When she arrived, she appeared red and rushed. She apologised for her delay and right away I could sense that she wasn’t prepared: it took her 5 solid minutes to find my file on her computer and she had to re-read the content of it during the meeting.
On the other hand, her website and social media were pretty impressive, looked very professional, and she had some good credentials with fairly renowned companies. I liked her brand design and how she used it on different channels.
So, what do I do? Do I hire her services or not? She seemed highly unprofessional and careless, but her branding said the opposite? My experience was inconsistent, I didn’t really know what to expect and I was confused.
What would you do? Would you hire her services? Would you trust her to do a great job like her website and creds say? Or would you think that she would do an okay-ish job and miss deadlines?
As a solo entrepreneur or micro-business owner, you have a brand.
Whether you have put energy and thought in it or you have just let it happen, you have a brand.
Simply because, from a marketing perspective, a brand represents the sum of people’s perception of a company’s services, communication, team, reputation, logo, design, messages and even its audience and customers.
This means, as a business, the minute you put yourself out there, you create a brand; you create a reputation in the market. The choice is whether that is something that you control and turn into a business asset or not?
Many small business owners are intimidated by the word “brand”: they insist – “we’re not a big enough company to build a big brand” or, they have a very limited understanding of its reach, but have hired a designer for their logo and website.
Becoming a brand for a micro-business is all about telling an authentic story that creates a positive, relatable, consistent perception in your audience’s mind. It is about the impression you make. And it has to be present in every contact point that you make with the outside world. From your name to how you answer the phone, what customers say about you, the experience that they have on your website, the tone of your email etc. It is the way your business is seen and perceived.
In short, you can either just let whatever impression you give happen randomly, or you can take control and manage it.
“A brand does not exist within a company or organization. A brand exists in the minds of your customers. A brand is the sum total of impressions a customer has, based on every interaction they have had with you, your company, and your products.”Lucidpress
Why it is so important to nail your branding right?
Simply because it has a direct impact on your profit.
It has been proven many times in different studies that strong branding (in the larger sense of the term) impacts your revenue. A strong brand:
- Gives competitive advantage and increases your market share, which means it’s more likely that an audience will prefer you over your competitor. Analysis by the Marketing and Accountability Standards Board (MASB) show direct a link between market share and brand preference.
- Commands price premiums: With strong branding, your offer, your business and ultimately you as the business owner, come across as professional, established, expert, which also gives you the advantage of defending a higher price strategy.
A study conducted by the Marketing Science Institute (MSI) shows that superior brand preference or reputation commanded price premiums of 26% on average, even when brand quality is the same.Forbes
- Increases customer lifetime value: The brand is the experience that you create around your offer. As a solopreneur or micro-business owner, your brand is the only business asset that you have, which will take you out of being just a photographer, a bakery, a designer, a utility provider, an architect, etc. It will help you create and demonstrate something bigger, something more meaningful and relatable. Your brand will be the tool for showcasing your values. And values create emotional connection with your customers and loyalty.
How to get it right?
I compare the branding exercise to designing the interiors of a newly-bought property. With one exception – you are not decorating the house that you will live in, but a property that you will rent out. It is not for you, for your own taste, but for your customers. It has to be relatable for your ideal customer; it has to convey trust so that they believe you can help them and it has to connect with them on emotional level.
3 principles of getting your authentic story (branding) right:
1. Lead with values
One common mistake that I keep witnessing with entrepreneurs is that they get too excited about the branding exercise. And they should be. It’s probably the most fun part of starting a business. That moment when you first name your business or hold your brand-new business card in your hands, with your brand-new logo… The problem is, the decision is guided mostly by your own personal preferences and taste. Let’s face it, the “physical” aspects of your brand, the name, or even your own attire as a solopreneur or your business logo have a significant impact on how you come across and the impression that you leave with people. Therefore, they have a bigger purpose than just looking good, cool, fun, professional, etc. Somehow, they need to convey your company values.
Of course, your business values need to be thought through and chosen with care, as they are the guiding principles that shape the identity of your company. They fuel the way you do business, how you communicate and how you behave, what is acceptable and what is not. There are books written on this topic and I don’t have the space to cover it in one paragraph. We will dedicate an entire session to this topic in the future. However, one thing that I have to mention here, is that choosing your values mustn’t be an isolated exercise. If your values do not resonate with your audience, they can be detrimental to your business.
Shared values will create the core of your authentic story and help you build strong, meaningful relationships with your customers, as well providers and team members.
And if you make sure that whenever your business interacts with your audience, it is 100% aligned with the business values and what you stand for, you will build a brand that becomes one of your strongest business assets.
64% of consumers cite shared values as the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand.Harvard Business Review
Build brand loyalty on shared values with your consumers. It is not the number of interactions a buyer has with your brand, but the quality and relatability of the interaction.Harvard Business Review
2. It’s about them, not about you
‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’Maya Angelou
A brand is not a product or a service, it is not tangible, it is stored in the heads of your customer. And funnily enough, it is not about what they rationally think about you, but how they feel. Therefore, how your brand makes them feel is key for brand success.
See it as a savings account. Each positive and consistent interaction adds on to your savings and each negative interaction or confusion created takes out of your savings. And as a provider you have only so much equity.
What is a positive interaction? I have the rule of thumb ABC:
- Aligned with their needs and expectations
- Brings them value
- Communicates in their language
There are 3 parameters to ensure brand consistency for your business:
- The physical aspect of your brand: This includes every single piece of visual appearance of your business, but also you as the owner of a micro-business: the name of the business, your logo, your website, your social media presence, all your printed materials, surveys, questionnaires that you send out, your own attire. Every single visual representation of your business creates a brand experience and making sure that they are on brand (with design guidelines – this can be as small as colour codes and fonts) is essential to create an established brand.
- What you say, but more importantly HOW you say it: Every minute 456,000 tweets are sent on Twitter; 46,740 photos are shared on Instagram. There are 2.5 quintillion bites of data created each day online. [Forbes] So, chances are, what you are saying has been already said million times online or elsewhere. Your message is not what sets you apart, whether we admit it or not, most likely we are all repeating someone else’s words. But how you say it is what makes you stand out; be authentic and relate to your audience. Therefore, the tone of voice is an extremely important factor that you need to take into consideration and align with your values.
- The business attitude: As a solopreneur or microbusiness owner, your attitude is of utmost importance, as it drives how people feel about you. Defining your business attitude will set systems and the culture of your company in many aspects: does your business push sales or guide during the sale? Do you place importance on your post-sales follow-up? How do you deal with difficult customers? What do you do with cold leads? How about the general public? What is your attitude to complaints? What do you do when a customer needs help? How do you deal with providers or employees? Answering these types of questions to align with your values will allow you to create a seamless, consistent brand experience.
When you take control of your branding and make informed and conscious choices around these 3 principles, you will start to build something that is financially measurable, called “brand equity”.
Whether you want to sell your business or not, the fact that brand equity is actually a parameter of company evaluation shows the importance of strong branding, which helps you create your authentic story.