1. Brand unites people around a big idea

Businesses who have a vision to impact and change lives for the better need a big idea that everyone can rally around. This isn’t strictly a marketing message (although could be), neither is it something just for the purposes of internal ‘team building’. It’s bigger, hence the name. A big idea is something that the every team member, supplier, stakeholder and customer can relate to. In our work with Brighton-based firm Travel Nation, their big idea emerged as ‘Anything is possible’. A bold, courageous, but in their case, true claim that relates to the endless travel options they offer their customers. A great test of whether your big idea is going to work is whether it creates a sense of aspiration for all groups of people. ‘Anything is possible’ speaks directly to the product that Travel Nations sells, and at the same time invites everyone else to be part of an exciting mission. Is your idea big enough? Well, that’s a whole other question, but in the words of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia, “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

2. Brand creates positive first impressions

As a business owner, you’re probably familiar with the ‘know, like, trust’ journey you need to take your audience on if you are to turn strangers into customers. But understanding how to influence and even facilitate these stages is something that small businesses need to learn to do more effectively. Let’s start with helping your audience become aware of you – the ‘know’ part. As much as we don’t like to admit it, first impressions count. (It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – you only get one chance to make a first impression.) So in reality, people do judge a book by the cover, because the cover is often the only thing they’ve got to go on. An ad on Facebook or LinkedIn, a piece of video content on YouTube, even, dare I say, an ad in a magazine or newspaper (yes, printed on actual paper). Whatever the right channels for you, they all have to work hard to cut through the noise and create a level of intrigue, leaving the audience wanting more. So what if you ‘don’t do advertising’, at least through these conventional paid methods? Well then you need to look at the first time your audience will experience your brand. Did they click your logo in your email signature and go to your website? Were they stuck in traffic behind one of your branded vehicles? What did they think? What were they left feeling? Your brand identity and message does the heavy lifting in this early stage, aligning your product or service with your audience, positioning you as the answer to their problem and creating intrigue to inspire them to take action. Cut corners and you may not get another chance, at least not until a trusted advocate for your brand is able to help correct any inaccurate perceptions you may have given. 

3. Brand influences your culture

The ‘Like’ stage in the journey of turning strangers into customers is all about personality. There’s not much use spending time and money getting your brand in front of your audience, only for them to promptly disregard your message for lack of humour or poignancy. Even with all the data and analytics at our disposal these days, digital advertising still requires a hefty commitment, with some startups willing to spend upwards of £100 to acquire just one customer. So it’s important to not only appear in front of the right crowd and for the message to be aligned to their needs, but also for there to be a spark that sets you apart. Something that makes people smile or think ‘that was clever/funny/imaginative’ etc. The good news is that with culture you get a big return for your effort. We’re not just talking about advertising now. Culture permeates everything your company says and does, and so when looking at how you can use your brand to influence your company culture, this can affect positive change both internally and externally. A good place to start is with your Big Idea because this is something that everyone should be able to relate to. How can you breathe life to your big idea to life through aspirational messaging and design? 

4. Brand builds trust

How do people become trusting of a brand? How come some have a good reputation and others a bad one? If you run a business that truly cares for your customers and are passionate and skilled at what you do, how can you help your audience see this? Just like you cannot control your brand (more on this in another post), you also can’t force people to trust you. Branding does, thankfully, afford small businesses the opportunity to start the relationship on the right foot. After all, if design is the language of feeling (more on that here), what something looks like matters and could be the defining factor as to whether a potential customer is intrigued enough to find out more or whether they causally assign your brand in the ‘not for me’ pile in their mental filing system. If design is the shopfront, what are they going to find when they step up to see the detail in the window? Design alone is not enough, you need to quickly provide substance to maintain intrigue. So design and messaging are key, but probably the most important and powerful method of building trust is not an outward facing action or brand ‘touch point’. When you go to buy something, what do you do before you press the well-placed beautifully styled ‘Buy Now’ button? If you are like 55% of online buyers, you read a review first. My favourite quote from branding master Marty Neumeier is “Your brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.”. If you can embrace the freedom this brings, you will realise there’s much more to building a brand than design and messaging. The truth is you are not in control of your brand and the quicker business owners come to terms with this, the sooner they can harness the power of advocacy and do things to positively influence their reputation, leaving behind the archaic method of one-way communication between the brand and the consumer. There’s more I could say on this, but in my opinion a brand’s ability to grow through advocacy is the best indicator of a healthy and successful brand. Every brand can aspire to grow through advocacy, regardless of size. Advocacy is the proof that trust exists.

5. Brand generates new business

Most small business owners I speak to tell me they are more reliant on word of mouth referrals for business growth than they would like to admit. But how can you optimise your brand to make it ‘referral friendly’? Believe it or not, as humans we can be incredibly self-conscious and often care too much about what we perceive others think about us. Whilst it would be wonderful to see people free of this type of thinking and the need to seek affirmation from others, the fact of the matter is, people care about what people think of them. So when it comes to recommending your product and service to a close friend, business colleague or someone in their wider network, how confident are they that your business or brand is not going to embarrass them? Design is a big factor, messaging is important too, but when it comes to confidence, consistency is key. If one minute you put out a stonking product offer, then the next day publish a blog post with a load of inaccuracies, or you have a beautiful looking online storefront but the technology crashes when you go to buy something, confidence in the brand will be knocked. Creating a brand that is referral friendly is something that requires a holistic approach. As much as I’m hesitant to use that word, as it can conjure up thoughts of the human wellbeing (NOT the topic of this post!), something that is ‘holistic’, as per the dictionary definition, is “characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” This is brand. Brand is not just one or two things, or a marketing activity, or something that the people in the team next to you ‘do’ – it’s everything an organisation says, does and believes. In order for small businesses to use brand to help generate new business, the brand needs to be consistent and everyone needs to be onboard. After all, it’s no good have a pretty logo if the customer service is lousy. What do you think people will remember? Another way your brand can help to generate new business is through better messaging, which we cover in this post

References: Marty Neumeier, Wikipedia, Trust Pilot, Blair Enns Win Without Pitching, Jonathan Stark Stop Billing, Start Pricing

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