Odds are, if your small business believes it has its brand strategy locked in, airtight, and sealed, then you might need to revisit it to raise the stakes--and your profits. By definition, “brand strategy” is and should be nerve-wrecking. Because consumers’ needs, expectations, and wants are ever-changing, your small business ought to be continually vigilant of its brand and perception.
Whether you decide your business is branded or brand-led, it all comes down to approach, and the only mistake is to not choose or strategize. The following tips will help hone your small business’ brand story and bolster your brand’s presence among competition.
No. 1: Focus on what makes your small business unique. Rather than positioning your brand as “better” than the competition, you ought to distinguish your business’ offering with a distinct tone and fresh outlook on the future of your industry. Although it might seem counterproductive, this approach will help your brand stand out among the white noise online--where being better doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will garner the interest of your audience. Don’t be afraid to dare and be different with your brand’s personality.
No. 2: Specificity is key. Because your brand is rooted in a small business enterprise, being the loudest in an already noisy market is simply not a choice due to the absence of a huge marketing budget. The secret to your small business’ success is to develop a resonant message that’s targeted to the audience most open and willing to receive this message. The more specific your brand is with targeting and language, the more trust and conversions it will yield.
To get to the heart of your brand, ask yourself how your business is currently perceived by your audience and the public, then write down how you want your brand to be seen in the future. The more precise your adjectives are, the clearer your goals and execution. Specificity not only helps you identify your brand, but also creates the opportunity for your audience to relate on a deeply emotional level.
No. 3: Spend as much time crafting your brand’s story as you do your product/services. Without an evocative narrative, your small business’ products and services will simply fall flat among your target audience(s). Instead of highlighting benefits and features, your brand ought to develop a vision, then share it with potential customers. To drive purchase behavior, your brand will need to inspire its audience in some way.
No. 4: Why? In order to galvanize your audience with a brand story and vision, it will be critical for your team to answer the following questions: Why does your company exist? Why should anyone care? The answers to these questions can’t truly be explained by a promise or mission. Rather, they should target the very core of your small business. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” -- Simon Sinek
No. 5: Read your audience’s subtext and speak to it. Though it’s still absolutely necessary to conduct market and audience research, understanding the gap between what your audience says and what they do is a valuable tool that can’t be measured in metrics. If your small business brand wants to be successful with influencing its audience, it will need to speak to their unsaid beliefs, which are often conveyed through actions and behavior.
No. 6: Don’t just ease your customers’ cognitive dissonance, cheat it. If your customers’ behaviors, ideas, or beliefs contradict each other, then they’re experiencing cognitive dissonance. Your small business brand will not only want to speak to and ease your audience’s cognitive dissonance, it will also want to cheat it. This involves inspiring and facilitating an adapted action and even changing the perception of that action.
No. 7: Highlight the benefits for the customer, not product/service features. Does the current copy of your business’ website, content, and/or packaging spotlight your audience? Of course, your business will want to share its story and personality, but this should always be customer-centric. Language that spotlights the customer will not only show your audience that you prioritize them, but that your brand also inherently understands them.
No. 8: Don’t define your brand in direct opposition to a competitor. If your small business’ strategy is simply to be better than its competitors, your brand will always be limited in scope. If you want to project a brand-led persona, it will be key for your business to avoid simply creating a better experience than competitors, imitating sales tactics, and citing competitors in any form of content. With a fully developed, exceptional vision, your business’ competitors shouldn’t exist in the same league as your brand.
No. 9: Develop a visual and rhetorical brand language. To create a strong brand, your small business will need to start a conversation. Developing a secret, unique language whether through copy or visuals will force audiences to identify or disidentify with your brand. The goal here is to not alienate potential customers with jargon, but rather to tap into your small business’ niche and show that your brand understands what they’re looking for. This tactic is the equivalent to a wink, nudge, or nod to your followers.
No. 10: Set your sights on the future’s horizon. A surefire way to prematurely outdate your brand is by seeking to solve a problem that exists today. Considering how dynamic consumers and the technological landscape are, your brand strategy will need to look to the future, hypothesizing what problems will exist for your audience(s) 2, 5, or 10 years down the road.
No. 11: Be bold and take risks with your brand and its offering. Building your small business’ brand on a future vision that may or may not actually come true is a risk. However, brand strategy should feel risky in this day and age. With Millennials at the helm of our markets, older, established brands can no longer just demand authority. New and emerging brands are expected by modern buyers to earn authority through taking risks. Start asking yourself what sort of risks your small business can take to earn the trust of its younger, growing audiences.
No. 12: Don’t be afraid to push your audience towards tough decisions. The key to building an effective brand strategy is to stop trying to please everyone. It is unrealistic to believe that your small business should be the answer or solution for anyone and everyone. Taking a stance on your small business’ vision for the future means pushing your brand and core audience to walk into the unknown of the future before they feel entirely ready. Choosing your brand should not be an easy decision for your customers, as you will ultimately be asking them to take a chance on themselves.
No. 13: Create juxtaposition to derive tension. Creating tension via specificity, secret cues, and risk-taking will earn you the attention of your ideal consumers while developing a secondary audience on the sidelines of your brand. This sort of engagement is born from effectively contrasting what is and what could be. The byproduct is inspiration, which will encourage action and response from consumers that share your brand’s vision.
No. 14: Relate to your audience and show empathy. Be sure to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Would the individuals you’re targeting want to be the hero of your brand’s narrative? This should be the driving question behind your small business’ brand strategy. Empathizing with your audience in this way will shed light on niche consumers’ beliefs, behavior, and triggers
No. 15: Look for the positive spin. When crafting your small business’ brand story and strategy, your business has the option to focus on driving behavior with negative emotions (fear, shame, insecurity, etc.) or positive ones (goals, inspiration, etc.). To continually move people within your audience and reach, develop the promising angle of your offering and vision. This will yield and sustain long-term results and loyalty more so than a negative story, which has a solely short-term scope.
Blog by Melissa McElhose, the NALA staff writer