Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Orsolya Herbein, @HerbeinOrsolya, who shared tips for how to build a brand strategy for your small business. Orsolya is co-founder and creative director of Brand3, Inc., a Maryland-based virtual agency. Herbein has been branding small businesses for over 10 years with her business partner, Matt Christ. They started Brand3 with the mission to impact the small business community by educating owners about the value of branding and how they can leverage the power of their brand before they market. For more information www.brand3.net/
SmallBizLady: When we think of branding, we think of the big brands out there that everyone knows. How is branding relevant to small business owners?
Orsolya Herbein: We often find that small business owners do not value or understand brand. They often confuse it with marketing. It is commonplace to hear statements like, “I don’t need a brand, I need marketing!” or “Branding? I don’t need branding! That’s for the big guys!” They believe that branding belongs only to big corporations like Nike or Target, and not them. Yet, we believe that all businesses can learn from the big guys and leverage the power of their brand.
SmallBizLady: What do you mean by leveraging the power of brand?
Orsolya Herbein: Branding does not simply mean your logo or website. Branding is essentially how your market perceives you. It’s a feeling, an experience, an emotion that a business evokes as it engages customers. But not just customers, also employees and new hires. It transcends every aspect of the business. When a brand is done right, it has tremendous power to help small businesses get higher returns on their marketing, create deeper relationships, increase customer loyalty, and even deliver greater customer and employee experiences. Branding is essentially a reflection of the business’ core identity on a deeper level, and that is what a business needs to truly connect with their market.
SmallBizLady: What happens when a small business skips the branding process?
Orsolya Herbein: A good analogy would be building a house. Imagine that the house is your business, and you start the building process, but instead of building a foundation, you actually start to build the second floor. Or, you build a shoddy foundation that cannot possibly hold up your house, and as a result, your house isn’t structurally sound. Similarly, businesses often start marketing without a solid brand foundation, and as a result, they confuse their target audience and waste a lot of marketing dollars. They fail to realize that brand leads marketing.
SmallBizLady: What do you mean by ‘brand leads marketing’?
Orsolya Herbein: Brand leads because it is focused on identifying who you are and who your market is. Marketing is about how you tell your market who you are. How can you tell anyone who you are if you never took the time to figure it out? If you don’t know your market, who are you going to tell? Even if you know your market, will your market be able to remember you and retain what you are trying to tell them? A brand-first approach to your marketing will give you great benefits.
SmallBizLady: What is the most important benefit that a small business can get by branding first?
Orsolya Herbein: Branding first will provide business owners with the clarity to make the best decisions for their company. Every business, big or small, needs a brand strategy. This is the foundation of everything internal and external affecting the business. Your brand strategy is the base of your core values, your why, that should drive all business decisions. It is the foundation of your hiring process and your company culture. From this brand strategy or brand foundation, the business can establish their unique brand promise.
SmallBizLady: What is a brand promise?
Orsolya Herbein: A brand promise is a super short sentence that speaks to the essence of the business in the most concise way. It is a promise to keep, and everything is weighed by it. Any idea that does not uphold this promise is a waste of time, and every idea that does should be explored. At Brand3, our brand promise is to build brands that deliver. My business and every employee should be sure that in any aspect of the business, we build brands that deliver for our customers. If we don’t, we’ve failed. We did not keep our promise. If we do, then we are certain that our client’s experience is aligned with this brand promise. This is truly when the power of brand kicks in.
SmallBizLady: What do you mean ‘align the experience with the brand promise’?
Orsolya Herbein: Imagine you are driving down the road and you see a billboard. It’s from XYZ company, and they say on it “Exceptional Customer Experience.” Except you just got off the phone with them after being on hold for 45 minutes and then being kicked around and never received the answers or the help you needed. What will you feel when you drive by this billboard? You will be outraged because, from your experience, it is a blatant lie. As a result, you won’t think twice before leaving them a terrible review. Your experience was not aligned with that promise.
On the other hand, if you had just gotten off the phone with XYZ company and they treated you incredibly with no wait time and superb service, you will feel quite differently. Driving by the billboard, you will say: “That’s right! Those guys are great!!” The experience aligned with that promise, and as a result, should anyone you meet ever need a service that XYZ company can do, you will not think twice before you recommend them. You just became a brand advocate, and you did the marketing for XYZ company voluntarily.
SmallBizLady: Besides the brand promise, where else could small businesses use their brand strategy?
Orsolya Herbein: For content and creative, for sure. I am a graphic designer by trade, and so often I get a call to create just a logo. I can’t tell you how much more powerful creative is when it is built on strategy. Same with content. The strategy should clearly define the market, as well as the essence of the business: its unique position and promise. To create content and designs that clearly and consistently communicate, the brand is super important. In most cases, your target audience is already bombarded by messages. If you aren’t clear, or your look and feel is all over the place, it is highly unlikely that your market will be able to retain anything you need to say. Clarity and consistency are everything.
SmallBizLady: Can you define clarity in the context of brand?
Orsolya Herbein: Sure. Imagine that your business is a triangle. As a business owner, you may think everything in that triangle is important when it comes to your brand. However, the only thing that is important from the branding standpoint is what the market can retain. That’s clarity. It’s about how we get what’s most important in front of the market consistently.
SmallBizLady: Why is consistency so important to branding for a small business?
Orsolya Herbein: Consistency means the consistent use of the same simple message, and visuals, such as colors, fonts, and similar style of images that represent the brand. The lack of consistency is actually one of the biggest problems small business seem to have. They come to us saying that their marketing isn’t working and that they need better marketing, but when you look at what they do, marketing isn’t the problem. You can see that their postcard is green, the website is blue, their business card is filled with text and has no logo, their sales sheet has a logo, but it is not the same logo as it is on their Facebook page. You get the picture. We immediately know that what they actually need is a better brand. Using the same message and visuals consistently ensures retention, and retention will ensure attention. When you garner the attention of your target market, gain a reputation of trust, and have a recognizable brand, increased business will follow.
SmallBizLady: What can small businesses do to get a better brand?
Orsolya Herbein: It really depends on what they have and what they do. I know that getting a full brand overhaul can be expensive, but I highly recommend for any small business to invest in a professional to at least create a brand strategy. They can then take that strategy to the freelancers they already work with and develop their creative and messaging based on the strategy. From the strategy, freelancers can also be hired to create a Brand Guidelines document that identifies the brand colors and fonts and shows approved logo usage. This document is very helpful in ensuring brand consistency.
SmallBizLady: Is there a way to measure if a brand is successful?
Orsolya Herbein: Ha! Great question! To this day, accounting systems do not have a line item in financial reports that would provide good metrics on intangibles, such as intellectual property and brand. However, there is a way of knowing if your brand is working for you. One way to gauge is by those customer referrals. When a brand works, the business spends less on marketing but gets way more in return. This is because their loyal brand advocates can’t stop talking about how great they are and constantly refer them to their friends and families.
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