In my early teenage years, for some reason, I got hooked on collecting Coca-Cola merchandise. It was around the time of the Seoul Olympics and Coca-Cola created some limited edition can designs which started me off. Before I knew it, I had a room full of red and white. People would bring me back Coke cans and bottles from around the world with various languages and designs of arguably the most famous brand in the world.
Looking back, I now see where my passion for branding started. With this as my background, I made graphic design my career choice. I’m proud to say that I have worked with some global brands like Nestlé, Vodafone and LEGO in my career. But I have also been in the trenches as a business owner, crafting my own business brands, whilst producing work for world-class brands.
As a graphic designer, my bias was always toward the visual look and feel of the brand. But as an owner-operator, I now understand the brand is made at the intersection of where the product meets the customer. The visual elements are only a visible representation of that product and service. That is not to say that the graphical elements have less value; in fact, they don’t. They are more important than ever as they need to promise the customer experience, well before the customer meets the product.
Brand is everything
And everything is the brand, or at least everything you do is your brand. It is the way you reply to emails. The way you answer the phone. It is how your clothes look, how your packaging looks. And how you treat your staff, contractors and suppliers – these are all your brand. Remember the logo is only a visual representation of a brand. So even a well-crafted logo could be representing a terrible brand.
The golden rule
Getting your brand noticed is a combination of several factors. There is one golden rule that sets the foundation of a great brand. It is no good getting noticed and eyeballs on your brand if all people find is a bad product or service. Those eyeballs will not convert into sales. And if a small few turn into customers, their experience will be poor. People are more likely to talk about a bad experience than a great experience, so you will probably reduce the number of customers.
If you are ticking all the foundational boxes with your brand, how do you go about getting yourself out there? I’m not going to be the first person to tell you these tips, I’m sure. However, from the perspective of a small business brand, I can give you first-hand experience of what worked and what was less successful for us at STKRS.
Firstly, let me burst the bubble that is social media. Social media will not make you a millionaire. Why? Because you will need to be a millionaire to pay for boosting your posts. And this is to get in front of the audience you already have.
With that said, social media is very important to your brand. It is one tool of many. We are well past the days when social media gave you an edge over your competition. Everyone does it, or at least everyone who is building a brand. Social media helps potential customers assess your brand. They can then choose whether they want to do business with you.
What does get you noticed on social media is content. The content may be written, video or an image. But be sure to understand the differences; you need to create great content and you need to put that on your social media. Think of content as the flower that draws in the bee. You need to make great, likeable, even loveable content, so that customers associate you with that content, and want to buy from you.
Search and adverts
Search and adverts are also crucial to getting notice; being number one on search is amazing. However, unless you are lucky or well-funded, it is very unlikely, other than for locally related terms. Aim to be the best you can be in search by employing the basics of SEO, or search engine optimisation. You will have to pay top price to get an SEO company capable of getting you to number one on a major keyword, which is often out of reach for the majority of small businesses.
If you can’t make it to number one in organic search, use adverts. Copy competitors then test and tweak your adverts until you see them making a return. It is wise to understand what you are doing or you could be spending money with little chance of a return. This can also be costly if you are in a competitive market. But you could find targeting a local keyword might earn you a better return on your investment. For instance, targeting ‘Accountancy Wetherby’ will be a lot cheaper than trying to be the top advert for just the word ‘Accountancy.’
Sponsorship and partnerships
Sponsorship and partnerships have often worked for us. If it is just a brand-building exercise it is harder to see the return on your investment. Sponsoring an event at which you get three sales from might seem like a failure, but over a year you should be able to see if it has added value to your sales. You can do this by tracking on social media using unique hashtags, domains or URLs and also special discount codes.
Also, working with partners might help you access a whole new group of customers with a very small cost. However, you need to have a solid brand foundation and have a great track record before you get other people wanting to work with you.
One of the biggest returns for a small business is high-quality PR. In my time as a business owner, I have had both ends of the cost spectrum: cheap and expensive. And return on investment does not always correlate with cost. In fact, the very first one-off piece of PR I had done actually made us. From this one piece, we managed to get in virtually every magazine in our sector, which got our products featured on several TV shows. And it helped to get us to number one on search for a few years.
Competitions on social media might get you likes. Being the cool brand on the block might get you some initial partnerships with other great brands. However, building a brand is like building a house. When the customers come rushing in, will their experience wash away your crumbling facade of a brand? Or do you have a solid foundation for your brand to rise on?
Build a brand with the right foundations and then apply the proven methods of PR & marketing across all platforms. When the customers come, their experience will be the kind they will find worth telling their colleagues and friends about.
Aim to make your customers happy. That is how you will get your brand noticed.