American author and former dot com business executive, Seth Godin, talks about a brand being a set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer's decision to choose one product or service over another. 

The latest research from Binet and Field highlights that businesses that take a long-term approach with a focus on building a brand alongside traditional marketing and lead generation activities are likely to achieve more success in terms of attracting and retaining customers.

Are you building a business or a brand?

There is a big difference between creating a business that sees its main purpose as selling a product or service and creating a brand that can last for many years and will strike a chord in the hearts and minds of people. Accepting the mindset that your goal should be building a brand will change the way you look at all aspects of your business.

There may be a need to shift the balance of resources you allocate to brand building versus lead generation. If you are embedding branding into your marketing plans from the outset, then look for a 60-40 ratio, i.e. spend 60% of your time and activity on building the brand, and the other 40% on actively finding marketing to find new sales opportunities.

If you build a strong brand for your business alongside generating new leads, it is likely to give you the best foundation for long term customer loyalty and business growth.

The importance of building a brand from day one

Brands enable you to broaden how you interact with your customers beyond the product and what it does. Aim to become more than the product or service. Why is this important? In competitive markets, a good brand helps to differentiate yourself.

If a prospective customer has two like-for-like options to choose from, customers will look to other factors to help make the buying decision.

And this is where a connection to your brand comes in. It is more than a logo or carefully designed advert. It is the personality of your business – it is everything that you stand for, and it will influence your customer’s perception and experience of your business.

Be the star of your own story

Build a brand story and marketing message that will resonate with people. Weave in your own personal history – what inspired you to launch a business, what motivates you every day? Levi Roots connected with the Dragon’s Den panel with his down to earth pitch talking about his grandmother’s Jerk BBQ sauce recipe that had been handed down from generation to generation.

Express the human side of your business. What is your philosophy, ethos, and how do these sit alongside the business offering and ethics?

Above all, what do you want customers to think when they hear your name? Is it reliability, innovation, flexibility? Look at how Richard Branson personifies the Virgin brand – entrepreneurial, unconventional, straightforward and unstuffy – and his customers empathise with that and his commitment to reinvention, so don’t forget to put yourself front and centre of your brand.

How to start building your brand

For most companies, a slow and steady approach to building the brand isn’t going to be good enough. Once you’ve built your story and messaging, you need to create a series of marketing initiatives that will actively help to raise awareness and amplify your brand.

Content marketing is a terrific place to start and has the potential to position you as a thought leader. It is about publishing material that your customers and prospects will find valuable. It could be a blog that comments on topical issues facing your industry or ‘how to’ videos that show how to solve a customer problem. Create helpful content that leads them through the buyer journey. Content marketing requires 6 to 12 months to start showing results, so don’t give up if it is challenging in the early days to get people to engage with your content.

Optimise every piece of content for search engines such as Google by including relevant keywords throughout. For example, if you sell widgets online then make sure your content has plenty of references to how your widgets solve specific problems. With the right keywords, your content will be ranked higher in search engine results, which has the added benefit of driving more traffic to your website.

Taking your message to market

Social Media Marketing is closely aligned with your content strategy. It means using social channels to engage with your audience. There are many different channels to choose from – for example LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter –depending on your target audience.

Look for and engage with influencers in your market. They might be brand advocates who are vocal about how good your products are, or they might be people with large social media followings that are representative of your target audience. Getting influencers onside can help you get your message to the market in an organic way.

Email marketing has come under the spotlight following the recent GDPR legislation changes. However, if you have built a list of contacts and have permission to contact them, e.g. with a newsletter, then email marketing can be an incredibly cost-effective way to target your audience with relevant messages and offers.

Alongside these activities is paid advertising. For every social platform, there is an advertising option. These vary in terms of effectiveness but what they do have in common is the ability to precisely target the audience using a variety of filters. The more niche your audience, the more effective this channel is likely to be.

Integrate your brand building, lead generation, and content marketing activities so they all use the same core messaging and communicate the same themes. This is vital to delivering a consistent brand experience.

Creating brand loyalty

Once you have committed to building your brand, how can you ensure that your customers are loyal to it? At every touchpoint and in every stage of the relationship make sure you are delivering product and service excellence to your customers. A superior experience will pay for itself in the long term.

Be open and make it easy for customers to fully engage with you. Julian Richer the Founder of Richer Sounds embedded service at the heart of his business, he committed to read every single customer feedback form so he could make sure that any complaints or issues were dealt with promptly and personally. This service ethos contributed to building high levels of loyalty from his customer base. Customers really appreciate businesses where there is a direct channel to interact with the owner.

Always deliver value to your customers. Long after the price has been forgotten, customers will remember when they have had something of value from a supplier.

Invest in your brand image

If you mention branding to most people, they often think of expensive agencies and hefty budgets. However, you can build a brand cost-effectively using the social and content techniques described above. These are largely free of big upfront costs so you don’t have to break the bank in the digital and social age.

That doesn’t mean you should neglect the basics. Your visual identity - logo and online presence - should be professionally designed and should match your brand story. What is right for one company, e.g. cool and edgy, may not be right for another which may be more traditional and reserved.

Make sure your brand is consistently reproduced across all aspects of your marketing from business cards and signage through to how your name appears on the customer’s bank statement. Your brand image is not set in stone, and you can tweak it as the company expands, such as introducing a new strapline. However, if this happens, make sure you have a roll out plan that will update everything at the same time.

Conclusion

There is an old marketing saying to ‘think long and act quick’. This sums up the approach to take to business branding. Think about the long-term benefit of developing a strong brand and act quickly and early on in your business evolution to take the steps to achieve this. Nurture your brand over time and invest in maintaining it.

Look at Apple for the ultimate endorsement of the value of building a brand. Apple customers buy into their brand and are fiercely loyal. This allows Apple to charge a premium price for many of its products and has helped it become one of the biggest companies in the world.

By putting brand building at the heart of an integrated marketing campaign that incorporates focused lead generation campaigns and other awareness strategies such as content marketing, you will be well on the way to establishing a strong brand without sacrificing core activities such as prospecting for new business.

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