Branding For Small Business And Bloggers

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.
–Jeff Bezos

Whether you realize it or not everything you do goes toward building a brand. It might be your personal brand, your brand as a blogger, or your corporate brand, but every action you take and every word you say impacts your brand to someone. For a few weeks I’ve been participating in a discussion about branding for small business. Too many individuals and small business owners think brand is something that’s out of their reach, that it costs too much, and that it’s only for big business. Wrong. Everything you do goes toward building your brand and you need to be conscious of how the things you do will reflect on your brand.

What Is Brand?

What do you think about when you hear the name Pepsi? How do you feel about the New York Yankees? What associations does Microsoft bring to mind?

The thoughts, images, and feelings you had to each of the above are about brand.

“A brand is the sum of all feelings, thoughts and recognitions – positive and negative – that people in the target audience have about a company, a product or service.”
Steve McNamara, AdCracker.Com

The swoosh is not Nike’s brand. It’s their logo. Nike has done such a good job getting that swoosh in front of us that it immediately calls to mind their brand, but that swoosh is not their brand. Nike could have chosen a circle as it’s logo and they would still have essentially the same brand. I say essentially since your logo does affect your branding the same as everything else you do, but a different logo for Nike would not change the sum of associations you have about the company.

The Wikipedia definition of brand begins with

A brand includes a name, logo, slogan, and/or design scheme associated with a product or service.

The most important word in the above quote is includes. Logo, slogan, and design all affect how your brand is perceived, but none of them are your brand. As an aside did I really just link to the Wikipedia? To me their brand is about shallow information and an undeserved authority. But sometimes shallow is enough to make your point.

Ze Frank put out a great video awhile ago talking about brand and why Grandma Moses has a stronger brand than your grandma who has a stronger brand than old person.

Reach is a component of branding, but reach itself is not brand. Reach is how many people are aware of your brand. It’s how far your brand has spread. It’s an important part of brand building. A greater reach usually means a stronger brand, but reach is not brand. Brand is a sum of associations about your company.

Why Is Brand Important?

One of my favorite actors is John Cusack. Most every time I’ve seen him in a movie I thought his performance was good. I’ve generally liked the movies he’s chosen to do. When I think of the sum of associations I have about John Cusack that sum includes an enjoyable movie going experience. Because of the way I perceive his brand I’m likely to see a movie if John Cusack has a role, particularly if he has a lead role. My past associations lead me to believe my future experience watching a John Cusack movie will be positive.

Brand builds trust. When someone has a positive experience with your company they are likely to come back again. As more of those positive experiences happen your brand gains trust in the mind of your customers. It becomes much easier to sell them on your next product or service when they trust your brand. They’ve learned from their interactions with you that something good will come of that interaction. The barrier to trust has been removed.

Why do some people ask for Coke and others ask for Pepsi? They’ve come to trust those brands. Given the choice they will inevitable choose the same one time and again.

You still need to deliver on your brand to keep those associations in the mind of your customers. The American auto industry at one time produced some of the best cars in the world (at leas in the opinion of Americans). They knew most people in America would buy American when it came to purchasing a car. The big three relied too much on their reputation at the same time that Japanese automakers began building better and better cars. The American auto industry let their brand slip by relying on the past, while the Japanese auto industry built their brand by consistently delivering a better product.

The result is a lot of Japanese cars on American roads today and many Americans who now think that Japan builds better automobiles than the United States. American cars have improved again over the years, but their brand has yet to catch up.

How Can A Small Business Or Blogger Build Their Brand?

I mentioned reach as one component of brand. Unfortunately I think many people see reach as brand to the extent that the only way to brand yourself is to get your name in front of everyone. Clearly that’s not easy to do and the more reach you want the more it’s going to cost. But again reach isn’t brand. It’s part of building a strong brand, but it isn’t brand.

You and I probably don’t have the money to grow a brand that reaches as far and wide as Nike or Microsoft. I know I don’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t build our brand. We build them by focusing on the associations people will form about us.

The first step is taking a look inward and deciding what your brand is and what you want it to be. I’m not a corporate person. If you see me in a suit or tie I must be at a wedding or a funeral. While I could attempt to brand myself as the champion of fortune 500 companies that wouldn’t really fit with who I am. The best brands are honest. If you like the corporate environment then by all means brand yourself that way. For me it makes more sense to brand myself differently.

Once you’ve honestly identified what your brand will be you want to do everything you can to consistently give that message to people. The consistency is key. If you want to be seen as easily approachable then using corporate blue in all your marketing doesn’t make sense. If you want people to associate your company with quality then you shouldn’t be competing on price. You start to build a stronger brand by being in harmony with yourself.

From your choice of a company or domain name to how you talk about other people every decision you make affects how people view your brand.

“Consumers build an image [of a brand] as birds build nests. From the scraps and straws they chance upon.”
–Jeremy Bullmore

Anytime, no matter how seemingly small, you do something in public, people will form opinions of you and make associations with your brand. Everything you do affects your brand. That’s why consistency is important. Consistency reinforces your brand. Conflicting messages tear it down.

As a blogger every post you write is a branding opportunity. Your blogging voice becomes a large component of your brand. Do you give good advice? Do you have something interesting to say? Do you point your readers to quality information? Do you only link to any information on your site? All affect how your readers will see you and how they see your brand.

Attacking another blogger or an entire industry is one hook you might try when creating linkbait. Your attack might bring links, but it also says a lot about you. Your attack linkbait will likely reflect negatively on you. Your resource linkbait will create positive associations. Both can generate links, but one also builds your brand.

Ultimately what you are looking to do when building your brand is consistently build a positive experience that results in a positive response.

How Far Does Your Brand Have To Reach?

Reach is absolutely a component of brand building. Again your reach is not your brand, but it is a part of brand building. How much reach do you really need? I don’t ever expect to have a reach as big as Google. I’m pretty sure in 10 years many more people will be familiar with Google’s brand than they will be with mine. Fortunately I don’t need as many people to know my brand as Google does to be successful. Neither do you.

A brand is a set of differentiating promises that link a product to its customers.”
–Stuart Agres

Think of brand the way you would think of niche marketing. Not everyone is going to buy your products and services. Not everyone is a potential customer How important is it to get your brand in front of the people who will never make a purchase? Google as a general search engine wants to reach as many people as possible. Kayak as a travel search engine wants to reach people who travel. Still a lot of people, but less than everyone.

Another way to think about it is the way you would consider going after long tail keyword phrases until you’ve built up the authority to rank for more competitive keywords. Reach as far as reasonably can. You’ll pick up business within your reach and as you do you’ll be able to reinvest your profit into expanding your reach.

Until your brand is able to impart positive associations on people does it really make much sense trying to get your brand in front of everyone?

Those of us with less money aren’t going to be known as well as big companies that can afford to spend millions to get their name in front of everyone. That’s obvious. But what we can do is build our brands with the people most likely to ask about our services, buy our products, or subscribe to our blogs. If you build a strong brand for a smaller group at first you will make sales and develop loyal customers and repeat visitors and you’ll be able to reinvest what you earn into increasing the reach of your brand.

Improve your conversion rate (brand trust) before worrying about building more more traffic (reach).

You don’t need money to build a brand out of the gate. You need a consistent message that leaves a positive impression. Do that successfully and in time you will be able to grow the reach and strength of your brand.

“An image is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an individual, institution, corporation, product or service.”
–Daniel J. Boorstin

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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