Branding and the Pandemic

Today, my goal was to come up with a meaningful article about branding that offered some concrete tips useful in the midst of a pandemic.

Nothing was coming to me.    In search of inspiration, I went to google and typed “branding and the pandemic.”

In case you are wondering about the likelihood of those two terms together yielding any meaningful insight, I suggest you search the headline of this article yourself.  Ten full pages of results were returned.  (BTW—I stopped looking through the pages at that point because I grew tired of the exercise, not because the results stopped matching my request.)  The illustration below from page 1 shows some of the many different variations on the theme.

See the bottom of this page for our Special Offer.

Skimming through the headlines as well as a few of the articles, you’ll find that every imaginable subject has been addressed – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  While the amount of information is overwhelming, one fact becomes abundantly clear – branding is important during these difficult times and deserving of every bit of attention you can spare, even though no time and opportunity may seem to be available and the subject of branding may be the furthest from your mind and fairly low on your current list of priorities.

Many of these articles are good ones, and we suggest you use some of your many hours of isolation to acquaint yourselves with the range of insight and good advice being made available.

That said, let me ease your mind – we don’t plan to use this article to reinvent any of those wheels.  Instead, we will remind you to read our earlier pieces on Crisis Management and building some strategic plans for “Weathering the Storm” and identifying parts of your business that you might be able to re-engineer to function in a mostly online environment.

Assuming you’ve already acquainted yourselves with these bits of advice, today’s suggestion is one that might be deceptively difficult to execute:  spend some time on meaningful self-reflection.

  • Who do you think you are as a company?
  • What can you and your company do to ease the burden of the pandemic?  (ex:  make personal protective equipment; serve meals to first responders; deliver products to the elderly)
  • What impression do you want your customers to take away when linking your company name and the pandemic?  Will you be considered a valued member of the community contributing to the greater good?  Will you be thought of as being one of those organizations with so much talent and expertise that you were able to adapt your operations and offer a valuable product and/or service to others while existing under pandemic restrictions?

Once you arrive at an honest answer to these questions through this period of self-examination, what measures can you take to make that happen? Consider:

  • Who you have been (and whether that is who you want to be)
  • The steps you can take to be perceived in the desired way
  • The kinds of plans you can put into place to better equip yourself to deal with crises of this kind in the future.

Once you have a clear vision and understand your brand aspirations, we can help identify useful strategies to implement the results of your self-reflection.

Our Offer to You:

Feel like you need a little assist to make this self-reflection a meaningful and useful exercise?  If so, we’re happy to help other business owners identify opportunities to adapt their resources and skillset to aid their communities (just one of the ways we can do our part during these hard times).  We’ll also work with you on a plan for reinforcing your brand in a positive way while being of service to others.  Just let us know a little about your situation in the comments below . . . describe your business and expertise, and we’ll start brainstorming with you.

Be careful.  Be safe.  Embrace this opportunity to understand yourself and your brand better.  When the pandemic does finally end, you’ll be in a better position to resume more normal activities.

Crises Management: Messages Sent Now Will Define You Forever

Branding is about who you are and who you want to be . . .
and the steps to take to make that happen!

I sat down to write an article on the preparation of electronic files for various purposes – commercial printing, publications, the Internet, electronic ads, novelty items, etc.  However, we are in the middle of a world-wide health and financial emergency, and my partner and I felt we’d be remiss not to address that subject instead.

When a crisis occurs, you have an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a good corporate citizen and simultaneously cement and communicate your brand to current and potential customers in a positive way.

Developing Your Message

One of your first priorities as a small business owner when trouble strikes is to send your employees and your customers a message about the situation.  You need to be empathetic to their circumstances and emphasize that you are all facing the same difficulties because (most of the time) you will be.

You need to provide an overview of the steps you are taking to manage the crisis and (if relevant) explain any modifications being made to your products/services to deal with the situation and address special needs.  Finally, you must emphasize the importance of good communication and outline in detail the best ways to contact you with any problems or concerns – phone, e-mail, text messaging, social media etc.

Needless to say, you have to prepare your employees for any changes to their roles due to the crisis, and you should coach them on the proper information to communicate when dealing with the public.

Once you have figured out the correct content of your message, you need to prepare versions for all of the various media you will be using:

[   ]  e-mail

[   ] letter

[   ]  web site posting

[   ]  social media posting(s)

[   ]  signage for physical location (including any changes to usual hours) and instructions for getting in touch

[   ]  PSA (Public Service Announcements) for local media

[   ]  Press releases communicating information of interest to the public

While not all of these vehicles will be appropriate for everyone, every business will need to utilize more than one, remembering that different customers have very different preferences for receiving information.

Memories Are Long

Part of being a good corporate citizen is to honestly assess the part your product/service plays in the community.  Are you essential . . . or a luxury?  If you are the former, you will need to reassure people that you will continue to serve them with the least possible disruption.  You want to be sure to stay away from any language or unintentional suggestion that you are exploiting the situation for profit or gain.  Conversely, any steps taken at such times to offer charitable assistance and lend a hand to the community at large are important.  While your business might be suffering from a less profitable moment, too – chances are others are dealing with even more difficult circumstances and could use your help.

Memories are long.  When conditions improve, your customers will remember your behavior.  Did you lend a helping hand . . . or just help yourself?

Be Honest

In all of your communications, be honest and truthful.  People have an innate ability to recognize when you are being evasive and less than forthcoming.  While we certainly understand that some information is private or cannot be shared due to the likelihood of being misunderstood, you will do your business and your brand the most good by developing a reputation for being the kind of company a person can trust.

While honesty can be difficult in the short-run because hard messages sometimes have to get delivered, the long-range benefits will be worthwhile.  People will be inclined to believe ALL of your messaging, which is one of the key benefits of building a good brand.

Be safe.  Be well. 

Observe the guidelines implemented for our collective good!!

Note:  In the midst of a crisis, future planning is probably the furthest from your mind.  Nevertheless, planning is also an act of faith and optimism for the future.  An upcoming article will explore the reasons all of us should be developing contingency plans for portions of our business that can be conducted online. 

Is Brand a Scam . . . or the Real Deal?

Before a business owner invests the time, energy, and resources to systematically build a brand, some skeptics need to be persuaded that all this talk about branding is not a scam on the part of ad agencies and other marketers out to make money.

For starters, no less an authority of the business world than renown entrepreneur Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame was recently quoted as saying about the power of brands:  “Give me a $10 billion budget and ask me to bring out another Coca-Cola that makes a dent in Coca-Cola and I can’t do it.”  By inference, this statement seems to suggest that the branding of Coca Cola has a value of at least $10 billion (perhaps more).

Frankly, branding has a longer history than most people realize.

Do an Internet search for the term “history of branding,” and you get an extremely wide variety of responses.  Some talk about the cattle branding done in the 19th century wild west. An organization called Skyward traces the origins back further, saying, “The term derives from the Old Norse word brandr or ‘to burn,’ and refers to the practice of branding livestock, which dates back more than 4,000 years to the Indus Valley.”

Most sources seem to agree that some form of the concept can be attributed to the Egyptians (and ancient B.C. times) with some credit being given to the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, and more due to the marks put on items such as pottery to provide information about the creator and creations.  (For a good historical overview, read Skyward’s essay, “What Is Branding? A Brief History” found at https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/branding-brief-history/.)

Obviously, the term branding has assumed a much different and more complex identity during the second half of the 20th century.  As Taylor Holland notes in the Skyward essay, “The meaning of the word has evolved so much over the centuries that even people who do it for a living have never made the connection between modern marketing and livestock.”

Contemporary branding is a 20th century phenomenon.  The advertising industry is generally credited with broadening the definition to include establishment of a corporate identity and promotion of sales.  During the “Golden Age of Advertising” in the 1950’s and 60’s, the concept started to encompass the creation of a unique personality for products – giving them qualities that often elicited an emotional response that helped foster brand loyalty.

More recently, we have seen the concept expand even further to focus on something called “the brand experience” with customer service and ease of use playing increasingly prominent roles in effective branding.  (For a quick overview of this process of evolution, see “20 milestones in the history of branding” – https://www.creativebloq.com/branding/milestones-history-branding-91516855.)

So . . . What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?

If the act of branding is, indeed, an elaborate scam, the charade is one that dates back thousands of years, has hoodwinked one of the 20th century’s most astute businessmen, and has evolved to reflect the needs of a changing world.  While the act of branding has certainly become more complicated (as has the modern world), the process still involves quick identification of a product through visual symbols such as a logo and the association of those symbols with positive attributes.  These characteristics will, in turn, always be useful to companies that must continually reprove themselves to their existing customers . . . while constantly being on the lookout for new ones.

Not Convinced?

Perhaps you are one of those people who need some numbers before you can believe.  For instance:
“Consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23%.”
From 80+ Branding Statistics You Should Know For 2020
– Ryan McCready, June 19, 2019.

If you are one of them, check out these 80 facts and many others found in articles made available by searching “data proving the importance of branding.”

Creating a ‘Follow Us on Social Media’ Sign in Microsoft Word

You’ve created your social media pages to reinforce and promote your brand, and you regularly dedicate your time to adding content.  Now, you want to be sure you’re taking every opportunity to properly promote your social media presence.  If your small business has a physical location (office, retail store, etc.), hanging a sign in a high-traffic area is a great option and relatively quick and easy.

I’ll show you the steps to create such sign in Microsoft Word.

1. Open Word, create a new blank document, and insert a rectangle.  (When your cursor turns into a plus sign, you’re able to draw your shape.

By default, mine is blue.  Right click the rectangle and select More Layout Options. 

Set the properties to . . .

  • Size: 10” in Height and 8” in Width
  • Text Wrapping: Behind Text
  • Position:
    • Horizontal – Absolute Position of .25” ‘to the right of’: Page
    • Vertical – Absolute Position of .5” ‘to the right of’: Page

Set the Fill to No Fill and the Line to a Solid Line, Black Color, and .5 pt Width, choosing the Dash Type selection shown below.

2. Click inside the rectangle and type “Follow Us on Social Media”.  Set the font to one or more choices that work as your heading and size to appropriately fill the space.  Set the Alignment to Centered.  I went with the font Candelion Regular in all lowercase at size 160 for “follow us” and (on the next line) Calibri in all caps at size 25 and added a space between each letter.

3. Next, decide which review platforms you would like to feature.  We are currently active on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest and will be highlighting those.  Then, go to Google to find logos.  Most social media outlets will have a corporate page that makes their logo available to the public along with instructions for proper usage.  For example, Facebook has a Brand Resources page easily found when searching “facebook logo” on Google.

As you find the appropriate source for each social media outlet, save the logos to your desktop.

4. Press enter within your document to advance to the next line space and then insert each of your saved logos (from the menu at top, press the Insert tab, and choose Picture) in the order you want them to appear on your sign. 

Inserting each of mine took me to the bottom of a second page.  So, the first step in adjusting sizing is to crop any excess space from the logos.  (As you can see above, the outline of the Pinterest image is directly around the icon, so no need to crop that one.)  That’s not the case for LinkedIn . . .

To crop, click Picture Tools (at the very top of the screen), click the Crop icon (at top right), drag the outer edges of the box tight around the logo, and press enter.  Once all the logos are cropped as needed, try to match their size to about and 1.4” in height.  (This will ensure you have adequate room for text.)  To do so, click Picture Tools again and enter a height at top right.

Repeat for the other icons.

5.  Click in the space after your first icon, press enter to add a line space, and type your profile name/URL for that platform; repeat for your subsequent logos.  This process once again took me onto a second page.

Therefore, decrease the font size as needed.  I went with size 20.

And then adjust the spacing a little for each line of text (so you have additional room between each social media outlet).

And you’re done!

6. Save your file, print, cut (on the dotted line, which is 8×10”), and frame!

A Note About Fonts and Colors:
While the instructions described above will achieve the simple and modern design pictured, you can (and should) customize the look for your business. If you’ve been brand building from the start, you already have a Style Guide in place, and everything you create for your business should reflect the guidelines you’ve set for your logo usage, fonts, and colors. If you’re new to branding, be sure to review our story on The Role of a Brand Style Guide.

Happy designing!

Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week in May

In an earlier article (Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding), we promised to do our first press release on Brand Building for Small Business, using the occasion of National Small Business Week May 3rd through May 9th to formally announce our blog – believing we now have enough content across many basic business areas to warrant introducing ourselves.

brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/12/26/press-releases-as-another-opportunity-for-branding/(opens in a new tab)

With the dual hook of this national celebration plus the rollout of our site as a free resource to the targeted audience, we believe we have enough substance to interest an editor. 

Selecting our media targets on a budget was not easy.  For this initial round, we have contacted about a dozen business journals (all of which serve a substantial small business readership) and an inexpensive distribution channel – IssueWire.com – that also circulates the first press release free.  Clearinghouses such as this one can be very useful in getting the message out to a broader audience, though in a less targeted way than developing your own list of carefully selected publications.  That said, this approach makes the processing of releases much easier, and feedback about the distribution is tracked and easily accessible.  In addition to the most basic level of distribution, several special promotions can be added (at an extra cost) that target social media connections and Google search.

Our goal – we hope to gradually increase the readership of our blog and gain some valuable reader insights.

We will keep you posted about our results . . . and will write a follow-up article on the analysis of the results.  Until then, feel free to review our press release piece and provide us with any feedback in the comment section below.

Read our press release.

https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/celebrating-national-small-business-week-in-may-new-branding-resource-for-small-businesses-issuewire.pdf

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Branding)

In Search of . . .

Customer Loyalty!

Why is this quality so very important . . . and the ultimate goal of all branding activity?

Once you achieve customer loyalty, consumers will:

  • Choose your product or service over others . . . regardless of your competitors’ behavior.
  • Select you without price shopping . . . and perhaps even be willing to pay a bit more.
  • Become repeat buyers – often for years and potentially crossing multiple generations (an impressive brand success).
  • Recognize your product by your logo and other branding elements without a reference to your name. 
  • Become your best sales force – promoting your product/service through word of mouth.
  • Expect you to make good on brand promises – those qualities you have promoted that have resonated with your audience.
  • Present you with growth opportunities – in part through cross sales.

In other words, once you have achieved customer loyalty, your sales acquisition costs should decrease significantly because less marketing and sales expense should be required to generate the desired revenue.

So . . . How Do You Create Brand Loyalty . . . and Avoid Getting Lost in the Crowd?

While I’m sure you’ve heard about (and probably been pitched) loyalty/incentive programs, such tools are just one of many that are available.

Note:  Loyalty programs encourage shoppers to return to stores where they frequently make purchases. Some of the incentives may include advanced access to new products, additional discounts, or sometimes free merchandise. Customers typically register their personal information with the company and are given a unique identifier, such as a numerical ID or membership card, and use that identifier when making a purchase. (Investopedia) Want to learn more?  Check out these seven examples of some of the best:  https://www.leadquizzes.com/blog/7-examples-of-customer-loyalty-programs/

That said . . .

Instead of focusing on those prepackaged plans, you really just need to expend your energy on building a great brand and consistently promoting your strengths via consistent implementation of the basic branding elements you’ve put into place. Specifically, you should:

  • Provide a customer service experience that reflects your brand. 
  • Utilize social media to establish an online presence.
  • Build a visual brand identity that reflects your products/services and overall operations . . . so the message you are trying to send reflects reality and stands a chance of resonating with your audience.
  • Establish credibility (and trustworthiness) by making good on your brand promises.
  • Incorporate best practices in all that you do AND be the best.
  • Know your audience and make sure your products/services satisfy their needs . . . even as those needs may change.
  • Maintain strict consistency in your spoken, written, and visual message – enhancing recognition.
  • Focus on creating loyal, repeat customers who will continue to frequent your business.  (Why so important . . . ?)

THE LAW OF THE VITAL FEWThe Pareto Principle states that 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from 20% of your current customer base, making it imperative that you focus on creating loyal, repeat customers that will continue to frequent your business. (Written by the Forbes Agency Council)

  • Make positive contributions to society part of your culture.  (To do so can enhance the environmental, social, and governance aspects of your operations, which in turn, enhances the sustainability of your success.)
  • Add extra value above and beyond the basic product/service provided.
  • Check in with your customers regularly via surveys, conversations (research groups), calls, etc. AND really listen to them.

Don’t Be Brand X!

If your business has achieved customer loyalty, you’ve mastered one of the key measures of success – your products and services are no longer generic (. . . and interchangeable) in the eyes of you audience.  You are no longer just another Brand X!  You have a personality and identity; you’ve established a relationship with your customer.

As this article suggests, this goal is accomplished in many ways, including a consistent, well-developed branding program that sends a clear message to your intended audience.

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

Branding Through Customer Service

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

Most business owners appreciate the importance of customer service, but far fewer recognize the connection between the service they provide and the brand they represent.  Your customers’ experience with your business should reflect and reinforce your brand (or the personality of your company). 

Let’s look at two extreme examples. 

Amazon

amazon-vision-statement-mission-statement

Amazon’s customer-centric focus is a part of their mission and vision statements.  They are known for free two-day shipping (now with same-day options sometimes available), one-click purchases, and their virtual assistant (i.e., Alexa; lovingly known as Lexie in our house . . . or dumba@#$!, depending on the day and how well she’s performing her virtual assistance role). 

While having to wait ten minutes to speak to another company’s customer service representative may be annoying, most people probably wouldn’t be surprised.  However, we have different expectations for Amazon.  We expect to communicate with someone right away when we have an issue, and we expect that individual to capably handle the problem . . . and that’s only for those situations in which we can’t fix the issue ourselves (for example, “returning” a product without ever even interacting with customer service).  Quick, tech-savvy, and capable are qualities associated with Amazon’s brand, so we expect their approach to customer service to embody those same characteristics. 

Amazon also uses service interactions as opportunities to reinforce their brand.  They thank you for shopping with Amazon over the phone or via chat.  Afterwards, you’ll receive an email message from customer service, asking for feedback on your experience.  In that email, you’ll see the company logo, an email layout consistent with the company’s style, and a reference to the company building “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” 

Amazon’s brand is reflected and reinforced throughout the customer service experience.

On the flip side, sometimes customer service that isn’t customer focused or service focused is actually an important part of the brand, too.

Ferrari

This company’s product is associated with luxury, quality, and exclusivity.  For the most elusive Ferraris with very limited production, you don’t simply order one from the new flashy and convenient car vending machines.  You don’t simply order one at all.  You “request” to order one, and those requests are not fulfilled in the traditionally expected “first-come, first-serve” manner.  If you have money, fame, and an existing collection of Ferraris, you will probably make the cut; no guarantees though. 

Robert Herjavec, the businessman turned celebrity on ABC’s Shark Tank, spoke about ordering a Ferrari in Wired magazine, “The funny thing is, you never really know if you’re getting one until you’re actually getting one.”

(Note that most of the cost is required in advance of being guaranteed your requested Ferrari!)

“. . . You wait for a while, then you kind of get a date range, then you get a closer date, then you get the actual date. Then it’s definitely Christmas,” said Herjavec.

If you happen to request a paint color for your new car that Ferrari deems to be in poor taste, you can be denied said paint color. 

So, you make an order (with payment) without guarantee of getting the product, you wait an extraordinarily long time IF you are given the privilege of being promised the product, and customization choices aren’t always yours to make.  All of these customer service attributes reflect the exclusivity that is Ferrari’s brand and actually add to the allure of their products.

While I am not quite Ferrari’s target demographic and haven’t been involved in this process, I would expect that their brand is reinforced at each stage of the way – indirectly and directly portraying the characteristics that define them (luxury, quality, and exclusivity), including visual brand components as well whenever possible (for example, the prancing horse).

Customer Service Characteristics that Represent Your Brand

While the two brand examples highlighted are extreme ones, all aspects of your customer service do communicate qualities about your business.  Below is a list of some different customer service opportunities to consider.  The way your company handles each of these items contributes to a brand experience . . . one that hopefully reflects your perception of your brand. 

-The amount of time taken to answer phone calls/emails

-The way customers and potential customers are addressed in person as well as via phone/email

-The extent of information available to potential customers

-The level of assistance provided to a customer when experiencing an issue

-The way customer input and suggestions are handled

-The background information included with a product or service

-The amount of detail provided with any instructions included with a product or service

-The inclusion of contact information in promotional materials and product documentation

-The extent of customer follow-up provided post-purchase

-The inclusion of your logo and tag line in all possible service interactions (e-mail, letters, etc.) and documents

-The adherence to your company’s style guide in all possible service interactions (e-mail, letters, etc.) and documents (If you haven’t developed a style guide for your business yet, read The Role of a Brand Style Guide.)

If upon looking at this list, you feel like your customer service experience is fully in synch with your brand, pat yourself on the back!  That is no small feat! 

Want an even stronger evaluation?  Ask a few of your customers to do the same review on your behalf. 

If one or more attributes could use some tweaking to either better represent your company or to better take advantage of the branding opportunities that exist, you’re not alone.  The good news is that you can make important changes over time that can have a big impact on your business and your brand.