Branding Your Business Online

brandingFor a new company, achieving the status of “brand” as quickly as possible is an ideal outcome. It means you’ve made it. It means that when people think about whatever sort of product or service you offer, they think about you. Coffee? You think “Starbucks.” Cola? You think “Coke.” Jeans? You think “Levis.”

Know Your Focus

When trying to become a brand, you first need to know what you’re aiming for. Now, very few companies are ever going to achieve quite the level of brand recognition that Coke and Starbucks enjoy. Fortunately, most products have several brands associated with them. And if you’re only looking to engage with local customers, you can become a well-recognized local brand without having to aim for a national reach. Here in Albuquerque, for example, we’ve got Flying Star, a local restaurant chain that has instant brand recognition on a local scale but practically zero outside of New Mexico. And remember, Starbucks was a local Seattle brand before branching out in the early 90s.

Know Your Image

Or, more accurately, create your image. This is the second step in branding your business, especially if you are new. In some ways, that’s a big advantage. You don’t have an image yet, and this gives you a lot of control over it.

Put Yourself Out There

In order to craft an image, you’ve got to have exposure. And the Internet is the perfect tool for that. Cheaper than traditional print or media marketing, search engine optimization and social media marketing can help you reach a large audience in a fairly short time and with relatively little cost. But first you’re going to need two crucial things (besides a quality product or service to offer!):

  • A name
  • A logo

Names can be anything really—descriptive of your product, a made-up word, the last name(s) of the company’s founder(s)—but above all it should be something that people will easily remember.

Logos can be word-based, built around the first letter of your company’s name, or be purely visual and more abstract, but again, they must be memorable and instantly recognizable—and, ideally, spur some sort of reaction in people that see it. This can be tricky—it’s why we’re not all graphic designers, but when it works, it’s like magic. When you see the Golden Arches or the apple with a bite out of it, you know who you’re dealing with right away.

Social media is a great way to begin to build buzz about your company. Create a profile on Twitter and Facebook for starters, make your logo prominent, and start posting as often as possible about what a great company you are, right?

WRONG! That’s about the worst thing you can do. You’re new. No one even knows you. And they certainly don’t care about you. By tooting your own horn, all you’ll do is turn people off immediately. Instead, try this:

  • Create a consistent message about your company, and repeat it (but not too much). This is tricky, because you can’t do it in a way that is a blatant attempt at selling. There are no hard rules here, and the right message will vary for every company, but be compelling, be consistent, be creative, and craft something that will again be easily remembered and that will link your company with your product.  “We do chicken right,” “The King of Beers,” and “The Ultimate Driving Machine” are good examples (although your message does not have to be a slogan). If you can incorporate your unique value proposition, simply and concisely, your slogan can be that much stronger.
  • Listen more than you talk. Creating trust for your brand is essential. You need people to buy into the whole idea of your company, to advocate for you—and a great way to get them to do that is to let your fans be a big part of the conversation about your company. It’s also a great way for you to learn about the reputation of your brand, where you can improve, and what customers are really looking for.
  • To that end, be responsive. Talk to your fans in a genuine real way without trying to sell them anything. There’s never been anything like social media for creating and expanding meaningful relationships with customers.
  • Give! Have special offers for your followers, or unique content only accessible to them. Make them feel special, because you need them to know that you’re special. It’s a nice way to say, “Thanks,” too.
  • The customer comes first. In a perfect world, your company can be exactly what you want it to be. But if what you want doesn’t match what customers want, you’re not going to be in business very long. Web marketing (through keyword research,  SEO and social media) can give you an unparalleled insight into what people really want.

Don’t think of the web as a place to also do branding. If it’s not an integral part of your branding strategy, then, in this day and age, you’re probably not going to wind up as a brand.