Is your business getting the kind of positive feedback or sales results you want to see? If inventory isn’t moving as fast as you’d like, customer interest and bookings have slowed, or you’re experiencing cart abandonment, then you know something isn’t working correctly.
We have a secret, and it’s already inside of your business as the first thing that customers see. It’s what most know or refer to as your ‘brand’, also known as a branding and communications strategy.
Now, I know this does not sound like a super sexy, ‘push-a-button-and-cha-ching- you-automatically-make-money’ thing. And if you thought that, you’re right-it’s not. However, effective branding directly impacts whether or not someone will buy from you, or that guy down the street.
Branding is where Ciroc initially dropped the ball when their vodka first came to market, and why they had to spend millions on advertising, and hand over a large chunk of their brand to Sean Combs-because he turned flavorless, colorless alcohol in a bottle with a dot on it into a serious brand. It’s also what Sidney Frank did brilliantly when he built Grey Goose, well before there was ever vodka in that bottle. And it’s what Tesla does without ever spending a dime on advertising.
Regardless of your industry, if you own business, it’s your job to ensure your look, feel and message are laser focused and on point in a way that make customers want to buy from you. If you’re ready to attract more customers and close more business, read on.
You’ve Launched-Now What?
Launching a product or retail-focused business is no easy task. In addition to inventory selection, financial commitments, product development, packaging, shelf placement, market competition, and ongoing consumer appeal must be factored in.
Proper branding can be easy to overlook at this stage, as speed to market can overtake ownership focus, causing rushed, ill-planned decisions that may directly and negatively impact sales.
Although beta products and first iterations do need to be developed fairly quickly, they rarely end up as the final product that appeals to customers or buyers at a mass retail level. If sales have slowed, interest from distributors has waned, or buyer meetings simply aren’t convert into sales, it’s like that something is off target.
Service-based businesses also frequently struggle with brand messaging, having to spend either many hours networking and trying to convince potential customers that they are the right choice, or spend a lot of money on advertising. Both create scaling issues, and when you factor in lack of staff, and the recent shift away from in-person meetings and sales to online, brand messaging can get lost in the shuffle.
This article will discuss four primary areas where branding and brand messaging is needed to support growth and lay a proper foundation for sales.
Secret One – Understanding What Branding Is (and is not)
According to Entrepreneur magazine, within the process of market planning or marketing, developing a name, symbol, or design for a product (or business) that differentiates it from competitors is known as ‘branding’. A somewhat simplistic definition, this might conjure up visuals of historic ranchers and farmers that ‘branded’ their livestock-ensuring that anyone who saw it knew who owned that horse or cow. (thankfully, most farmers no longer do that)
What Is Branding?
In reality, branding means more than just a named label or product. One of the most valuable elements within your product or service business’ intellectual property assets, a brand communicates why a product or service exists in the market, who it’s for, and what it offers or does that is unique and different from it’s competitors. Branding also communicates company values, establishes market position, and showcases corporate ethos in a way that matters to the end user or customer. As the first touch point for your business, your brand is the first impression a buyer will have that tells them what doing business with you is going to be like.
Although branding will eventually impact logos, packaging, typography, and more, those are elements of visually expressing a brand, not branding itself. That will be covered in a separate article.
How Branding Is Not Marketing
Branding is different from marketing or sales messaging, which can hinge on seasonal promotions, pricing, or comparisons to your competitors. For example something like, ‘We’re better, or have won more consumer awards than XYZ, therefore you should buy this product,’ would be an example of a marketing message. In contrast, branding shows how your product or service fills a need and fits into a particular customer’s lifestyle. It connects your ‘what’ with their ‘why’.
For example, a brand message for a company that sells natural hair products for women with curly hair might be, ‘Let’s be real: natural is sexy. Give your curls the moisture and care they crave while defining and hydrating with…XYZ.‘ Did you notice how all of the focus is on the customer, not the brand? What was her problem? She has frizzy, dry hair. That’s what brand messaging should look like. It’s about your customers and what they need, not what we want as brand owners.
Secret Two – Speak Your Customers’ Language
Although many businesses like a local tea shop, winery, or distillery may offer similar products or services compared to another business, studies have shown that the more specific a brand gets in identifying and communicating to a niche target customer, the more likely they will be to purchase from you. A well planned brand communications strategy, along with elements that visually and verbally relate it to a customer’s need and lifestyle can give a brand a serious edge, especially in highly competitive markets.
The process of effective brand communications, though, means truly getting to know your customers, their lifestyle, and their needs. Your brand must solve a problem or fill a need in a way that matters to them, not just be or say what you want to say to them. This means truly getting to know your customers as individuals on a personal level. Do not assume they’ll accept a one-size-fits-all approach.
If you take the time to create a solid, well planned branding message, a brand will move faster and further up the customer buying cycle. This is a powerful strategy used to sell high ticket items like luxury automobiles, and a way to eliminate other competitors at the time of purchase.
Consistent Messaging Starts At The Top
The key to consistency means implementing a top down process. Internal management must determine what ‘true north’ represents for the brand, while retail-facing departments tackle the task of how branding will be communicated at retail and in direct-to-consumer sales. Also, to avoid confusion and dilution, be sure that all sales and distributors are sharing this message in the market. Management can start by asking the following questions:
• Who is the customer I’m trying to reach, and why would they choose to purchase my product?
• What event or issue would trigger them to want to buy?
• What tips or information do they need in order to make an informed choice?
• How well are we doing with getting that information in front of them?
• Can we make better use of earned media strategies, influencers or something else?
Secret Three – Understand Your Product + Story Fit
To effectively communicate your brand story, you must also understand how and where your product fits into the market. A lack of self-awareness is one of the biggest mistakes brands make when it comes to their story. Just as you would not sell a Subaru the same way you would sell a Mercedes or Tesla, the quality, level of luxury, performance and price point will all be different-again, connecting the brand with something that matters to your end customer.
We call that ‘becoming the prop’. If you imagine the customer’s life like a stage or play, and your product is a prop, the question is, how can you get on stage more often? How can you become more useful, more often, in a time and way that makes them pick up your prop. Brand story serves the same goal-to make customers think of you early, and often, so that you become the default choice…which in turn, eliminates competition.
To determine how your product or service fits into the customer+ brand story, ask yourself the following questions:
• What is the quality, value, and price point of my product?
• Does my product or service solve a problem? What is that problem?
• Does my product or service make my customers feel a specific positive emotion?
• In what situations might they have experienced this in the past?
• How does my product or service do this in a way that is different from competitors’ products?
Secret Four – Stop Playing ‘Small’
If you’re a local retailer like a bakery, a restaurant, or small mom and pop shop, local media coverage may be enough to drive customers to your door. Local small businesses can also have success by working with influencers, in order to reach micro communities of likeminded customers.
However, if your brand sells in more than one market, online, or in more than one state, a national earned media strategy is likely a better bet to reach a broad stroke of customers. Readership, subscribers, and reach are much higher with national media outlets, and editors typically more open to sharing stories about thought leadership or opinion-based commentary.
Local and small media outlets can reach a small community, but the story must directly relate to something hyperlocal and newsworthy, otherwise, it will be considered an advertisement. If you want to create brand lift within a small or specific geography or community, the most cost effective approach would be to begin with an influencer marketing budget, and start working on ways to create newsworthy activities that local media might want to cover. This can be a charitable giving campaign, a unique local partnership, or something else that viewers or readers would feel is of interest within the community.
Although local advertising and marketing are both necessary to sustain successful businesses, advertising alone cannot generate trust, and customers need to know, like, and trust your business before they’ll be willing to buy. That’s why earned media must be part of the plan to build likeabilty and a trustworthy connection between you and your right-fit audience. Digital public relations also holds even greater value, as it can support SEO efforts, earning valuable backlinks and increasing credibility on search engines like Google.
Getting your brand into national media also builds higher consumer brand perception. Also, because the buying cycle starts well before we walk into a store, it’s important to take into consideration the preconceived ideas that customers may already have about your brand. The accolades of being rated or mentioned in a major outlet like The New York Times or USA Today can substantially increase brand perception and value, in most cases. If you can sell online, it can also lead to more direct-to-consumer purchases.
It’s worth noting, though, that no amount of publicity will succeed if a company does not have a great product or service to back up its marketing efforts, and it should never be considered as a replacement for sales.
How To Litmus Test Your Branding
After you’ve launched, if you are making good strides to reach your ideal audience through various earned media, marketing, and advertising channels, but you still feel like you should get better returns and close more customers, it may be time to take a deeper look into your branding.
Questions to ask:
• Does the story am I sharing directly connect to what my customers care about?
• Does our packaging and website presence make it clear what we do, and why we’re different/better?
• Is our social media content helpful, educational, or entertaining in a way that helps customers?
• Are buyers or wholesalers eager to pick up my product?
• Does the product or service offer require a certain amount of explaining or extra information to be implemented?
• Are media and journalists excited to write about us? Why or why not?
• Do customers feel they get exactly what they want/need from your business?
Questions like these should ideally be considered in the beginning of the branding process, and then revisited within the first 24 months after a brand launch. If the answer to one or more of these questions is negative, then it may be time to reconsider your branding or content strategy.
Want To Discuss Your Branding Needs?
If you feel that your story or product need a change, contact our team to schedule a brand evaluation review.