Your small business doesn’t need to be a world-famous household name in order to have a strong brand. However, if your competitors have a stronger brand recognition than yours, it can be overwhelming to try and overcome that obstacle. How do you begin to differentiate yourself from other small businesses? Is it through redesigning your logo and developing a snappy slogan? Brand recognition is so much more than just a logo and a slogan. It is the entire sum of what your company does, what you excel at and the experience your customers have with you. Nailing that alone will help you stand out from your competitors.

Building Your Brand: How to Differentiate Yourself From Other Small Businesses

Here are some guidelines for building a strong brand that positions your small business clearly and effectively in the marketplace, and helps differentiate yourself from the competiton.

Know Specifically Why You’re in Business

In today’s competitive marketplace, you don’t want to be a “jack of all trades, master of none.” We’ve attempted this – and it was not fun nor did we accomplish anything we wanted to other than accumulating a ton of clients we weren’t a good fit for. While it may be tempting to offer clients a wide menu of products and services, it’s important to keep your brand focused. Specializing in one or two things allows your small business to stand out.

TIP: Your customers have specific needs, wants, values and characteristics. Listen to what those needs are and tweak your services to provide a guaranteed level of satisfaction.

Clearly Define Your Brand Promise

We’re going back to the basics of branding here. And for some companies, this step hasn’t been established yet. Your brand promise is the statement you make to your customers and target audience that lets them know what to expect every time they interact with you and your employees, products and services. It’s deeply rooted and followed in your company’s culture and philosophy. It reflects how you serve your customers and deliver value to them; how you make a problem they have go away; how you make their lives better.

If you were to try to think about what these famous brands promise, you might come up with something like this:

McDonald’s: fast food with a consistency of taste and service, whether you walk into one in Timbuktu or Toledo
Starbucks: quality coffee in an inviting, casual atmosphere — your living room away from home
Volvo: cars that offer both safety and luxury
Zappos.com: any shoe you could want, backed by amazing customer service

Everything you do to market your small business should start from your brand promise.

TIP: Need help defining your brand promise? Complete this sentence: “My customers buy from us because we’re really good at…” The more specific the answer, the clearer your brand promise will be.

Target Whom You Want to Serve

As discussed above, your small business can’t do everything; likewise, it probably can’t serve everyone. Day cares, for example, serve parents and families. Guitar stores serve certain musicians. Obstetricians serve expectant mothers. You need to know who your customers are in order to offer what they need.

Your customers may skew toward certain demographic or socioeconomic groups. They may share a particular problem, interest or need. Your brand needs to connect with these people. They’re your target audience, the consumers you specifically aim to serve.

If you don’t know who your target audience is, use your existing customers to define some parameters. While you may know the “80/20 rule” (i.e., 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your clientele), this may provide too wide a sample.

Download our Free Buyer Persona Worksheet

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Be Honest and Authentic About Who You Are

Now that you’ve defined your audience through our buyer personas worksheet and what sets you apart, authenticity should come naturally. Don’t be hip and casual if you’re actually buttoned up and contingent. The main reason why this is a bad thing is you will end up attracting your no-so-perfect clients.

TIP: When it comes to your brand, be consistent and genuine. That will make it easier to build trust with your customers and attract your perfect clients.

Analyze Your Competition

Knowing what you do best and being able to explain that to your target audience means you’ve done your due diligence with your competitors. You must be aware of your own strengths and your weaknesses. Swallow your pride and admit you’ve got weaknesses, and learn how to turn those weaknesses into positives. For example, if you’re a restaurant far away from Main Street, can you position yourself as a beloved “neighborhood place” for foodies in the know (and with easier parking)?

TIP: What do you do better than everyone else in your space? Focus on that and smash it (that means kick butt at it).

Keep Your Messaging and Visual Identity Professional and Consistent

All of your printed communications and sales materials should look, feel and sound like they come from the same source. In terms of messaging, reuse key phrases that are your unique selling points, whether they’re used in your brochure, on your website or in ads. You may get tired of seeing it and hearing it, but for some it may be the very first time they are exposed. Put your company slogan or tagline on everything — it’s your brand promise boiled down to a catchy, memorable phrase. If you’re going to cut corners in your business, designing your website and marketing materials is NOT the place to do it. Projecting an unprofessional image will only discourage people from doing business with you.

Ideally, your brand’s visual appearance and messaging:

  • Reflect your brand’s personality and voice.
  • Set you apart from the competition.
  • Appeal to your target audience.
  • Command attention.

Generate Engaging Content For Your Customers

In order to build trust in your brand you’ve got to generate the content that screams “I’m awesome at what I do and when you’re ready to buy here’s why you should contact me.” Your content should educate your target audience during their entire buyer’s journey (awareness, consideration & decision). That way when your target audience is ready to buy, they will already know who you are and find comfort in the fact that they’ve followed your content for some time and know you’re amazing at what you do. This is what inbound marketing is.

Here are some examples of the content you can create for your audience:

  • Post video demos and how-to’s of your products or services to your website, Facebook page and/or YouTube.
  • Offer free webinars that customers have to register for.
  • Create incentives such as give-aways that make your target audience’s life much easier (worksheets, how-tos, eBooks, guidelines)
  • Ask your previous clients for website and social media reviews.
  • Share useful information on your blog. And blog as often as you can! Blogging/Content Marketing is the new SEO.
  • Send email newsletters targeted to your customers’ interests or purchase histories. This can be done through marketing automation.
  • Share testimonials of satisfied customers on social media and creatively highlight them throughout your website.
  • Use customer satisfaction surveys. We send out a survey at the end of every year asking what we can improve upon. It works great!

TIP: Following these bullets will reinforce your brand and your brand’s potential to make your customer’s lives better.

Give Customers a Great Experience

One of the most important of all when it comes to building your brand…Make customer service a core value at all levels of your business, and become known as a brand that delivers a terrific experience! Your customers will reward you. Think of everything you do in terms of customer service, even if you’re not directly dealing with customers. Consider the impressions they get when they:

  • See your ad, mailing, Facebook page, newsletter or Web site for the first time.
  • Walk into your place of business.
  • Call you.
  • Place an order over the phone or Web.
  • Send you an email inquiry.
  • Sign up for your mailing list.
  • Return to make another purchase.

While it may seem like extra work, these extra touches matter. According to a survey by Retail Customer Experience, twice as many people tell others about bad service than good.

TIP: Go through the above processes yourself. Ask yourself: Is this as good as it could be? Would this impress me? What can be improved? If you’re like me, it will never be perfect, but don’t hesitate to periodically refine your processes.

These tips may seem to take a lot of effort, but the payoff is well worth the effort. At the outset of establishing and building your brand, you might have to do a little homework. Once you get going, though, it gets easier, more routine and more instinctive — as long as you know your market, trust your intuition, maintain consistency and be yourself!

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