Second Sunday Series: Editor’s Note: This is the 11th of 12 columns on starting a business: one every second Sunday of the month, September through August. Last month’s column reviewed money issues, while previous months discussed the importance of staying focused, business systems to set up, making the first sale, ways to choose your startup approach, goal setting processes , key start-up steps, burnout, the entrepreneur’s staff. assets and weaknesses, and self-employment as a career option.
Do you have a brand? More specifically, does your startup business have a brand? If you’re not sure, then the answer is no. But you need one, so keep reading to find out more.
As a first point, know that you can dig into this, and maybe you should, but for now, I’m going to suggest a kind of “light mark” approach. You can learn more later about the mission, vision, and selling or value propositions, among other ideas.
For now, let’s condense the brand concept in its most simplified form: Branding is what your business is known for.
In that context, the brand is not only what you sell; it is your image, or what comes to mind when someone hears your company name. It’s your company’s reputation and yours too, as the business owner.
These days, the brand can be actively promoted as part of the company’s social media campaign, creating in a matter of weeks the name recognition that used to take years to develop.
That’s fine, but unless it also translates to sales, the social media buzz is just… buzz. Without this understanding, startups can miss out on posting a jumble of posts and videos that drive recognition but no revenue.
Since much of social media is free or low-cost, it can seem like no harm done. Why don’t you try everything until you find out what works? One reason is that your time is a limited resource, and these “free” campaigns require more steps to run than you’d expect.
You could also be launching promotions before you’ve identified the basic elements of your company’s brand. When that happens, the messages coming across different platforms can be chaotic or confusing for potential customers. And confused customers tend not to buy, so instead of driving sales, you may actually be driving sales away.
The following rules can help you avoid these pitfalls.
Do not confuse the message with the tools. Regardless of what you decide your brand will be, the message you want your customers to receive about your product or your reputation will be independent of the tools you use to promote that message.
See where your customers are. Suppose you are selling food supplements to improve the nutrition of the elderly. Will the customer be the end user (the older person)? Or that person’s caregiver (statistically likely to be a middle-aged woman)? Or a health professional? While your brand message may remain the same, your method of promotion will vary by customer group.
Start with the basics. Visual elements like your logo, company colors, and package design will be part of any promotion you’re after, so it makes sense to start there. So don’t forget the power of referrals from satisfied customers. Deliver your product or service well enough and others may be building your brand for you.
Ready for your task? Thinking about the business you are starting, fill in the blanks in these sentences:
1. My business is/will be known by _________.
2. When people describe my business, they will use words like ________ and ________ and ________.
3. As a business owner, my reputation will go to __________ and ______________.
Next, consider how you will ensure that these statements come true. What will you do to secure this reputation? How will you market the business so that these words come to mind for the consumer?
Write as much as possible for now, and then you can decide if you would benefit from having a marketing professional help you incorporate these elements into a complete brand strategy. Otherwise, you’ll still have the pieces in hand to guide your own branding effort as you launch your business.
This will be an ongoing process throughout the life of your business, so be prepared to review these questions at least once a year. In the meantime, check back in a month for the latest installment in our Second Sunday series, and we’ll wrap up this year with the columns provided to guide your business startup journey.
Amy Lindgren owns a professional consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected]