Are you unique? Probably not. In all likelihood, there are dozens, hundreds, even thousands of companies that do what you do. You could say the same about most shoe companies, shipping companies, or coffee vendors – until you look at Nike, UPS or Starbucks. They have unique images that make them stand out. They got where they are today partially due to a concept called “branding,” and it can be just as effective for a mom ‘n pop shop as for multi-national corporations.
“Branding gives your company and your products a personality,” explained Jim Bork, president of Momentum Communications (www.gogetmo.com), an Indianapolis-based advertising and design company. It may involve a sound (the snap, crackle, pop of Rice Krispies), a slogan (Capital One’s “What’s in your wallet?”), a visual image (McDonald’s Golden Arches), a personality (the AFLAC duck), even a smell (the aroma of Cinnabon products in the mall).
Properly done, branding makes people feel good about doing business with you. It doesn’t create customers. It creates a community of supporters. This becomes a culture. That’s why people pay $3.75 for a mug of coffee at a café with a warm ‘n fuzzy atmosphere rather than getting a cup of the same blend to go for 75 cents at a diner with a neon “eats” sign in the window.
How can you create your company’s unique brand and image? Here are some ideas that can get your started:
- Audit your current branding, Bork explained. What image are you projecting now? This is your current brand. Is it dull and unexciting? Why do your current customers come in? And how do they feel when they leave? “The goal of branding is to give your customers a positive experience. Make them want to do business with your business; make sure they enjoy the experience; and make them want to come back.” Ask yourself, “What can I do to make my customers’ experience different and more rewarding?”
- Focus on the little things, especially if you are a small company with a small budget. It doesn’t take much. Ask any Midwest Express customer about the company and he or she will likely croon about the freshly baked, piping hot chocolate chip cookies served after lunch. “You do not have to spend a fortune to make your company unique,” stressed Bork. Redesign your business cards. Send out Thank You cards to customers and clients. Jazz up your web site. Sponsor a local event. “Start building a culture, an image.”
- Differentiate yourself from the competition. Take a day trip and do a little research. It will open your eyes. “Visit your competitors, and check out what they are doing well, poorly or just so-so,” said Bork. “Then capitalize on their weaknesses.”
- Create a personality, a mythology, and a belief system for your company. Effective branding often involves a creation story. Consider two counter-culture guys who started making weirdly named ice cream flavors (Ben & Jerry’s) or a techie nerd called Bill Gates who started a multi-billion dollar computer company in his garage (Microsoft).
The bottom line: What makes you special? Capitalize on it, market it, create that unique brand image, and then turn it into increased sales and higher profits.
Work hard. Make money. Have fun. — JRIngrisano
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