I know some marketers who are laser-focused on “results-driven” marketing, such as Pay Per Click ads. These are the people who devote their entire marketing budgets to digital marketing, and turn up their noses at other less measurable aspects of marketing, such as branding.
Well, joke’s on them. Branding isn’t just important – it’s downright crucial for any company which wants to succeed.
To look at how powerful an effect branding has, just think of Apple, whose latest iPhone costs a whopping US$1,149. That’s an insane amount of money to be charging for a phone, especially when it doesn’t perform as well as its other competitors (I’ll get bashed by iPhone evangelists for saying this, but plenty of expert phone reviewers have talked about how Samsung’s Note 8 has a better camera, amongst other things).
Digression aside, here’s my point: the iPhone X’s exorbitant price tag doesn’t stop people from queuing up overnight so that they can be one of the first few to own the phone. And that, my friend, shows you how powerful branding is.
At this point, you might be thinking: okay, but that’s Apple you’re talking about. My company is nowhere as big – and i don’t have the budget to be doing all these expensive branding activities.
The importance of personalised branding for smaller companies
Here’s the thing: branding is equally (if not more!) important for smaller companies. You don’t have as many economies of scale and you always can’t compete based on price. In order to stop all your customers from flocking to your competitors who are churning out products at bargain bin prices, you’ll need to work on your branding, and convince your customers that you’re in a different league.
Smaller companies obviously have a hard time building a massive brand presence overnight because of limited resource. That’s exactly why you should focus on building a different kind of brand presence. Where larger companies might outperform smaller players on marketing spend, they often have a hard time adding personality into their branding.
Smaller businesses on the other hand, have the opportunity to add the human element to their brand because the people working in the business are not defined by a corporate hierarchy to the same extent. Creating an emotional connection with your customers can be incredibly powerful. According to Harvard Business Review, “on a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers”.
Need more proof? In 2014, Gallup found that consumers only base their purchases solely on price when they have no emotional connection to a brand. In other words, a personal connection is a major differentiator. Got it? Great! Let’s dive straight in, and talk about how to personalise your company’s brand.
Start with your unique unfair advantage
When it comes to building your company’s brand, always start with your unique unfair advantage in mind. Nope, that’s not a typo, and I’m not referring to your Unique Selling Proposition. In a nutshell, your unique unfair advantage refers to any skillset, trait, or circumstance that allows you to absolutely crush your competition.
Let’s say you’re selling a kitchen gadget which you have a patent on. That’s a unique unfair advantage right there – no one will be able to rip you off because of that patent. Or let’s say you used to be a teacher, and you’re now an entrepreneur who’s creating an app that facilitates classroom discussions. You also have a unique unfair advantage in this case; because you used to be a teacher, you have plenty of insights and specialized knowledge that your competitors might not possess.
So build your company brand around your unique unfair advantage, and you’ll find it much easier to defend your brand from copycats. At Bike Chaser, we are hugely involved with the Aussie cycling culture, so it makes sense for us to build a marketplace and online community around this culture. We know all the avid cyclists, we know the coolest rides, and we know the best gear – and what better way to build our brand than to put all that knowledge to good use, and share it with our audience through quality content?
At the end of the day, when it comes to smaller businesses, the most unique part of your business is you, so why not use that for good?
Humanize your brand by connecting with your audience
Running in that same vein, here’s an important point to consider when it comes to branding: Most of the big platforms we compete with, such as eBay or Amazon, are so good at being efficient that we necessarily can’t compete on the same level. Bearing this in mind, smaller retailers and eCommerce stores will do good to humanize their platform, and build a brand around their core team, as well as their day-to-day experiences.
If you need some inspiration, here’s how we do it over at Bike Chaser. We film mini documentaries about our country’s most notorious bike rides, write about our epic 13-day bicycling trips, and put together honest and comprehensive reviews about bike gear.
Balancing your personal branding
Online marketer Pat Flynn expounds on this beautifully in his podcast – basically, if you build your company up around a single persona, it’ll be hard for you to exit the industry and sell your business in the future, simply because you are the brand.
That’s not to say that relying on a personal brand is all bad – if you already have a certain social media following that you’ve built up, tapping into this following will help you hit the ground running, which is great. But like how best-selling author and branding expert Chris Ducker puts it, this is your name, and your reputation – and once you base your company’s brand around yourself, you have to be in it for the long haul.
Here’s an example: you’ve probably heard of fitness guru Michelle Bridges. She’s built an awesome brand and company, but she can’t easily sell her business because she IS the business. Her face is all over the website, she’s on all of her marketing collaterals, and even her programme – the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation – is named after her.
So how do you humanize your brand, but not build it up too much around a single persona? Simple. Employ a casual and conversational tone in your newsletters, blog articles, and videos – and be sure to feature several founders, or even your entire core team, instead of one particular person. (Again, that’s what we do at Bike Chaser. We actually also sometimes get other guests – all bike experts, of course – in on the action, just to switch things up a little!) Basically, give everyone an equal amount of airtime, and you’ll be on the right track.
At the end of the day, short-term profitability and cash flow is important, but you also need to invest in building your brand for the long term. Don’t be so short-sighted as to concentrate all your efforts on increasing this month’s revenue when this means that you could be taking years of your company’s potential lifespan.
Jonas Christensen is the co-founder of Bike Chaser, an Australian marketplace for buying and selling bicycle products.