When it comes to small businesses, I’ve found that it gets hard to separate the owner from the company. If you own a small business, that business is more than just your job – sometimes it feels like it’s who you really are!
Your business is also there to service the needs of the people around you, whether it’s your customers or the other businesses you work with. After asking some small businesses owners in my area, I’ve learned some tips that can help your small business succeed by zeroing on what your customers want to buy, not what you want to sell.
1. Play Off of Your Competitor
The first thing that I think every business owner should figure out is what you can offer your customers that other companies can’t. If there’s room for your brand in your particular field, there’s got to be something you’ve got that nobody else does, something you can guarantee you won’t find anywhere else. Before you start forging your own brand, it can’t hurt to take a look at the ones your customers already know.
- Always think about quality vs. convenience. If the other guy offers quality goods at high prices, your community might need someone who can offer them that product in a quicker, simpler way.
- If there are already established brands in your area, show your customers what they’re missing! You’ve got to offer the kind of care and service that the big companies won’t give if you want to stay competitive.
- Your company should be unique. You shouldn’t try to foster a brand that you can’t live up to, or one that doesn’t fit your business, but it never hurts to carve yourself out a niche in your market.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to be Dangerous
Depending on what you’re selling, appealing to the widest possible audience isn’t always the best strategy. If you’re competing with local names that everybody recognizes, you might want to think about the customers that aren’t loyal to anyone in particular yet. It might be the people looking for somebody to lead them out of the pack.
And leaders don’t follow the big dogs: they blaze their own trail and let their loyal customer feel like they’re doing the same. Here are some ways I’ve discovered that being dangerous can pay off big time!
- Being dangerous means selling something that isn’t for everyone. While this means you won’t get the biggest group of customers, it means you’ll get a dedicated following, which is exactly what you want as a small business.
- As a dangerous brand, you get to thumb your nose a little at the big guys. While it seems like the people who use that company would get offended, these campaigns often convince those customers to find their own individuality through your company.
- This produces strong brand loyalty. When customers define themselves through your product, you can bet they’ll keep coming back for a long time afterwards.
3. Control your Image
Getting your company’s image out there requires cooperation and, sometimes, compromise. But the last thing you should have to compromise is your brand – I believe that this is your company’s strongest weapon in the fight for customers, and that it’s up to you to keep it consistent with your vision.
Although running a business, gaining customers, and managing to turn a profit might seem like too much to handle at times, I’ve discovered a few things that might help you achieve your branding goals without spreading you funds too thin:
- Remember your brand: if it’s all about quality service, skimp on quickness or convenience without compromising what your company is known for.
- If you run a small business in a small community, your advertising should rely on word of mouth more than anything else. Quality service might draw more customers than an expensive ad campaign in small settings like yours.
- Nobody’s perfect, and everyone knows running a business means making some sacrifices. Just be sure you don’t sacrifice the things that make your customers loyal to you, or they’ll be heading elsewhere.
4. Know When to Change your Campaign
You know that feeling everyone gets when a joke’s gotten old, but somebody keeps repeating it? Doesn’t that feeling sound a lot like the one that customers get when they’re seeing a brand strategy that just isn’t working anymore?
After a while, being stuck too long in one brand strategy not only doesn’t help: it might start to rub your customers the wrong way! It sounds like it’s tough to know when a strategy is helping and when it’s hurting, but I’ve learned some things that are helpful to keep in mind when you’re thinking about going in a new direction:
- Changing up your whole strategy can be intimidating, so it can’t hurt to start small. Show some customer in your community new leaflets you were thinking about distributing so you can gauge their reaction before you take out a big ad in the paper.
- Know your customers; if they’re younger and more hip, for instance, keeping your brand fresh might be more effective than sticking with what works.
- Changing your strategy doesn’t have to mean changing your brand. As anyone will tell you, consistency is the name of the game in branding, but the way you communicate that brand should be flexible!
5. Be Consistent
As important as it may be to stay flexible, you can never stray too far from your brand message. Effective branding is giving your customer base a good, solid image of what your company is all about. If you come out with a campaign that’s selling the total opposite company of the one you’ve been selling in the past, potential customers won’t be excited – they’ll be confused.
Worse, your already loyal customers will feel betrayed. If your shift in tone is too sudden or not convincing, you’ll give your customers the feeling that your brand is getting “gimmicky.” Here are some handy tips for keeping your customers in the loop when it comes to branding:
- Don’t move on from one strategy if your customers aren’t ready to. No company should have to be stuck, and everyone should keep their brand moving forward, but your customers should feel included in your transformation, not jolted by it.
- Ask yourself, “are we updating our brand, or simply changing it?” If it’s the latter, think about how important your brand identity has been to your business. It might be time to reconsider.
- If your strategy works, stick to it. There’s no sense in fixing something that isn’t broken, so don’t let your own desire to do something new get in the way of what your customers have come to rely on.
But like any good business strategy, these tips are just an outline for success – it’s up to you to put them together and start changing the way people see your business! Branding yourself as a small business without a slick PR team can be intimidating, so we’re here to help you orient your business to a quickly-changing economy.
In the end, only you can orient your business to your situation: as an entrepreneur, you should be able to see which tips would be most useful to you, just like you’re able to see what kinds of products and services would be most useful to the people in your community. When you’ve tried our ideas for yourself, come back and let us know how they worked!