For my son’s recent eleventh birthday, he received a giant book of illusions. You know the kind, the one with the black and white pictures that bears the question, “Is it a candle stick, or is it two faces?”
We’ve all seen it a hundred times since our own childhood, but it still manages to fascinate us.
Some people immediately see the black, and of course the picture is perceived as a candlestick, but others only see the white, and that perception is only of two faces.
It isn’t until the flip side is pointed out that the other side is seen.
When it comes to your small business’s Brand, it is not quite as simple as black and white.
Customers and prospects are constantly coming in contact with you as a company. Your website. Your mass advertising. Your direct mail. Your stationary. Your office space. Even the way your receptionist answers the phone. All of these things make an impression and form your brand.
When it comes to your small business’s marketing and branding, in this great big technicolor world, perception IS reality. What you need to be successful is a perception that supports prospects wanting to choose you. This doesn’t just happen by accident.
What is your brand?
In order to answer the question, we need to explore what the word “brand” really means. Most people think of it as just the name of a product or service – similar to a ‘trademark’.
And, 100 years ago, you would’ve been correct.
In today’s vernacular, however, your brand is the perception of your product or service – that intangible sum of all of the attributes that surround your business. Whether that perception is intended or not, when it comes to your branding, perception IS reality. So, you want to influence that perception in a way that brings you your ideal prospects and long-term, loyal customers.
How does the perception match the truth for your small business?
According to that definition, you may be thinking that you have no control over what your brand becomes, what your brand needs to and should be. But you actually have a lot of control. If you don’t take intentional steps to control your brand, however, you can lose control of it. So where do you start to create the perception that best serves your business success? How do you start to take control?
With a simple Brand Promise.
Make a promise.
A brand promise, according to the ABC’s of Branding, is “the statement that you make to a customer that identifies what they should expect for all interactions with your people, product, services and company.”
Basically, your brand promise is telling them whether to see the black or the white.
In order to create a consistent brand, you need to establish a specific brand promise. Here are the important elements of a great brand promise. Obviously it can be much more complex than this, but this gets you started:
1. A brand promise is based in truth. There’s no need to over promise or exaggerate or create some hyperbolic statement. In fact, it hurts you if you do because the experience people have with you won’t live up to the promise.
2. A brand promise is something you can actually deliver. You may aspire to answer every email, or have the #1 widget in all the land. But, unless you actually do, then your promise will end up being empty.
3. A brand promise is credible. Even if you can do a job 150% faster than everyone else, if that sounds too incredible to your prospect, then they simply won’t believe it, and it won’t engage them.
4. A brand promise is unique. You need to not just tell them what you can truly deliver, but tell them how this is different or better than what they can get from someone else. Are you the best at something in your industry? Do you have a unique process or method no one else has? Is there something that you did before everyone else – you were the very first widget maker to hang a shingle in your state 35 years ago?
5. A brand promise is something that matters to the customer, not just to you. Don’t confuse your brand promise with a mission statement. Really think about what the customer cares most deeply about and is looking for – in their own words. Try to meet this need and word your promise in a way that matches the words *they* would use to describe what they are looking for. If you aren’t sure how they would say it, ask some of them. Do a survey, for example. Find out what is going on in their heads and meet them where they are.
Now, look at EVERY form of communication from your small business, and ask yourself if it tells your story.
Now prove it.
Try this exercise. Write out what you think and want your brand to be on a sheet of paper. Essentially, your Brand Promise.
Then, with that promise in hand, walk through a customer experience yourself. Call the office and get the receptionist experience. Walk in the front door and take note of the exterior, the office décor and presentation.
Note what the interactions with your staff feel like – how are they dressed, how do they communicate?
Next, move to the intended public pieces. Look at your printed materials, all of them, from your business cards and stationary to your invoices and proposals. Check out your website, your social media sites, your advertising.
From that first phone call into the office to the way in which your website looks, should all convey the same feeling, the same intent, the same brand. If you hold your business card next to your website, you should be able to tell they are from the same company. All should convey your brand promise, all should contribute to what customers and prospects consider to be your Brand.
Like I’ve said, when it comes to branding, perception IS reality, so make sure your brand IS the perception in which you want to put out into the world.