It takes more than writing a business plan and having enough capital to run a successful small business. It’s also imperative to develop a branding strategy.
But before delving into how to develop a branding strategy, perhaps you’re curious what exactly is a branding strategy in the first place?
What is a branding strategy?
A branding strategy is one element of your overall marketing plan. The truth is that the branding strategy is often the most challenging element to implement in the overall marketing plan. Why is this? For starters, a branding strategy sometimes requires some outside of the box thinking. This is especially true if you’re a very small business (think: one brick-and-mortar location) with competition. How will your branding strategy crush your competition?
Well, if you’re at a loss for words as far as determining how you’ll separate your business from the rest of the pack, now you know why many small business owners struggle with creating a clever branding strategy.
Moreover, a branding strategy requires some Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot-type existential thinking. What is the purpose of my brand? What kind of needs am I fulfilling for the community? How are my products/services meeting the needs of the community? What’s the emotional impact my business has on customers?
Considering that not every small business owner has a degree in philosophy, you can see why it may be challenging for some to craft a branding strategy.
Let’s use an example for the above existential questions. Suppose your small store sells beads and DIY (do-it-yourself) jewelry-making supplies. What purpose does your store have? It may seem obvious. But spell it out in your branding strategy document. And don’t make it generic. The purpose isn’t only to supply beads and jewelry-making supplies, it’s also to make people feel good about themselves, nay, to feel beautiful and happy; to reconnect them with their childhood as well as to save money (by not having to go to an expensive jewelry store). This is the emotional impact of your brand.
You also need to be consistent with your branding. This means that your logo, website, business cards, flyers, social media profiles and advertisements all appear the same. Make sure that your advertisements across all channels convey the beauty, happiness, and saving money mentioned above.
Elements of a Branding Strategy
Before you even think of writing the first paragraph of your strategy, there are a few things you should know about your business. What is your customer avatar? In other words, if you were to pin down your typical customer who would he or she be? What’s their age, gender, occupation, level of education and income bracket, as well as hobbies, likes and dislikes?
Perhaps you can’t narrow down your customer into one singular archetype, however, the more you know about your customers, the better you’ll be able to create messaging that they will resonate with and react to.
You also need to know everything you can about your competition. What kinds of ads are they running? What do their email autoresponders look like? Do they allow pets? What are they posting on social media that attracts customer engagement? Is the owner of the competition a prominent member of the business community and involved in philanthropic causes? Try to figure out what has led to the success (or failures) of your competition.
In addition, you’ll also need to determine your unique selling proposition. Your USP defines how you are different than the competition. Differentiation is the reason why independent grocery stores are still relevant despite stiff competition from major supermarkets.
Branding = Image
After you have put a lot of thought into the above factors, only then should you start developing your brand strategy.
The essence of a branding strategy is the image you want your business (or store) to convey. Even if you’re a small neighborhood pharmacy, let’s say, you can create a fun image. To do this, have your (assuming you’re the owner) face literally be the face of the company. Hire an artist to make a caricature of your face to use in marketing materials. Convey to the community that yours will be a fun store to patronize instead of a sterile, bland place to get once in a blue moon necessities like prescriptions and gauze pads.
Whether you’re about to launch a business or you’ve been established for a while and want to reexamine your branding strategy, a prudent thing to do is ask for input from friends as well as prospective or existing customers.
You can use a free service such as SurveyMonkey.com to assess if your existing or future business is meeting the needs of the community. For example, you may think the coffee shop you’ve been running for the last 10 years is doing just fine. However, as your neighborhood has gentrified, more competition has entered the picture. Sending a survey can shed light on whether or not your business is meeting the needs of the community. You may, for example, come to find out that the bulk of the survey respondents think that your operating hours are insufficient. Perhaps keeping your coffee shop open until 4pm sufficed a decade ago, however, these days, a younger customer base desires later operating hours.
You can post questions on social media to encourage customer interaction. Asking questions through surveys and social media as well as email can help you identify (or modify) your unique selling proposition.
Communicate Your Brand
Of course, how you communicate your brand and its unique selling proposition is crucial. If you’re the new family-run pharmacy in town, running a promotion offering free condoms for high school prom season isn’t a clever marketing trick; it would, of course, run counter to your brand’s image as a family-run enterprise. The backlash might be impossible to overcome. However, if you offer free family diabetes- and A1C-blood sugar screenings, that might be an offer families will want to take advantage of. The community at large will likely remember your pharmacy as the place to go for wellness needs.
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