What do your customers think when they hear your business’s name? What’s your business’s purpose, beyond making a buck?
Your “brand” is so much more than the products and services you offer and the logo you’ve designed for your website or storefront. A company’s brand is the collection of positive and negative associations that it has earned in the marketplace over time — for better or worse.
Brand affinity is the emotional connection that consumers have with your brand, based on shared values. Building brand affinity is important for fostering loyalty and trust from customers. Furthermore, strong, effective branding will give you a way of standing out from the crowd, helping customers find you and encouraging them to engage with your brand.
Consistency and clarity are the keys to success for branding. It’s hard to build strong connections when people aren’t sure what you’re really about. And to be consistent, you need to have a good strategy from the start. It’s okay to pivot a little when your business is just starting out, but once people start making associations about you, it takes a lot to change their perceptions.
When it comes to small business lending, the most successful companies are those that focus on building strong brand affinity. Here’s how you can do the same.
Step 1: Identify Your Purpose
To craft your branding message, start by asking what makes you different? What is your business about? It’s no longer enough to just be the cheapest option. Today’s consumers want to engage with companies who demonstrate a purpose and exist for more than just the pursuit of profit.
A good way to get your branding right from the beginning is to spend time outlining your mission and core values. This is something a lot of startups leave until later, but the most successful businesses figure this stuff out from the beginning.
A mission statement summarizes the “why” of your company, preferably in one sentence. Here are a couple of great examples, via Hubspot:
- Sweetgreen: “To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.”
- Warby Parker: “To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially-conscious businesses.”
When you sit down to write a mission statement, think beyond what you’re selling, and focus on the impact you’d like to have on the world.
You should also spend some time thinking about your core values, or the guiding principles of your organization. Here’s a tip to get you started: How do you define success, outside of money? What do you value most in life?
Browse through this list of 200 core values, take four or five that pop out at you, and think of ways to incorporate them into your business’s approach to customer service and social purpose.
Step 2: Identify Your Ideal Customer
Another helpful exercise when building your brand strategy is outlining an “Ideal Customer“. To hone in on your target audience, you create a detailed description of an ideal customer for your business, plotting out their daily journey, identifying their pain points, and determining how you can address them. Here’s how this works:
- Come up with a fictitious audience member, being as specific as possible in your description of this person. Give them a name and write out a few things about his or her life. How old are they? Where do they live? What’s their annual income and education level? How do they like to spend their time?
- Map out what their typical day might look like. When do they get up? What do they do at work? What do they do after work? What was the last major purchase they made, and what was their process for making that purchase? For any activity you describe, identify whether it was a positive or negative experience, and why.
- Determine which communication channels your ideal customer uses throughout the day, so you can get a better idea as to what will be the best way to reach them. For example, do they use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.? What do they do when they’re on these sites or social channels? Do they make purchases, or do they simply talk about the issues of the day? When looking for recommendations, whose word do they trust the most?
While this exercise is not as specific as empirical market research, it can be very helpful in focusing your thinking so that you can connect as well as possible with your target audience.
Step 3: Align Your Business Habits With Your Brand
Once you have a mission and an ideal customer in mind, you need to align them with your actions and your messaging. Some tips for doing this include:
- Establish brand guidelines. Use your mission and values to come up with rules for how to communicate with your audience, and what your brand looks, feels and sounds like on your website, social channels, and email marketing.
- Roll out your branding internally before going public. It’s critical that all your employees (especially ones in public-facing roles) understand how to communicate your brand in customer interactions.
- Be consistent across all platforms. You want people to see the same things and make the same association no matter where they come across your brand. Every website visit or social media interaction a customer has should give them a clearer understanding of who you are as a company. Here’s a little more about how you can be consistent in all your social media efforts.
- Find a social cause that aligns with your mission statement and core values, and throw the support of your business behind it. By partnering with a non-profit organization that is trying to make a similar impact on the world, your customers will feel even better spending money on your products or services.
Your brand strategy needs to be about making the connection between your business and your message as clear as possible. Take time in the beginning to figure out exactly what your business represents, and what it is you’re trying to say. This will allow for more consistent messaging and a more successful brand identity down the road.
About the author: Raj is the founder of the startup coffee subscription service, JavaPresse. He believes in the power of entrepreneurship and enjoys writing about ways other self-starters can have success turning their ideas and passions into functioning businesses.