How Small Businesses are Conveying a “Big Brand” Image
In a virtual world, even very small businesses can convey a “big brand” image, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time, energy or money to do just that. Lenore Kantor, president and Chief Launch Officer with Launch Warrior, says there are two key things that solopreneurs and business owners can do to present a bigger presence: have a clear story and present themselves professionally.
“Develop a focused message to effectively communicate your value proposition as succinctly as possible, Kantor recommends. “The better your pitch is, the more targeted and powerful your presence can be. Sometimes less is more here.”
Next, she says: “Invest time and resources in creating a design that represents your brand. Whether that’s your logo or website, it’s worth making these look polished, because, as your storefront and window dressing, these alone can convey thoughtfulness and presence, which are hallmarks of established brands.”
Conveying Your Professional Image
One challenging step for small business owners to take, but a very important one, is critically assessing their current brand image. Taking a dispassionate look in the mirror can provide a solid foundation for building, or building upon, a brand, says Dan Lobring, managing director, communications with rEvolution.
“I think one of the easiest things a small business can do is think about how their potential consumer would discover them,” says Lobring. That should include a look at your website and “digital footprint”—how active are you on social media, especially on those channels that are specific to your business and its potential audiences. Doing this, along with a review of how your competitors have positioned themselves, can give you a good sense of how you stack up—and where you may be missing the mark.
Don’t have a website, or haven’t updated your site in several years? That’s a problem.
One foundational tool that any company must have in place to convey a solid image is a website, says Susan Payton, president of Egg Marketing & Communications. “My tip is to invest in a professionally-designed website,” she says. “They no longer cost an arm and a leg, and you can even buy a $50 WordPress theme and customize it for your needs. Your website is the first impression of your company, so make sure it says ‘success’ and not ‘small potatoes’.”
A well-designed website can make a big difference agrees Angela Garvey with Vita De Novo Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. “In a smaller area dominated by larger spas and franchises like Massage Envy, we have positioned ourselves through excellent web design and SEO to top the search results for our area,” she says. The company has only been in business for a year, Garvey says, and it has already been able to top local search results and grow rapidly in southern Alabama.
Getting Your Name Out There!
Despite the critical nature of a professionally-presented website, entrepreneurs also need to leverage a broad range of communication tools and options to ensure that they are top-of-mind, says Jacob Baldwin, global manager of digital marketing with Emerson Climate Technologies. In short, that means companies need to be everywhere!
This, says Baldwin, “is easily accomplished thanks to advancements in digital advertising and web catalogs. There are a few types of digital advertising, but the one I would like to recommend today relies on third-party networks and web catalogs to identify ideal placements for your ads. Look up remarketing or retargeting solutions to fit your needs.”
The process is simple, he says. “One example would be, ‘I want to show my ads on third-party sites to only those people who came to my website but did not participate in any conversion activities.’ These programs will then target those specific users and begin showing your ads.” That type of approach, he says, generated comment like “You guys are everywhere!” In reality, though, he says, “we weren’t.”
That same targeted audience focus applies to other communication outreach, as well—specifically social media. There may be dozens of social media options out there, but not all are, necessarily, right for you. Pick those that put you—regularly—in front of your target audience, and you’ll begin to build a recognized brand.
“We call it touching,” says Joshua Luster with Bunker Box, Inc., a company that provides golf accessories and apparel. “With our brand, our main goal is to show the customers that they are getting a deal from a bigger-than-life company: one that has the buying power to get them lower prices on all golf merchandise.” Bunker Box uses a website, social media, and a strategically planned email marketing campaign to connect and engage an audience. “The content in these emails drives home our passion, legitimacy and top place in the market,” he says. “Consistent contact with those customers with important content. No one likes spam; people like credible, fun, interactive content.”
A consistent, multi-pronged communication approach is key, agrees Mark Stevens, CEO of MSCO, a management and marketing firm. He tells business owners to “bundle your marketing initiatives—such as PR, advertising, webinars—so that they reinforce one another and converge on key social media platforms.”
In addition, he says, “add the element of provocation.” Stevens believes in capturing attention, and generating buzz, through creative positioning that starts with the company name. Some examples: Love My Strutz (a product that alleviates plantar fasciitis), CARbonga SRI (an auto app), and his own company. “Our company name is MSCO, but we are branded ‘Your Marketing Sucks’ because I wrote a bestselling book by the same name.”
Making a Big Impact
Beyond websites and other communication-related trappings, there are other ways solopreneurs and small businesses can convey a big brand image, says Peter Blatt with Blatt Financial Group, LLC. “One method I have used to brand my company is to teach adult education at a state college,” he says. “The college places my company and its information on its directory and mails out over 40,000 invitations per year to attend my classes.” Importantly, Blatt notes: “Potential customers view me as an expert even if they do not attend the class.”
Another great way to convey expertise is through media coverage. “Our agency works aggressively on PR,” says Jason Parks, owner of The Media Captain. “When someone visits our website and sees that we have been quoted recently in The New York Times and on Yahoo News, they are eager to learn more about our line of work. It also makes our agency feel like a national company that is able to take on all sorts of business, especially the big fish, even though we are relatively small.”
That’s an approach Erica Harriss, founder of Saving Grace Beauty, LLC, has also used to her advantage. “We are creating our brand, and helping get word out about our product, via media,” says Harriss. “By achieving these big media hits, people make the assumption we are also big.”
A public relations campaign can go a long way toward making a small company look big, agrees Ken Wisnefski, CEO of WebiMax. “The key strategy should be pitching people inside your company as expert sources to the media. Though, it can certainly take a bit of patience and a lot of reading to figure out which publications and authors are putting out stories that intersect with your industry.”
Pitching your point of view appropriately is an important skill to develop, says Wisnefski. “Get your point out quickly, and follow it up with why it is compelling and worthy of reporting. Your pitch has to answer the question ‘So what?’ not just for the reporter, but also for the reporter’s audience, so avoid any jargon, and keep it simple.” Once the press mentions your company, leverage that every way you can think of, Wisnefski recommends, “including social media, your website, newsletters and on sales calls.”
From identifying their desired brand, to critically evaluating their current brand image, to leveraging the use of a variety of communication and outreach tools to stay consistently and professional in front of their audiences, even the smallest businesses can stack up against the big brands.
But, all this talk about looking big aside, Jeremy Gregg, an entrepreneur and three-time TEDx speaker, says don’t be afraid to embrace your smallness. “Depending on your business, a big brand may not be what customers want,” he says. “My advice is to embrace being small and to target customers who value the things that small can offer: personalized service, understanding of local needs, and a real connection to them as a customer, not merely an account.”
Additional Best Practices
The following are some additional insights from small business owners who have learned how to convey a big brand image:
“Have a logo that is well-designed, legible and memorable. A logo that was cheaply or poorly designed stands out in a negative way. It looks unprofessional and creates doubt about you in the mind of your potential customer. A great logo can distinguish a brand and can develop long-term recognition. It creates credibility by telling the viewer a little about you, your business and your capabilities. It also shows that you’ve made an investment in design. Good design creates successful brands—look at companies like Apple, Kate Spade, Starbucks. Even a small or start-up company can increase their perceived value in the business world with a strong, eye-catching logo. How to get a great logo? Find a local freelance graphic designer by asking your network for referrals. Meet with the designer for a brainstorming session. When your logo is finished, use it everywhere: on all your social media accounts, blog, website, LinkedIn, business cards, brochures. Consistent and repetitive use creates recognition in the marketplace and will bring customers to you.”
– Kirsten Goede
“Cross-blogging! We don’t have the huge ad budgets of some companies, so we can’t pepper old media with ads to drive home our brand. However, cross-blogging is a great way to pop up in all of the corners of the Internet, and reach an audience that had never heard of you. I’m constantly told by affiliates and customers that they ‘see me everywhere,’ and, honestly, it’s largely thanks to finding new outlets to write with. Soon enough, your face, business, and brand will be everywhere, without you having to spend a ton of money to get there.”
– Deborah Sweeney
“Commit to your brand look and feel. Once you have a brand look and feel, you must, must, must remain committed to it. Your audience can feel if it is a veneer, so invest in extending your image into everything you do. The ‘bigger’ your brand appears from day one, the less you are developing it over time and, according to finances, the more confidence your clients will have in you, the more they will frequent your business, and the more likely they are to give you bits of important information like their age, phone number and email address. But, you cannot appear to be learning on the job! ‘Big’ companies act with confidence, and they appear to have invested the time and attention to back up their claims.”
– Rosemary Camposano
Halo Blow Dry Bars, Inc.
“Make sure you have a signature at the bottom of your email, a business card to pass out at meetings, letterhead, and a fax cover sheet, even if you print it out online. Do not use your Gmail, AOL or Hotmail address. Do not use firstname.lastname@example.org; use firstinitial.lastname or firstname.lastname at URL.com Have a nice sounding outgoing voice mail message. Give everyone a title. It is not about how much money you spend; it is about putting forward a professional image, and looking and acting the part. It is about cleaning up well and making a great first impression.”
– Paige Arnof-Fenn
Mavens & Moguls
“To project a ‘big brand’ image, we invest heavily in a broad, in-depth online profile that includes a website, blog and social media profiles. This includes regularly-scheduled updates, creative content, current templates and sponsored posts. Additionally, our team members have extensive online profiles that include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, About Me, and other social media platforms that create additional exposure for the company. We also use tools such as Brand Yourself, Klout, HubSpot, Google Alerts, and Mention Me to guide our strategies and monitor our activities.”
– Crystal Kendrick
The Voice of Your Customer
“My small company was not well known, but a series of steps has us now on par with national firms. A few examples:
- Public Speaking – I say ‘yes’ to every speech I get asked to do. This gives us significant exposure at industry events.
- PR – Every speech can turn into a press release.
- Social Media – The speeches and press releases turn into great social media posts.”
– John Crossman
Crossman & Company
“One great way for small businesses to look like a big brand online is by automating customer responses. For example, by sending an automated email as soon as a customer requests a coupon or fills out a lead box, this gives a sense of 24/7 availability, without having staff actually available 24/7.”
– Adam Barnhart