GUIDE | 12 MIN READ
9 Steps to Building a Small Business Branding Strategy
A strong brand tells your market who you are and what problems you solve, while marketing communicates your brand message and engages your target audience so you can acquire new clients. Without a clearly defined and visible brand, you may not only lose the game, but miss being a part of it.
In this guide, you will learn
5 Tips to Build Your Brand
- DEFINE YOUR UNIQUE SELLING POINT
A successful personal brand will define what sets you apart and makes you unique. Take time to understand what differentiates your business and write a personal branding statement that defines who you are, what you do, and who you serve. Let this be your guide to use when describing yourself and your business.
- ESTABLISH YOUR EXPERTISE
Position yourself as an expert or thought leader in your industry. Use your personal website to clearly illustrate what sets you apart from others in your field. You may wish to create a blog and showcase your expertise by offering helpful advice and solutions. Leverage social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter to share your knowledge and connect with other independent professionals in your field. Network with like-minded entrepreneurs, consider speaking at events, and offer online or offline workshops.
- BE CONSISTENT
In everything you do, develop and maintain your brand. Whether online or offline, maintaining consistency in your message is the secret ingredient to personal and business branding success.
- DON’T FORGET TO BE PERSONAL
People buy from people. Engage with your market on a personal level by sharing elements of your own life. It’s important to show your human side and personalize your brand in order to build and maintain trust. However, there are rules to follow when mixing personal with professional, so tread with care. Here’s a good rule of thumb: anything personal you decide to share should elicit trust and respect from your audience.
- MONITOR AND REFINE
As you grow and accelerate your business, you may need to update or refresh your personal brand to reflect who you’ve become. It’s also important to monitor your brand online for negative sentiment.
Branding is more important in today’s business world than ever before. If you don’t develop a clear and distinct brand, you may get lost in a sea of competitors. Branding will set you apart, help you communicate who you truly are, and can become the cornerstone of how you and your independent business communicate to customers.
Take time to build your brand, be authentic in how you communicate it, and you’ll be well on your way to demonstrating your leadership and expertise in your field.
A brand is a customer experience represented by a collection of images and ideas; often, it refers to a symbol such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme. Brand recognition and other reactions are created by the accumulation of experiences with the specific product or service, both directly relating to its use, and through the influence of advertising, design, and media commentary. – American Marketing Association
How to Define Your Market
Identifying your target audience will help you to direct your marketing and messaging efforts towards the right clientele. Once you define your market, you can then determine where this group spends their time and how they prefer to communicate.
For example, knowing where your audience is represented on social media, what type of trade publications they read, and whether or not they are likely to attend industry conventions can help you create a more targeted message.
Before you launch your marketing effort, clearly define your target market and ideal client to give your marketing plan focus. With a clear target audience in mind, you will be able to effectively design a marketing plan to reach them. While it may feel counterintuitive, marketing to a smaller, clearly defined group will yield better results than casting a wide net. A mass marketing approach can actually be costly and highly inefficient for independents. Additionally, it is much more satisfying to work with clients who not only want what you have to offer, but
provide a forum for you to do your best work.
IDEAL CLIENT PROFILE
Creating a profile of your ideal client can provide a foundation for your marketing efforts. Think of this profile as a roadmap to your ideal client that enables you to recognize financial and non-financial benefits. An ideal client profile can not only help you pinpoint the clients you want to target, but it also helps you identify clients who are not a match. This can be beneficial as it enables you to dedicate your time and resources to the highest-value clients.
Ideal clients will align not only with your service offerings, but also with your business style and goals. One way to begin to develop your ideal client profile is to look at your past or existing clients. Are there clients you enjoyed working with more than others? What qualities made the relationship so successful? What are the common characteristics of these clients? As you work through this process, you may discover that your ideal
clients have a similar organizational structure, company size, or culture.
ANSWER THESE 10 QUESTIONS AS YOU CREATE YOUR IDEAL CLIENT PROFILE:
1. Gender, age
2. Location (local, regional, national, global)
3. Education level
4. What is the biggest problem they face?
5. What do they fear?
6. What problem can you solve for them?
7. What is their motivation for working with you?
8. Are they willing to pay your fees?
9. What publications do they read (both online and offline)?
10. Do they belong to any associations or professional groups?
You may find that you have more than one ideal client. Many experts suggest giving your profiles a persona to help you be more detailed. For example, Nancy Nonprofit is a nonprofit CEO in her 40s, married with two teenage children.
Nancy is afraid the economy will have a detrimental impact on her fundraising efforts. She strives to build sustainable communities that not only donate time and money, but will also spread the word about her company.
Going beyond basic demographic information and getting down to your ideal client’s fears, motivations, wants, and needs will enable you to design a targeted marketing plan.
YOUR TARGET MARKET
Once you’ve identified your target market, consider the following questions:
- IS THE MARKET BIG ENOUGH?
While a small market is an attractive target, a market that is too small won’t be sustainable for future opportunities. Make sure that your market criteria aren’t so narrow that you won’t have room for growth. To get a feel for how size of market can impact your marketing, use a keyword search tool. Choose a broad term like “real estate” and then add filters that narrow it down to a realistic market size.
- WILL YOUR IDENTIFIED MARKET SEE A NEED FOR YOUR SERVICES?
Many people live each and every day with a problem or pain point that can be solved. Your service may solve a very real problem, but remember that your market also has to see the need for it.
- DO I HAVE ACCESS TO MY MARKET?
In order to deliver a message, you have to be able to reach your market. Highly specialized markets may prove inaccessible to reach and may require you to broaden your audience.
- CAN MY MARKET AFFORD MY OFFERING?
Your audience may fit all the criteria, but they must also have the budget—and see the value—to engage you.
Taking the time to develop an ideal client profile will allow you to maximize your opportunities and minimize your risks.
How to Create a Marketing Strategy
A marketing plan allows you to look at your business as a whole and synchronize your business and marketing objectives. It also helps you to efficiently allocate your resources and gives you a way to measure progress and outcomes.
Before you write your marketing plan, you will need to have a marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy should align with your overall business goals such as growing revenue, expanding your service offerings, or moving into a new geographic area. Your strategy will identify what needs to be done and your marketing plan will provide the blueprint for how you will get it done.
USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU FORMULATE YOUR MARKETING STRATEGY:
- What are your overall business goals? You may break these down into 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and long-term.
- What is your brand message? Who are you and what makes you distinct?
- Who is your target market?
- What problems do you solve for your clients?
- What benefits do clients gain from engaging your services? Remember to focus on benefits rather than features.
- What is your competitive positioning? Examples may include ease of use, value, or guarantees.
- How are you going to reach your market and with what message?
- What price will you charge? Define price points for each market segment.
Your marketing strategy should be broken down into multiple levels: long-term, short-term, and immediate needs for your business. Try starting with your long-term goal and work backwards from there. It is often easier to look at the big picture and then break it down into the steps it will take to get there.
Plan a budget so that you know what you are spending and how that money will be allocated. One way to determine your budget is to look to your competitors and what they are spending. These competitors should be roughly the same size company and offer the same product or services in order to get an accurate analysis of what your company should be spending.
Many businesses allocate a percentage of their annual revenue to marketing. As a general rule, the Small Business Administration (SBA) advises if your revenues are less than $5 million that you allocate 7% to 8% of your revenues to marketing. This assumes that after you have covered all of your business expenses, including marketing, that your profit margins are in the range of 10% to 12%.
Once you’ve set your budget for marketing, you will want to allocate it appropriately and track and measure your return on investment (ROI). This will require prioritizing your marketing efforts and spending where you will get the highest return.
To ensure that your budget is being used correctly, set benchmarks to measure your success. How you quantify your marketing goals will largely depend on what you choose to measure. Start by identifying what is important to you. For example, if your goal is to drive more traffic to your website, you can use Google Analytics to measure progress and outcomes. If your goal is to increase sales by 30%, you will want to track and measure that number.
Measurable goals should be built into your marketing plan along with a process for tracking.
The following are a few tools that you can use to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns:
Collect information from a database to help track and measure campaigns. For example, if you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, you can track leads against a specific campaign (online or offline), sign-ups, and sales. You can also subscribe to databases specific to the kinds of campaigns you are running. If PR is a large part of your marketing mix, a media database can help you monitor media mentions and pick-ups of press releases. Social media databases can help you measure your social media marketing.
2. CAMPAIGN-SPECIFIC TOOLS
Today, big data is accessible to businesses of any size. If you run an ad on a social platform, you can measure the effectiveness of your message, image, and targeting using the tools the platform provides or a third party yet cost-effective analytics program like Google Analytics.
3. JUST ASK
Don’t be afraid to ask prospective customers how they found you. This should be a routine part of your business and can help you fine-tune your marketing efforts. A customer may call you after opting in to your online sign-up form, but may have originally learned of you from a word-of-mouth referral.
Depending on your objective, you can measure the ROI of your marketing investment using one of three methods:
1. Cost per Sale = Amount spent for event or campaign / number of sales
2. Cost per Qualified Lead = Amount spent for event or campaign / number of qualified leads
3. Cost per Visitor = Amount spent for event or campaign / number of visitors or responders
Once you decide which result you want to measure and you have the costs incurred for your campaign, calculating these methods is fairly simple.
Your marketing strategy should align with your overall business goal
How to Devleop a Marketing Plan
At this point, you’ve done much of the research and planning that will help you populate your marketing plan. Your plan does not have to be lengthy, but should be something that you will use, review, and refine to keep you on track to accomplish your goals. Use the following outline to help write your plan.
MARKETING PLAN OUTLINE
The following are a few tools that you can use to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns:
How to Use Marketing Channels
There are many ways to market your business today including:
- DIRECT MARKETING: Marketing directly to your target audience, such as direct sales letters, email marketing, or sales calls.
- INBOUND MARKETING: Marketing to help customers finding you. For example, you may create content that attracts your target market or you may optimize your website for search engines.
- SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING: Utilizing social media sites to engage your target audience and/or to drive traffic to your website.
- REFERRAL MARKETING: Promotion through your existing network, including current and past clients and colleagues.
- WORD OF MOUTH MARKETING: Satisfied customers spread the word about your business verbally or in writing, such as on Yelp or via social media.
MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS
Your target market is the best way to determine how you will spend your marketing dollars and the marketing channels you employ. The key is to consider who you are trying to reach and what media they are most likely to use.
For example, if your target audience reads print trade journals, consider pitching articles to target publications. This is a lower cost option than advertising and a much more effective way to demonstrate your business expertise. If your audience is active on Facebook, create a Facebook page for your business and utilize ads to grow your audience.
9 Simple Ways to Market Your Business
- DEVELOP A COMPANY BLOG.
Create a content calendar and stick to a publishing schedule. Post regularly to maximize search opportunities, but remember that consistency is even more important than quantity.
- WRITE CONTRIBUTED ARTICLES AND BLOG POSTS.
Offer content to other publications to market to your business. Make a list of publications that share your target audience and pitch relevant articles or posts.
- WRITE A COLUMN FOR YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER.
This could be a how-to column or a Q&A in your area of expertise.
- RUN A GOOGLE ADWORDS CAMPAIGN.
Develop a master list of keywords and phrases for your business using Google’s Keyword Planner. Then, design a specific landing page for your campaign. This page may be a list of FAQs, tips, or information specific to the audience you are targeting.
- USE LINKEDIN.
You may already be using LinkedIn for your personal brand, but there are many other features you can use to market your business brand. Create a company page and use the profile section to tell your story. Post relevant updates to keep a steady stream of fresh content. Email current and past clients and ask them to recommend your business. Join or create a LinkedIn group to connect with prospective clients.
- CONTACT FORMER CLIENTS.
Referrals should be a part of every company’s marketing plan. Create a referral program and promote it to your past and existing clients. Develop an automated system to nurture your referral network for a steady flow of new business.
- TAP INTO MEDIA OUTLETS.
Press releases can be an excellent marketing tool, as they have the potential to reach thousands of prospective clients. Include multimedia elements such as photos or videos to maximize your visibility. Develop a press release calendar for the year so you have a consistent schedule. You may opt to do a release every quarter or once a month.
- CREATE YOUR OWN YOUTUBE CHANNEL.
There are many ways to use video to market your business. Consider offering advice, answering common questions in your industry, or interviewing other experts.
- USE EMAIL MARKETING.
Email marketing is a great tool to create or advance relationships with your target audience. If you are going to market prospective and current clients via email, you will need to utilize an email service such as Constant Contact, AWeber, or MailChimp. To be compliant with the law, people must give you permission to market by opting in to receive mail.
In all of your marketing efforts, it is important to remember that marketing is a way to build a relationship, not immediately close a deal. Encourage your prospective clients to make a small commitment, such as opting in to your mailing list or liking your Facebook page. This will enable you to build the relationship and lead them to the next step—perhaps a phone consultation or product demo. The key is to build trust as you move them towards the ultimate goal of engaging your company to solve their problem.
SWOT Analysis: Exhibit 1
The SWOT Analysis framework is used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of a venture or project.
STRENGTHS: Characteristics of the business or project team that give it an advantage over others
WEAKNESSES (or Limitations): Characteristics that place the team at a disadvantage relative to others.
OPPORTUNITIES: External chances to improve performance (e.g. make greater profits) in the environment.
THREATS: External elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project.
A SWOT analysis is a versatile tool that can be used to evaluate many things, including:
- A company (position, commercial viability, etc.)
- A product or brand
- A new business idea
- A strategic option, such as entering a new market or launching a new product
- An opportunity for partnership or acquisition
- Project planning and management
- Personal planning (starting a business, investments, life change, etc.)
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