by Jim Martin
A recent survey by the Pew Foundation found that 71 percent of Americans view small business positively. This was an acknowledgment of the contribution that small business make to their communities. To take advantage of that image, you need to establish your brand in the mind of prospective customers.
To do that you need to understand that your brand is much more than simply what you sell and its packaging. It is the service you provide your customers and the strength of your ability to meet their needs. To keep your brand in their thoughts, you have to understand (and accentuate) what makes you different. That should begin with great service. If you make your customer feel important, he or she will come back. That works best when the customer associates you personally with the service. Business owners who are not known to their customers tend to be less successful.
So where do you start? The answer is simple: at the beginning. You have to name your business and to establish a logo. Even if you sell products someone else manufactures, you need to have a symbol that can appear on your business card, your signage, any brochures you prepare and all of your advertising. It should relate (and evoke the image of) your business name. Be creative. If you can, include something that refers to your target market. And once you’ve established a logo, use it consistently. From a control perspective, you’re better off if you don’t even change the color.
One key to establishing your image is an “elevator pitch.” When you first open your doors, you will be a stranger to the majority of the people you want as customers. As you win customers, their word of mouth will help you grow your business. Until that happens, you have to promote yourself. You can best do this by preparing a short pitch (less than 30 seconds) that tells people you meet who you are, what your business does and what makes it superior (your value statement). Always carry business cards that you can give to the people to whom you give your pitch.
Always remember what makes you distinctive. It’s easy during the day-to-day stress of business to forget why you went into business. Problems tend to obscure larger goals. Make sure your customers and your employees understand your vision. Make sure your employees also communicate your vision. The more personal (and personable) you and your staff are, the more customers will remember your business.
Keep active in the community. What you do outside your business reinforces the message of that business. Participating in local drives or sponsoring a youth sports team tells your customers that your vision extends to your neighbors, that you are not here simply to make money. If a local non-profit organization asks to put an event poster in your window, do it. But make sure you remove it once the event has happened.
All of this is part of being your business’ biggest booster. You should constantly sell your business, not simply sell its products. Your enthusiasm about your business and its contribution to the community will prove contagious. It will instill enthusiasm in your employees, and it will draw your customers back in for future sales. Always operate on the premise that you are a major element in your brand.