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Small Business Branding Online
Internet-based media could overtake newspapers and radio as the prime information sources for consumers, especially with technologies like streaming radio and Internet Protocol Television that broadcasts videos online, according to Brendan Kownacki, an Interactive Media Specialist with Live Wire Media Relations, LLC, a public relations firm in Alexandria, Va.
“The power of the Internet has expanded beyond what many could have ever imagined and has opened limitless doors for most industries in the world, including media relations,” Kownacki says. “The ability to reach millions of people around the globe with a message in a matter of seconds has changed the face of the media, and public relations world along with it.”
Kownacki’s message: As you launch your branding effort, don’t forget the Internet–and be consistently. Doubtless, consistency is a critical part of branding communication. Consistent presentation of your brand, product or organization is no exception is always critical, she says, but when you begin to consider all the new ways to reach an audience today, and all the ways people are talking amongst themselves, you might miss out on the conversation.
The Internet is where many of your customers see your brand for the first time so it’s important that your image is projected professionally. Never underestimate the power of a brand. It is your introduction to the consumer. It is important to have that consistent look throughout all advertising venues.
What a Sign Company Can Teach You About Social Media
The signmaker reports a significant uptick in new business development—and stronger customer relations—by using Facebook and Twitter. Sure, many social media gurus make the promise of rising sales and word of mouth. But Signtronix has taken the social networking ball in its own hands and scored a slam dunk.
What can you learn from Signtronix’ success? Read on…
"Many companies have been scratching their heads thinking about Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools available to them and wondering what they can possibly achieve from them," says Tom Johnson, director of Marketing at Signtronix. "Almost every company either has jumped on or wants to jump on the social media bandwagon, but they don't have any specific goals for their efforts.”
Key one: Set specific goals around your social media campaign. Without clear objectives, you could waste a lot of time.
Signtronix set up its Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites with a single goal:
showing potential customers the power and beauty of its sign products and allowing customers a forum to talk about their experience with their new sign.
“In just the last four to six months we've received phenomenal customer feedback and hundreds of referrals just because people have forwarded our Facebook site to other business owner friends or family who need a new sign for their business,” Johnson says.
Key two: When you get feedback, respond to it. Signtronix has done a good job of listening to its customers and making updates based on what they want to see or know.
Indeed, the company’s social media campaigns have helped both on and offline. Facebook has provided important in-field support as well. Johnson reports a number of his sales reps calling to tell him they sold signs specifically because business owners saw their Facebook messages.
“One customer immediately pointed to a sign on our Facebook page and said, 'That one! I want one just like it' and ordered the sign right away,” Johnson says.
Key three: Make social media a part of your sales efforts. Be sure to refer customers to your Facebook fan page to check out new specials or to see photos, etc.
Beyond the sales lift, Signtronix’ Facebook and other social media campaigns have also spawned word of mouth, another promise of these sites. And not just word of mouth—but good word of mouth.
"The positive feedback provided on our Facebook page and via Twitter has been incredible,” Johnson says. “We've had such great comments about our signs and also our sales and customer service representatives.”
Getting the picture? It’s not always necessary for your small business to spend big bucks on a social media guru. There are some common sense strategies you can employ on your own.
Small Business Branding With Color
“The color needs to connect the product’s usage to its audience,” says Barry Ridge, CMG, Creative Director at Barry Ridge Graphic Design in Camarillo, California. “If you are marketing power tools to an adult male audience, and you product them in lavenders and pinks, you probably won’t sell many.”
Ridge continues the power tool analogy by pointing to major name brands. If you go to Home Depot today and walk down the power tools aisle, you will discover that all the major companies have claimed their own branding color. Milwaukee Tool is red. DeWalt is yellow. Black & Decker is deep blue-green. Any new entrant that tried to claim one of those colors would have a hard time because it is connected with a brand. In the self-storage industry, everyone is familiar with Public Storage’s orange doors.
Colors are key in branding because they have psychological impact on customers. Indeed, experts say certain colors can be used to communicate the theme of what you are promoting, be it the lowest price in town or higher quality or greater value. Understanding the deeper meaning of colors can help you choose the most appropriate combinations for your brand. Here’s a quick overview of the common color gamut.
Black: Black typically communicates authority and power. Black is a good choice for typefaces because it contrasts nicely against most light backgrounds and therefore can be read from long distances.
Red: Red is a color of high emotion. Studies show it stimulates shopping and appetite. That’s why red cars are known for their sex appeal. Of course, red is a “hot” color that also signifies low price and sales.
Blue: The opposite of red, blue is a “cool” color that communicates elegance and quality. It has a calming effect and also symbolizes freedom.
Green: This color is rarely used in retail settings except lawn and garden and food establishments. Green symbolizes health and nature
Yellow: Yellow is an attention-grabbling color, but experts warn this color should only be used as a background or accept color, in most cases, because it’s difficult to read yellow letters from a distance.
Purple: This color signifies royalty, luxury, wealth and is therefore in appropriate for most self-storage facilities that promote value and savings.
Brown: Brown, on the other hand, is a good choice for industrial applications because it is earthy and signifies reliability and genuineness. UPS has done well with its drab brown brand.
Keep in mind that different shades of these colors may produce altogether different meanings, so working with a graphic designer or branding expert who fully comprehends the language of color is vital in any branding effort. Ridge says there are no hard and fast rules for color combinations. Thy way the culture is now, he explains, you could put just about any color combination together and make it look good if you do it right and in the right proportions.
“Color has to connect with the audience, so you need to have some knowledge of how the audience will perceive the color,” Ridge concludes. “Just as you would use a good headline or catch phrase, you need to use colors that connect in people’s minds in a positive way. There’s a bit of a mystery to it. Color is an endless subject, but you can use it to beat your competition.”
Groupon Competitor Launches Small Business Deals
Launched by PeopleString, the free social coupon platform for small businesses offers what the company calls ShareItup coupons. Although the name didn’t immediately turn my head in a market dominated by Groupon and Living Social—and even Facebook Deals—once I understood the concept the name made perfect sense.
"PeopleDeals now offers businesses the level of service they need to build their social marketing initiatives,” says Darin Myman, president and CEO of PeopleString. “Additionally, our service creates almost a micro group buying platform for businesses who have lower cost goods and services that would not lend themselves to the more traditional group buying platforms.”
See, ShareItUp coupons go up in value the more they are shared. Really, it’s a brilliant idea. Here’s how it works: People share coupons on social networks and applications such as Facebook and Twitter with a free PeopleDeals business account. That account lets any business set up a ShareItUp offer and have their offer or deal posted in the PeopleDeals deal listing. This is very unique in a crowded social coupon landscape, and may gain traction through Facebook in a hurry.
Businesses can also opt for an “ultimate” account that offers a full service social-media marketing program for $199 a month. That includes managing a businesses’ ShareItUp offers, Facebook business page, Twitter following, and PeopleDeals business homepage, as well as building their local social media following. The company has more than 1,500 'Feet on the Street' ready to start selling PeopleDeals this week.
Check out the YouTube video on the new deals site:
Small Business Branding For Customer Loyalty
That's how Tom Varjan, a business marketing consultant in Vancouver, Canada, looks at it. Although a brand may include a logo, shapes and colors, he believes a brand is about a process that connects with the target market in a way that increases the brand’s chances of getting the customer to buy its products or services again and again. Branding’s goal, then, is to create customer loyalty.
“A cattle farmer has two options. He can work with an expensive designer to develop the world’s fanciest branding iron with fancy shapes, gold-plated titanium handle and ergonomic hand grip, which takes his attention away from growing top-notch cattle and producing top-notch beef,” he explains. “Or he can go to the local blacksmith and have a branding iron made with a simple emblem that differentiates his cattle from others’ cattle.”
A fancy brand doesn’t guarantee any one will buy mediocre beef. No mater how much time and effort the farmer invests to tout his fancy brand, customer admiration of a cute branding scheme won’t itself impact the farmer’s bottom line, especially if it’s followed up with a negative comment about the beef quality. The farmer’s main focus should be on improving his farming practices, hiring enthusiastic employees and enhancing slaughtering practices to improve the quality of the beef, Varjan says.
“The farmer wants people to spread the message that his beef is the best beef money can buy. People don’t care about the fanciness of the logo,” he argues. “They just enjoy the beef and spread the word about it.”
This example can be translated to any industry. The take away is that the primary focus should be on providing distinguishing and memorable service. Clients, he says, will create the brand perception and loyalty through the stories they tell each other. All the rebranding efforts in the world won’t pay dirt if a small business doesn’t offer a service about which customers speak favorably. A brand is an experience. You can go to a McDonald’s in any city in the world and know what to expect.
Shel Horowitz, author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, also views branding as customer experience. “Branding is not about the logo, the store colors, or the uniforms. It's about the customer experience, of which those surface things are one small part. It's about building trust as well as consistency, about being there for your customers,” he argues. “Those more superficial aspects of branding may help create an initial purchase, but after that, a second transaction will only happen if the customer feels that the product and the service met or surpassed expectations.”
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