Frequently, I meet small business owners and entrepreneurs who are not sure they even need a brand. I often get asked, “Most of my business is word of mouth, do I really need a brand?” “My business is just myself. No employees. People aren’t brands, right?” and “I’m a business-to-business company, does branding even matter?”
My reply is always the same: branding matters for small businesses, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and personalities such as artists, actors and authors – perhaps even more than large corporations. Why? Because any business in a competitive marketplace, where stakes are high and budgets are low, needs to get its brand and its accompanying story across to potential customers quickly and with great impact. Your brand is a story
of what makes your products and services unique. Getting that story right is one of the most important things you can do for the financial health of your business
In my book, TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, I talk about the importance of strong brand building from day one of creating your business, and the importance of finding and expressing your unique TWIST—what makes you different and what helps you stand out in a sea of “me-too” marketing.
Here are the top 5 branding mistakes made by new entrepreneurs and what you can do to avoid or overcome them.
#1. Waiting too late to build your brand
Often I hear entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journeys say, “I’m not ready to work on my branding yet; I first have to get my business idea sorted out.” This is incorrect logic and a possible financial mistake.
Defining your unique TWIST early on in your business will help you more quickly identify people (individuals, investors, agency partners) who can offer invaluable support in fast-tracking your success and makes your idea more tangible and legitimate. It helps others understand the opportunity so they can offer advice, support, and get on-board.
Defining the key elements of your brand story, in particular your target audience and the unique way you meet their needs, is central to the health of your business; it will help you also create a name, logo, website and prototype product ideas. This, in turn, makes it easier for people to see and feel your vision.
#2. Doing “me-too” marketing; in other words: no TWIST
As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you are more than likely walking around with “brand blinders” on. This is when you spend so much time following the branding and marketing rules of your category that you end up completely blending in. Look at the marketing of your nearest competitors. Is there anything that you really admire or that really stands out? Chances are no. In fact, if you printed out the home pages of five brands in your competitive set and crossed out all of the logos, would you be able to tell who is who? If you looked at all these printouts would most of the imagery look the same? Is there a predominant color that everyone is using? Are the key messages identical? If so, then you need to step away and take off your brand blinders. Focus on new and different colors, messages, images that TWIST away from the crowd. A great way to get inspiration is to look at brands outside of your category that you admire and see what lessons you can learn from them. Maybe it’s the customization of Starbucks, or the uniquely named “Genius Bar” help desk of Apple or the cheeky tone of voice of Virgin. Think about what would happen if you TWISTed these branding best practices with your own business.
#3 Talking about what you offer, not how you make people feel
One of the biggest mistakes I see new entrepreneurs make is focusing too much on what they sell. They stuff their websites and marketing materials with lots of products and services. Their elevator pitches are so crammed with information that they take twenty stories, not two to deliver. The result? The pitches fall on deaf ears, blend in with their competitors and potential customers walk away feeling dazed and confused. Everyone can promise to help people get things done, but it’s how you make your targets feel, what they will be able to accomplish with their lives when interacting with your brand that makes all the difference.
Instead of focusing on what you offer, spend time thinking about what your target needs. What keeps them up at night? What are they dissatisfied with about the current options in your category? In my online Brand School we spend a lot of time upfront creating personas for our ideal targets. Bringing them to life with names, back stories, and real challenges. Not referring to them in demographic terms like “Women 25-54.” The result of this is my students create real solutions that connect with people’s hearts, not just their heads.
Think about Nike. Are they selling shoes? No, they are selling the dream of achievement with their iconic slogan of “just do it.” Apple is selling imagination, not technology, and Starbucks is promising Community, not Coffee.
What is your company really promising?
#4 Relying on your website and business card and ignoring other touchpoints
Many small businesses feel they are never going to be able to shine in their markets because they don’t have budgets for the big gestures like television ads or prominent billboards. But bigger isn’t always better. In branding, it’s often the small, overlooked, magic moments that cut through.
Look beyond your business card and website and leverage the moments that other brands have overlooked and TWIST them to your advantage.
Think about the under-the-cap messages from Snapple, or the Smile Boxes from Amazon. Even a packing receipt can become a TWIST for your brand if accompanied by a clever piece of copy. Connect with your customer with an unexpected email signature or a referral gift that goes beyond the traditional gift card or bottle of wine and really reflects something about your brand.
#5 Not walking the talk of your brand
While actions speak louder than words, they also need to be in alignment with each other. You need to mind the “gaps” between what your brand is promising and how you (and your staff) are actually behaving.
Have you ever had a doctor tell you that you really need to eat healthier and lose some weight, and you can’t really concentrate on what he is saying because you are too distracted by his belly protruding from under his white coat? This is an example of
a gap between messaging and behavior that can undermine brand credibility. What about a restaurant that spends lots of money telling you about its commitment to freshness through print and in-house advertising but then you find the restroom dirty and unkempt. It erases a lot of the restaurant’s hard spent budget and makes you question how its words actually translate into action.
Ask yourself where your gaps might be. For example, do you spend a lot of time talking about how you really listen to your client’s needs, and then go into a new business pitch
showcasing your own capabilities while overlooking the research you’ve done on your client? Try TWISTING this by sending a pre-meeting survey with the question: “What would be most helpful to you for us to share during the precious and limited time we have to get to know each other?” Make sure your actions support your brand promise.
How can you use your brand as your secret weapon? Create a brand that has tangible value, is authentic and stands out. It starts with finding and expressing your TWIST. Look at your story from new angles. Cast aside the dos and don’ts, colors and imagery and so-called best practices of your competitors, and find a new way to attack old problems by using an out-of-category perspective.
Even if your business is new, you’ll be branding like a pro in no time.