The process of developing your small business brand is made up of a series of steps – interdependent and progressively connected. Each step…
requires cultivation over time
represents an important brand building opportunity
needs to be achieved in the eyes of your customers before you can proceed “up the ladder”
Your brand story begins with the interactions your small business has with all its stakeholders (customers; employees; vendors; volunteers, etc). Positive interactions that take place across all touchpoints accumulate to form positive customer experiences. Let’s use the telephone customer service touchpoint as an example:
every time a customer calls your small business they get to speak to a “live” person
that person always has great phone manner and has been provided with the tools to help
over time these individual customer service calls accumulate into an overall positive brand experience for that customer
As a small business owner, it’s important to understand the cumulative impact of those hundreds/thousands/millions of individual communication opportunities – embracing the philosophy that every interaction is important will help lay the foundation to build a great brand.
Engaging in positive interactions at every opportunity, across all touchpoints, is the next step to brand greatness. Repeated positive interactions add up to an overall brand experience and form the basis for developing loyalty for your small business brand.
Case Study: WestJet
Touchpoint: Telephone Customer Service – Interaction: friendly; helpful; genuine
Touchpoint: Website – Interaction: easy to use; convenient; reliable; fast
Touchpoint: Airport – Interaction: flights are on time; friendly check-in
Touchpoint: In-Flight – Interaction: free TV; fun; casual; relaxed; friendly
cred-i-bil-i-ty: 1. the quality or power of inspiring belief; 2: capacity for belief
credibility gap: 1. lack of trust; 2. lack of believability (Source: Merriam Webster Online)
Seeing/experiencing is believing – An ongoing series of consistent and positive interactions will “inspire belief” in your small business brand.
The ongoing engagement of consistent, positive interactions with your stakeholders begins to formulate your brand culture – an honest representation of your small business beliefs and values. Michel Hogan does a great job explaining the “authentic brand” in her manifesto “We Need a New Word for Brand”:
“Authentic brands are not about marketing. They are not products. They live inside the company. And they are held and enacted of the people, by the people and for the people!…your brand acts as the foundation of your company. Its principles are the framework for thought and action by everyone in the company. Without it there is no consistency, no alignment between what you say and what you do, no synchronicity between who you are inside and the way you present yourself outside.
You may ask-“well isn’t that the same as culture?” The answer is yes and no. Authentic brands are in many ways the identity of the company culture. They help that culture become visible. They also embody the values and purpose of the company, giving all these things a face and a voice that can be seen and heard by everyone the company touches.
Authentic brands live or die with the people in the organization. If they don’t believe the brand, if they don’t feel it is their cause, no campaign or change program on earth will help it succeed. Authentic brands feel natural. There is no need to “educate” the employees-they feel it immediately. There is no need to launch the “new” brand on your unsuspecting customers-they have known it for years. When you are doing it day in and day out, saying it becomes almost superfluous.
This is exactly why you should want to find your authentic brand. Just imagine a brand that is enduring, that lasts beyond the next ad cycle, that is sustaining and sustainable, that feeds the soul of your company and makes the whole stronger. Imagine a brand that doesn’t cause disharmony inside your company, that doesn’t cause friction with the way you already do things.This is an authentic brand!”
As your small business brand develops, it instills a level of expectation from your stakeholders (brand promises). Your brand “keeps its promise” by consistently exceeding the expectations of your customers, employees and vendors – the foundation of building trust.
Trust leads to loyalty – the pinnacle of any brand. Brand loyalty is demonstrated in some of the following ways:
Customers become dedicated to purchasing your product/service over that of the competition
Customers express a desire to promote your brand though Word of Mouth
Brand forgiveness – customers choose not to dwell on the occasional service gap and continue supporting the brand. (Note: Be careful not to take advantage of the loyalty customers have bestowed upon your brand. Although it takes a long time to build, brand equity can erode very quickly if you begin breaking brand promises)
Customers will likely pay higher prices for your products/services
Note: This article was inspired by a great image (Brand Stairway) designed by David Armano, author of the Logic+Emotion Blog.
Mark Smiciklas is a Vancouver Marketing Consultant. His firm, Intersection Consulting, helps small to mid-sized businesses address challenges in the areas of marketing, management and business development.