Section 1: Understand What Branding Means to You
When you think about branding, I'm not sure what comes to mind. For many years, I thought branding was one of those "corporate" marketing concepts that had nothing to do with my small business.
And I was wrong. Branding is absolutely essential. If you're a business owner, you are your brand. Everything you do and everything you say, connects to that brand. Both good and bad - even if you just made recently registered with the state.
It may be conceptual, but it can directly impact your bottom line. And to put things into perspective about branding, there is no better example than Google.
How Many Brands Can Say They Created Their Own Verb?
Google, founded in 1998, quickly became one of the most popular global brands. To “google” or “googling” is now an official verb according to Dictionary.com.
We all know that if we want to look up a person, event, company, etc. that we would “google” it. It is said that marketer’s learned how to brand products from Coke in the 80’s and Apple in the 90’s and Google after 2000. Google did not use traditional branding methods, rather they created their brand by technology and innovation.
From their unofficial slogan of “You can make money without doing evil” to their logo that adapts for holidays and special events, Google has created their brand by personal inspiration.
Category of One
Category of One is a branding strategy that refers to a market that is overcrowded and is extremely difficult to break into. Rather than being one in the crowd, a Category of One brand creates its own new category.
This creates the brand as the only option within the category. The companies that achieve a Category of One branding tend to be extremely successful. Google is a perfect example of Category of One branding. There are other search engines, but none really compare to the overall Google brand.
However, becoming a Category of One has absolutely nothing to do with being a self-employed business owner. Just because you are "one" does not mean that you automatically create a unique brand.
Three Customer Rules
Every Category of One company excels at following and living three essential rules:
- Know more about the customer than anyone else.
- Get closer to the customer than anyone else.
- Emotionally connect with the customer better than anyone else.
A Purple Cow
The term Purple Cow is not something that I coined. That phrase is straight from the brilliant and innovative author & marketer, Seth Godin. But the following is exactly what you need to understand if you want to become a Category of One.
From Purple Cow: Cows, after you've seen one or two or ten, are boring. A Purple Cow, though...now that would be something. Godin defines a Purple Cow as anything phenomenal, counterintuitive, exciting...remarkable.
Every day, consumers ignore a lot of brown cows, but you can bet they won't ignore a Purple Cow. You can't paint your product or service purple after the fact. You have to be inherently purple or no one will talk about you. Godin urges you to emulate companies that are consistently remarkable in everything they do, which drives explosive word of mouth.
But I’m Small Business Owner. Does This Really Matter?
I’m small business owner too, and I honestly didn’t believe branding had anything to do with my business. But think about other business owners you know. What’s your perception of them?
Your perception of them is their brand.
Whether or not you realize it or believe it, you already have a brand. Learning how to manage your brand or how to build your brand is better than denying it exists. I know it’s an abstract topic. But it’s a topic you can be proactive about.
- Branding is absolutely essential. If you are a business owner, you are your brand. Everything you do and everything you say, connects to that brand. Both good and bad.
- Category of One brand creates its own new category. This creates the brand as the only option within the category. Create a strategy where you are a category of one.
- Another way to think of it is a purple cow. An ordinary brown cow is boring. But a purple cow would be something to see.
Section 2: You Are Your Brand
- Not your logo.
- Not your advertising.
- Not your product.
- Not your business plan.
You are your brand. Let that sink in. Whether you designed it or not, your business already has a brand image. I believe this is true for all businesses and business people.
You have a reputation or project certain traits, regardless of whether or not you tried to create a brand. Although branding is conceptual and abstract at times, understanding the power of branding is an essential key to overall success. Branding is complex and cannot be entirely explained in short lesson.
Unlike other marketing tools, branding is done whether or not we participate in its design. Therefore, all business owners must understand the core concepts of branding and project a brand image of their own creation.
Whether or not you have written rules, your solo-business does operates on a set of rules. Even if your rule is “I don’t have any rules”. Karate instructor brand rules:
- Don’t talk bad about the competition.
- Don’t sound like a sales person.
- Project respect and self-control.
- Be professional.
The first and second rules are fairly self-explanatory and are appropriate for all business owners. Customers don’t like to hear how great you are and how awful your competition is. As for sounding like a salesperson, I recommend selling the truth. Never sound like an over-rehearsed sales pitch.
The third and fourth are about local reputation. Let’s say I’m a karate instructor. The perception of a karate instructor includes discipline and self-control. If I’m going to teach a kids class on Saturday morning about respect and focus, then Friday night I should not be drinking at the local bar.
What parent would trust me with their kid on Saturday morning if I was dancing on the tables on Friday night? This doesn't mean you can’t go to a bar and have a good time. It just means that you are your brand. You won’t attract quality clients with a poor reputation.
I’ve chosen a karate instructor as a case study example because it’s a perfect illustration of the power of branding. In the movie “Karate Kid” there was the “good” karate teacher and a “bad” karate teacher. The good teacher stood for truth, respect, focus, discipline and justice. The bad teacher stood for “winning at all costs”, bad sportsmanship, and bullying.
Always remember one of the first rules in branding: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It doesn’t matter what business or industry you belong to.
These image enhancers are applicable for all business owners. Although they are obvious, it’s important to remember these image enhancers when you are designing your brand. You want to project professionalism in every interaction.
- Be on time.
- Be courteous.
- Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
- Take responsibility for any issues.
- Have outstanding customer service.
Be credible, trustworthy and professional in your customers and potential customers eyes. Because you want their business in the future.
But Isn’t My Company Name and Logo Important?
Yes! They are part of your overall marketing strategy. But don’t confuse tangible marketing tools, with an intangible concept. Branding is an intangible concept that must be understood and used on a different level.
Sorry to sound abstract, but branding is perception and reputation. You can’t create or design your credibility or trustworthiness. You have to be credible and trustworthy. Simply put, your brand is a reflection of you.
- You are your brand, not your logo, products or advertising.
- Have a set of rules.
- Remember your image enhancers when designing your brand. What do you want to stand for?