Buyers make most decisions by relying on their two-second first impressions based on stored memories, images and feelings." -Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Most of us know intuitively, that first impressions are important. We don't like to think that we judge a book by its cover or a person by what they are wearing, but the reality is that we often do. It's second nature. (Judge: to form a judgment or opinion of, to make a careful guess about.)
For small businesses, how consumers view us or judge us is often determined, like with people, by outward appearances. Things that are evident right away, before they dig deeper.
This doesn't mean we (or our business) need to be the best dressed or look like something we are not. It does mean making sure our image reflects who we are. So that consumers can 'size us up' quickly (which they will do anyway) and that the first image or impression we leave them with is a positive one. A first impression that will draw them back to us, cause them to remember us, when they want or need what we have to offer and, just as important, will keep them coming back to us after they have experienced what we have to offer.
This is where branding comes in! To be effective, the image we are branding our business with needs to reflect our business positively and accurately. There's no point in selling our business as one that cares if the products or services we deliver, and the way we deliver them, leave our customers disappointed.
[Image: to reflect the likeness of, to resemble]
We can spend a lot of money on advertising to bring in first time customers, but if they don't look further than the first page of our website or physical store front, because the way we present our business is lacking, we're wasting time and money.
Branding is critically important, but it will only do so much. If you are a flash in the pan business looking to make a fast buck and then head out-of-town, you might be able to make it work for your business over the short-term. But if you plan to be in the game for a while, you had better deliver on your brand promises or branding will backfire on you big time! Phenomenal branding efforts won't make up for poor products and services!
[Brand: to mark with disgrace or infamy]
At the same time, we may offer the best product and the best service known to man or God. But, if we're not able to get this message across to potential customers, we will just be another small business with a great service or product that fizzles out due to lack of customers.
If people don't know about you or don't want to know about you, because they don't really understand the benefits of what you're offering, your job is to change that. Maybe not your job specifically, you may need help. But it's your job to take the steps to make sure your business is recognizable and known in the market you serve, that your 'brand' is understood.
Branding is all about image or how people see you and experience you! First impressions and lasting impressions that build your business through attracting new clients and that keep them coming back, and telling others about you.
Branding will 'mark you' to help people remember you and think of you when they are looking for what you offer (think Starbucks, Nike, Apple, McDonalds). It will 'mark you' so that your advertising and other marketing campaigns will have the added benefit of your name. Your name will carry weight based on the reality of who you are, what you do and how you do it. You don't need to be big business for this to work in your local market. But you do need to do the work of building your brand, and this takes time.
Of course, if you're not good at what you do, if you don't provide good service, if you over promise and under deliver, this too will mark your business and impact it in a negative way. Great branding can help solidify a bad reputation in the marketplace too.
A good reputation is hard to beat. A bad reputation is hard to overcome. Branding can help anchor your brand in the marketplace and build your business.
Your website is an important piece of your online branding. It is the one piece of online real estate that belongs to you! Ensuring this online space represents your branding, is attractive, easy to view and navigate, for starters, is far more important than many realize. It's often the first place potential customers go online to find out more about you. Existing customers too!
Your business may shine in many ways, but if it doesn't shine online you're likely losing potential business opportunities. Even with existing customers who visit you online, you may inadvertently be undermining the image you've built up in their minds, if you're not paying attention to your website as an important part of your online brand.
Social Media is another important and relatively inexpensive way for small businesses to help build their brand online. But don't pay attention to this area and neglect your website!
Consistency is an important piece of the branding equation, so for maximum impact ensure all of your branding is aligned, consistent, representative of who you are and clearly marks you as being you.
And, of course, branding isn't only skin deep. It's not just the look of your brand, its who you are, everything you do and how you do everything.