Not long ago, it took tens of thousands of dollars and the expertise of an advertising firm to help you develop a brand image and to build a recognizable brand. The Internet, Social Media and other tools have leveled the playing field and now small business has the opportunity to build a powerful brand. Branding is much more than a logo; it’s a way a business approaches business. From the coffee you choose for the waiting room to your warranty policy, your brand is constantly being evaluated and compared against. A powerful brand is the backbone to a successful, profitable company.
What is a Brand?
A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image. Branding is when that idea or image is marketed so that it is recognizable by more and more people, and identified with a certain service or product when there are many other companies offering the same service or product. Advertising professionals work on branding not only to build brand recognition, but also to build good reputations and a set of standards to which the company should strive to maintain or surpass. Branding is an important part of a successful automotive business, as branding allows your company to build your reputation and add to the value and most importantly, the revenue generated by the brand.
Finding Your Voice
Your voice is the way your brand communicates with your community. Whether you are ultra-professional or have a humorous side, your business voice is part of your brand and part of your identity. It’s important to identify your style and your voice so you can make sure your brand voice is consistent across all your marketing efforts.
Your Business from the Ground Up
a logo speaks volumes about the company it represents. If you think of a company right now, there is a good chance their logo is in your head.
A logo has two main purposes:
- To visually communicate what the company does
- To create a memorable and recognizable image
Many business owners get caught up in personal preferences when it comes to a logo design and fail to keep their target audience in mind when choosing an image to represent their brand. Also, what looks great on your website may not look so good when embroidered or silk screened on a shirt. A great designer will help you make choices in your logo design so that it can transcend all your signage, media, and collateral.
A strong name is recognizable
A strong name, with or without a mark, has to be recognizable without any taglines. It must carry weight of its own.
A good logo builds trust
The logo is the first impression, of not just who a company is, but how trustworthy it is- and in turn, how much a consumer will open up.
A good logo is distinctive and unique
It is very probable that one of three thoughts will go through your mind:
- This place has a coffee shop or soda company type logo, are they part of Coca-Cola or Starbucks?
- Is this a Disney company too?
- What’s the point?
To which I’ll answer: the first two possible answers are exactly what I mean about “face”. That bubbly calligraphy used in the signature Walt Disney logotype is so well branded that the word “Disney” is all that you would think of. This is the difference between “This is a trustworthy site because it’s obviously Disney’s” or “This is a spam site and they couldn’t have made it more obvious”.
Branding and Your Signage
Signs communicate your brand
Humans are visual and tactile. What message about your business do you want your sign to convey? Are you exclusive or are you more value-oriented? More often than not, people judge your business and culture based on your sign and brand. What type of customers do you want to attract? The answers are different for every shop owner.
Know your audience for brand
As a shop owner or business owner, you are part of your business. You see your business in a different way than your customers do. Developing the right brand signage takes stepping out of your shoes and into your customers’. One of the biggest mistakes made in marketing is to design any part of your marketing to please you, not your target customer.
Signage is a process
The process involves ideation, gathering estimates, reviewing proposals, researching city and legal codes, engineering, fabrication and finally, installation. Give yourself enough time to do your signage right. Rushing through signage will result in a sign that looks cheap and fast.
Got a great brand? Flaunt it
If you’ve gone through the work of developing a great brand image and logo, make sure you be as public as the city ordinance will allow. Drive by traffic is free and every impression is a branding opportunity. The more they see your building, the better chance of them connecting with who you are when they find you on the Internet.
Use your waiting room/office to strengthen your brand
Customers in your waiting area have a prolonged opportunity to form an impression. Are they getting a consistent message about you and your company? The goal is to achieve instant brand recall when customers are no longer at your facility. While a customer is in your reception area, waiting room, lobby, or lounge, you have your best opportunity to build a foundation of brand awareness, recognition and education. Your face-to-face interaction with customers is likely only a small part of what a customer uses to perceive, process, and later recall your brand identity. These experiences in your office or waiting areas may be the most exposure to your brand a customer experiences. Do you have a logo? Use it often and as consistently as possible. Do you have a tagline or slogan? It needs to be repeated, often! Use the opportunity of a captive audience to present your brand in multiple ways and with a consistent voice.
You, Your Employees and Your Brand Your personal brand
As the owner of a small, medium, and growing business, you have a choice in how you as the owner play your part on your company’s branding. Do you want your business brand built around your personal brand or do you want the company’s brand to stand out in front?
Your personal brand is who you are as an individual. Your background, education, community involvement, family, friends, personality, and most importantly how you approach business and your philosophy for working with others are all part of your personal brand. Out of necessity, many business owners start their businesses with their personal brand. Their reputation is what helps get the business off the ground.
The question then becomes when does your personal brand get in the way of your business growth? A business that relies on a personal brand is a business that relies on the owner being present every minute of the business day. Customers expect to interact with the personal brand of the business because that is what the relationship is built around. Without a replacement for a personal brand, the business dies. This is commonly seen when a small business is sold, and the brand fails to transcend to the new owner. Customers who have been loyal to the personal brand representing the business are now stuck having either get to know the new personal brand in place or looking for a new brand to do business with.
Your employees and your brand
Whether your employees are standing at the counter or in line at a restaurant, your brand is on display through you r employees.
Industrial doesn’t have to be dingy. Choosing grey uniforms may save you a few dollars on replacing shirts over the year, but it’s not helping you brand yourself. Your people are walking billboards and something for you to be proud of. Dress them in uniforms that match the brand and voice your business is working to convey. Try this: use light colored shirts on your dirtiest technicians. You might be amazed how clean they stay when they can see the dirt!
Protecting Your Brand – Dropping Prices and Discounts
Offering discounts is a popular business strategy commonly used in our industry as a tool to drive new and recurring business. How you go about offering discounts or reducing prices can have a potentially negative effect on your brand.
When not to discount
To close a deal with a new customer
“I can get this done cheaper down the street” “Is that your best price” “We have a really tight budget” These are examples of phrases we hear from our clients regularly. Don’t make the mistake of quickly lowering your price to get the job. Keep in mind that your brand may suffer in the long term by you reducing your price without justification. Instead, look for ways to help get the car back on road safely and help the customer make the right decision … to do business with you! Don’t replace a lack of sales skills with lower prices!
To undercut your competition
Once you start down this road you have begun a battle that ends with no winner. Dropping margins to keep jobs from your competitors’ bays means your brand is now being controlled by your competitor. You also have now commoditized your services, meaning you are now only offering price as a differentiation between you and your competitor. You may win some short-term business by undercutting but only at your brands expense. Once you have offered a discount, it is very difficult to take it away!
Your Website and Your Brand
Your website will often be the first opportunity for a new prospect to be introduced to your brand and your services. As a result, your website is a critical part of your branding strategy. It represents who you are, who you serve, and what you promise (your brand) through the content, organization and appearance.
Brand your website
Step 1 – Analyze
Audience analysis- Your success is dependent on your ability to reach out to your target customer.
- What type of experience do they expect?
- How Internet savvy are they?
- What will impact them more: emotional appeal or intellectual? Or both?
Competitive analysis- the goal is to beat the competition, not imitate them. Be sure to define your branding, domain name for example, unique enough to avoid confusion. Even sharing a primary brand color can be confusing for customers. When customers are trying to remember you their memory will think first of basic information like brand colors, this could lead them to your competitors.
Industry analysis- Review the trends in our industry and trends in Internet marketing. Nothing stays the same for very long, especially with search algorithms and trends in website design.
Step 2- Define what is Unique about You
The more unlike your competition you are, the less competition you’ll have. Or in other words, building a brand that is unique makes it very difficult for customers to expect the same accommodated service they get from other repair shops. When your business brand is incomparable, price is less of an issue. Your ability to communicate value is dependent on customers seeing the value in your brand.
Step 3 – Develop Your Website
Your website has 3 main areas to strategize in development:
Well written and unique content is the key to solving two challenges. First, the potential customer who visits your site needs to be engaged with quality content to engage with your business through your website. Second, search engines like Google need to see unique, well written content to rank your website.
There is nothing more frustrating than having to click around a website to find what you are looking for. Website layout and flow is both a science and an art, both studied and tested. Navigation and website flow needs to have a priority for delivering the most important information first, then to provide the support materials that show why you are the best choice!
Consumers are more visual than ever, so the appearance of your website is critical to your success. Focus needs to: be placed with creating the right emotional response that reflects your business brand.
Your logo, colors, and call to actions all need to play to the design. Today’s professional looking sites are clean and understated. Avoid busy designs with too much content, graphics, or choices for people to search through. A quick loading site is very important, never sacrifice load time for special effects or unnecessary bling.
Most business now have a social media presence; usually Facebook, Twitter, and on rare occasions, Google Plus. Most are boring, bland, and self-fulfilling. Most businesses are using their social media as an advertising tool rather than a social platform. The question business owners need to ask themselves is: why should anyone follow or subscribe to a feed for that?
There is nothing more important than making sure every valuable comment you acquire or interaction you generate is responded to in a reasonable amount of time. We are talking about 24 hours in most cases, not a week. Real people want interaction from real companies and your ability to react to user-generated content is critical to your brand’s social media personality.
Make someone responsible for checking your social media outlets every day and respond to questions, comments, and requests. How you respond provides potential customers with insight into what the experience will be of using your services.
Social media is not unlike TV, Movies, or Magazines. If it’s not entertaining, informational, or intriguing, nobody is going to pay attention to you. You need to create and share quality content if you want people to follow you, engage with you, and most importantly share you with others. Don’t try to be something you’re not! If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re full of knowledge, then share great tips and tricks, but be as genuine as you can and keep it all in the voice of your brand.
Display your brand right
Your brand is being scrutinized by every pair of eyes that lands on your social media site. Within seconds, the visitor sees your brand and their mind begins to compare your brand to the hundreds of others they have been exposed to and call up in their recent memory. Your graphics, logo, colors, and pictures all play a part in creating a professional brand image inside your social media. Inconsistent posting = Brand neglect.
Offer something of value besides your own product or service. No one wants to be sold to all the time and if that is all you offer, you will lose your followers. Always consider “what’s in it for them.” Social media is all about conversation, content, and engagement. Be generous- give information freely, pass along other people’s tips, bargains, ideas and give credit whenever possible. Generosity helps shape your brand and creates a positive environment for your followers and readers. It keeps them connected and keeps them coming back for more. If you try using social media as a self-fulfilling tool, it will fail.
Branding Through Interaction
The telephone can be used to elevate your brand or kill it. All too many shop owners don’t spend enough time emphasizing the critical importance of telephone procedures and the consistent display of their brand through telephone interaction. Is your brand over worked or in a hurry? Because that’s the impression your customer receives when you pick up the phone and sound like you don’t have time to take the call.
Follow these steps to a better telephone brand presence:
Breathe in some sanity before you start talking!
They deserve your best and your brand demands that you deliver it. Take a cleansing deep breathe before you pick up the phone and show your positive brand image. People respond to positive energy and your phone calls will be much smoother.
Identify yourself, multiple times!
Your business is in large part, the people who work in it. Your potential new customers are not familiar with your staff and the whole idea is to change that fact. The more your present a personal brand on the phone, the better chance you have of building a long-term relationship.
Your brand is dependent on the communication from your employees to your customers. Making sure you have systems in place to assure a consistent quality of interaction is part of what make your brand unique from your competition. Want a brand that really makes a difference in your bottom line, spend some time working on your team’s telephone skills and work toward all your team answering the phone and working with new clients the same way!
The Ultimate Branding Differentiator – Customer Service
You already have the secret weapon of branding; it’s simply great customer service.
Most shop owners think the best customer service is expressed by fixing the car at a fair price. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Every communication including the telephone, email, and face-to-face conversation is a brand building opportunity. Your employees are setting the stage for what will come to be an expectation in future visits. It cannot be overstated as to the importance of a consistent, high quality interaction that each customer can count on you on a consistent basis.
The Ultimate Test
Your brand is not only a way your business operates, it is the last test to use when making decisions in your business. When hiring, you compare your candidates with your brand … do they meet the quality your brand represents? When you are building a new brochure, does it live up to the brand statements and image? Your brand can be your most valuable asset. Spend time on developing or improving your brand and watch the profits grow!