Have you ever looked at the Fortune 500 list and thought about how the companies made it to where they are? Amazingly, some of them started just like you– with a big dream, hard work, and dedication. While your goals and company vision may not be to go public or become part of the Fortune 500, there are things you can learn from their journey that can change your business for the better. These industry giants have a lot of cash the throw around in brand exploration and deep diving into understanding their company culture and target base. There’s no way you can match that kind of thoroughness. But, what you can do is steal these branding lessons from industry giants for your gain.
Branding Lesson: Grow Over Time
Whether you want to become like the industry giants who came before you or you have a different path in mind, it’s important to realize they all have something in common. Like any tenured company, they did not become an overnight success. They build profitable brand value over time, but there’s no magic formula behind it. It takes time to understand your company, audience, and place in the market.
These industry giants show us an example of an important branding lesson learned through experience. They understand what they stand for, their audience, and they can communicate that value to their audience in an articulate manner. Like many businesses, they started with a unique selling proposition that differentiates them from all the other solution providers in their market. So, what is the unique value you offer your customers?
What Value Do You Bring?
Over the past ten years, Bold Entity has met with thousands of small business owners and witnessed their experience. Sadly, 99% of small businesses are not able to properly articulate their value. Not what they do; any business can tell you what products and services they sell. They know exactly WHAT they do, and often it sounds like this, “We are Company X, and we provide Y services to the Z industry.” If you’re part of the 99%, it sounds like you and like your many, many competitors. No matter the industry or market, you have competitors who use the same sentence to describe themselves with a different name.
When you and your competitors all DO the same thing, what you do is not a unique selling proposition. Time and time again, we see this situation turn into a price war on who can sustain on the thinnest margins to win business over their customers. And as a small business owner, the economy of scale is not in your favor when it comes to efficiency and increasing margin at a lower price point. And no matter how many marketing dollars you put into ads, social media, or other marketing initiatives, you won’t be able to escape this trap. And you’re not alone; you’re among the 99% of small businesses we’ve met over the last decade.
So, what can branding lessons from industry giants teach you about distinguishing yourself from your market competition?
Branding Lesson: Be More Than Your Product
Successful branding is about your company becoming more than the organization behind your product. You’re probably not familiar with Research in Motion, but you’ve probably heard of their global product, BlackBerry. Conversely, you are familiar with Amazon, Apple, and Nike, and each has name recognition on par or better than the individual products they sell. In many cases, these brands are successful because they’re more than their products. The brands are a lifestyle, attitude, or outlook. You’re an Apple person, or you’re not, you’re an Amazon devotee, or you’re not, you “Just Do It,” or you don’t. The brands take on a life of their own, and the dedicated users of the company’s products and services become a community.
Part of what makes this branding successful is making it personal to the customer. For example, Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign printed common names on their cans and bottles and encouraged people to share a coke with a friend. People were able to find retail bottles and cans in stores across the world with their name or the name of someone they knew. The campaign led to more than half a million social media photo shares with the #ShareACoke hashtag and increased market share by 4% for the company. More telling, Coca-Cola grew a 7% market share in the young adult market, where soft drinks have struggled over the last decade.
Coca-Cola’s success had nothing to do with a change to the product, just how they approached their customers and how searching for just the right can or bottle and buying a Coca-Cola product became a personal experience for customers.
However, it would be a critical mistake to say your branding is more important than your company’s product or service. Branding alone does not make your company of its offerings great by association. Your branding is flash, gold foil-wrapped lead without the backing of a great company and product/service. That’s why Bold Entity’s proprietary branding process is focused on diving into a company and learning who they are and who they want to be. We then take that information and energy and reflect it into your company’s branding and logo design. We believe the vision of a great company has to come first, then branding that matches the vision.
Beat the Competition by Changing the Rules
Identifying your brand is the first step from transforming your offerings from products and services into valuable commodities for your customers. Start with a promise. What do you promise to deliver for your clients? Whatever you promise is what your brand stands for. And that’s not just represented by deliverables but by the emotional, social, and self-expressive benefits that come with doing business with you. Instead of focusing on the difference in price with your competition, consider other values you can provide your customer. What can you change about how you do business to help your customers achieve their goals or improve their lives?
Branding Lesson: Start With a Vision
One thing the industry giant brands do differently is focus on their vision and build products, services, and experiences that meet the company vision. Most companies start by creating a product or service that serves a purpose and then develop its brand around it. But, in practice, this often means that your company treats your offering as the foundational part of the process, then how to make it different than the competition, and then how it serves your company’s vision. The great industry giants focus on performing this in reverse:
- Vision: Why You Do It
- Differentiator: How You Do It
- Offering: What You DO
Using this approach, you ensure you’re always making decisions for your business and branding that focus on serving your vision and your clients first and not trying to squeeze already developed products and services into the market and your brand’s vision. Part of this branding methodology includes orienting your company to provide the best user experience at every step of their journey with your brand. Everything critical to their journey should be easy: easy website navigation, easy-to-find information, tools, and social proof. Then providing your customers with an easy sales process, delivery of goods/services, and customer support. Then to top it off, great brands offer an easy way for customers to share their fantastic experience with their professional network, friends, and family.
One brand this methodology has worked out well for is Craigslist. As stated by its found, Craig Newmark, “The design of Craigslist originated in my observation that people want something that’s functional, effective, simple, and fast. That design philosophy has been maintained throughout.” A focus on ease of use and simplicity helped make Craigslist a household name and the go-to place for personal sellers to buy and sell items in their neighborhood. Craigslist is also proof that your branding and design don’t need to be fancy to be effective. Part of what makes Craigslist immediately identifiable is, in many ways, its simplicity and lack of flourish.
So before you decide to build that fancy website, redesign your logo, or start a lead generation campaign, go back to basics. Communicating your value as part of your vision and promise to your customers, starting with the right words, is vital. Then, once you have identified this crucial aspect of your brand, you can build up from there.
Seek, Identify, and Meet Underserved Markets
Sometimes you’ve done everything you can in your current market, and it’s time to look into different areas to grow or reposition your brand. The first way to find and enter a new market is by looking for ways to innovate what’s being offered in a different industry. Tesla and IBM have been incredible innovators in other industries. They have put their talents into innovating solar energy, AI automation, rechargeable batteries, cloud computing, and space travel. Not bad for a car manufacturer and business computing company.
Other times it’s about a market segment that companies in the space routinely overlook. An example of this would be hard spirits. Not surprisingly, women drink cocktails and spirits and are estimated to account for half of all vodka sales, but you would never know it from the marketing and advertising of major spirits brands. Traditionally they have focused all their marketing efforts on male drinkers. Then an influencer-backed brand like Skinnygirl Cocktails steps in and markets drinks specifically to female drinkers. The success created a market disruption significant enough to draw the interest of Beam International, makers of Jim Beam, to purchase the company.
But, it’s not so easy as to be done thoughtlessly. Bacardi chased the coattails of success in the underserved market of women drinkers by introducing its low-calorie, low-alcohol Plume & Petal brand of vodkas. Despite the by women for women branding, they received a social media backlash from women upset that they would pay the same or more for a gendered vodka with half the alcohol by volume, reminiscent of the “Pink Tax.”
Once you find your brand’s tribe of customers, it’s important to go above and beyond for them. Spending a few extra resources to exceed their expectations is the foundation for developing brand loyalty, word of mouth marketing, and a source of referral business.
Create Brand Awareness Through Thought Leadership & Content Marketing
If you want people to talk about you, your brand, and your company, you need to start the conversation. And the conversation starts with thought leadership. To create brand awareness, you need excellent content volume and quality. For an example of this in practice, look no further than Gary Vaynerchuk. He builds his personal brand by trying to post a new piece of content every 3-6 hours! That schedule ensures he’s always putting content in front of people’s eyes when they’re online; whenever they’re online, there’s a fresh bit of content ready for them.
But the online content game has picked up in recent years. The competition is stiff. The average time spent writing blogs has jumped almost 65% since 2014 to four hours per blog. That’s because to compete online, the content you produce needs to be informative and researched, of course, but it also needs to be more in-depth and longer to deliver the best SEO bang for your buck.
According to Curata, only 18% of blog posts created by companies are 750 words or more, but today’s ideal word count on blog material for SEO purposes is around 2500 words, that’s 3-4 times longer than most company blog posts. So, if you are planning to create awareness and brand recognition for your brand through content, you need to commit to creating fantastic content.
This commitment is significant for B2B companies and SMBs. B2B buyers spend significantly more time researching their purchasing decisions than consumers, often with multiple stakeholders involved in the decision. An in-depth thought leadership article or two to point those stakeholders towards your brand is a powerful marketing and sales tool. Likewise, as an SMB, you are often lesser-known to your audience and need a way to quickly and eloquently credentialize yourself. High-quality, thought leadership content increases your ability to build trust expediently with new prospects.
Think Outside the Blog
While blogs remain the gold standard for thought leadership content and SEO ranking, they are the cornerstone of content marketing and thought leadership. First, only some people look to blogs as their primary source of information. Each person looks to a different, preferred source of information when they’re doing research. Videos, infographics, emails, and a thoughtful social media presence are a few to consider.
Of all these media formats, video continues to be the growing medium of choice for content marketing and brand recognition. Almost 50% of customers watch product-related videos before making a purchase.
If all this content sounds like a nightmare, you’re not alone. One of the strengths of content marketing is its ability to be put together, pulled apart, and redesigned for use in other ways. Content recycling allows you to stretch an original idea until it’s thoroughly exhausted. For example, a great, long-form blog post can be turned into a video script on the same topic. You can also pull tidbits of information for social media posts and compile the many stats and points into an infographic. As you can imagine, that one piece of high-quality content can be put into half a dozen applications (or more) for your content marketing. And, old blog posts can be revisited and updated with new information and research. It’s not only easier than writing original content, it’s actually a good thing to do for your SEO. Even this blog is an update to an original blog published in 2018!
All this content marketing probably sounds great, but it also sounds like a lot of work and maybe work you and your team cannot produce at a professional level. Content marketing is a great place to get started with an outside marketing vendor. A digital marketing agency, like Bold Entity, understands the importance of writing content that serves to inform your audience, present your brand as a thought leader in the industry, and provide you with a targeted boost in SEO. Learn more about Bold Entity’s full suite of digital marketing and branding services.
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity
This thinking echoes the sentiment of Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Sometimes a little controversial press is better than no press for getting your name and brand in front of people.
Business figures like Elon Musk and Mark Cuban draw much attention for their controversial statements, but we know their names and faces and their businesses. Nike’s 30th Anniversary commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick after being dropped by the NFL also comes to mind. An advertisement that leaned heavily on social issues in America, despite the company’s history of human rights issues in the manufacture of their products.
Other examples include Carl’s Jr and their long run of advertisements featuring attractive, scantily-clad women eating fast food. An advertising campaign they eventually retired, unfortunately not because they were in poor taste but because they felt the campaign was stale.
Of course, any decision to go with the controversial route of building brand awareness for your business needs to be taken with a large helping of salt. Often the success of these moves relies on an already well-established and brand loyal customer base or the cult of personality surrounding the face of the controversy. Certainly, not everyone likes Bezos, Zuckerberg, or Jobs, but some do, and their respective companies continue to find success. If you decide to commit to this approach and do it well, you can potentially strike gold and enjoy some virality and user-generated content to boost your branding.
Storytelling is Key for Memorable Content & Branding
Whether it’s “Baby shoes for sale, never worn,” or Apple’s iconic 1984 commercial, storytelling impacts us and leaves an imprint in our minds. Humans are hardwired to enjoy storytelling; it’s how we teach lessons, convey experiences, and evoke emotions. Storytelling is powerful stuff, and it can be used for your company.
Show, don’t tell is elementary advice for content creators. We are bombarded hundreds if not thousands of times a day by advertisements. Everything tells us that using their product or service will make us smarter, sexier, healthier, wealthier, and happy. Most of the time, this falls flat because we’re just being told it. But that changes if you show it instead. You can do it by capturing customers’ and employees’ authentic reactions and creating testimonials and even fictional stories around your brand.
If you can change your marketing to show instances of how you changed a person’s life for the better just by including your brand in their life, you’ll be able to find success. And yes, the same goes for those B2B industries that people don’t often regard as flashy or sexy. In fact, these are the brands that benefit the most from storytelling because it puts the people from both sides of a B2B business arrangement front and center and tells a narrative of their experience. We have more thoughts on storytelling in the B2B space for you to read.
Commit to Transparency
Whether it’s your storytelling, content, marketing, or business dealings, commit to transparency. Trust is built through transparency. No one will believe your success stories if you don’t lay the groundwork for your audience to trust you and the examples you show. In today’s fast, hyper-connected world, it’s easy to find your brand shredded for an egregious misstep and that information to remain archived online forever.
Maybe Warren Buffet put it best, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, but only five minutes to destroy it.” People respect and are enamored by honesty and vulnerability. If you include this in your storytelling, the good and the bad, the transparency will build the groundwork for your audience to trust you. We know you always want to put your best foot forward, but sharing your stumbles and disappointments and how you learn from them is often more potent than slick, upbeat marketing.
Get Expert Branding Help
How quickly can you explain your business and your brand to someone? Whether it’s a literal elevator pitch or any other type of business development, the ability to clearly and succinctly convey your brand and business is paramount. If explaining your business takes longer than 30 seconds and includes waffling, backtracking, or clarification, it’s time to think about refining your brand and clearly define who you are and what you do.
Not sure how to get started or who to contact? We can help! At Bold Entity, we help SMBs craft their story and spread these stories digitally; through their website, social media, and more. In fact, we’ve successfully helped hundreds of business owners just like you to lead with brand value. To learn more about what we do and how we can help you, please feel free to contact us at any time.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated with new information.