Branding is a complex and often befuddling concept. Even for many who have worked in the industry for decades, it remains the murkiest and most intangible part of marketing. Everything else, we can easily measure.
Yet when you think about it, a lot of foundational lessons about branding development and successful marketing (not to mention business in general) are closely related to things we all learned a long time ago in Kindergarten and grade school.
Sometimes a little review can be a key to breakthroughs with a challenging subject matter. Try to remember the first time you learned these 5 lessons – and I’m sure you’ll agree they apply more than ever in branding.
It’s tempting to over-complicate things, but a small business’s brand development seldom needs a lot of bells and whistles. In fact, branding today is in many ways easier than it was 20 years ago. Digital is a major factor in that difference. That said, an entrepreneur does need to show up prepared, taking the time to understand how web tools and social media work, and understanding the fundamentals of running a usable, conversion-oriented website. With those three elements squared away (i.e. tuck in your shirt), a small business not only creates a presence but can begin growing it as well. Awareness is infinitely easier to achieve with social media, and those almost free tools should be used effectively and with professionalism to amplify and even define your brand voice. And the website itself should be chock full of well-written content, geared to truly help your prospective customers to achieve their goals. Each good experience creates more branding buzz.
People often assume that in order to be successful, any branding activity should automatically generate sales. Not necessarily. Brand development is about getting the idea into people’s heads that your company is the best solution to a need or problem. Only once that relationship takes root in the customer’s mind will he or she feel inclined to give you the sale. Unless your prospect is at the very end of the buyer’s journey (i.e. adequately educated, impressed with your offering and ready to commit), it’s important to nurture carefully. Being too aggressive or presumptuous can push the prospect to a more patient and helpful competitor.
It can be tempting to grab a great photo or idea online and adopt it into your own company’s marketing. Too many times I’ve asked marketers where they got a particular photo, and heard “Google.” Google doesn’t offer a stockpile of free images; it merely catalogues pictures from all over the Internet, the vast majority of which are someone’s intellectual property. So using them is stealing. You get one chance to build your brand right, and it’s a cumulative process. If you get in the habit of ripping off other companies’ photos, ideas, logos and information, you leave a indelible trail of crumbs, all of which lead to you. And then, instead of growing an online reputation for having a great business, yours will be mired with postings of how you’ve stolen people’s ideas. Plus, it can be costly: stock photo agencies use sophisticated tools to find violations of their license agreements, and seek alarmingly high damages. It’s easy to catch a marketing cheat, and not worth the risk. Don’t be one.
Competition is healthy, but unethical business practices are a fast track to big trouble. Don’t fall into the traps of posting negative comments about a competitor’s busines, stealing data or hacking a website for secrets. I’ve seen developer acquaintances show off innovative hacks they’d devised to (presumably benignly) access competitors’ databases or content management systems. Regardless of how intriguing the possibilities, my policy has always been to steer WAY clear. Shady yet strangely enticing offers pop up from time to time in business, and its critically important to keep above board and honour your own true north. If you have to worry about people finding out you’ve done something, it’s not worth doing. Entrepreneurs (and preschoolers) who sleep well at night have more energy to do great things.
When something goes wrong or a product fails to live up to the marketing, own the problem and fix it. Don’t throw a tantrum or waste hours arguing about who was at fault. Give yourself a time out, and think about the situation objectively. Not what the other side should or should not have done, but what YOU could have done better. Then put on your big boy pants, and go do what you can to make things right. You will preserve your company’s reputation and probably avoid bigger issues down the road. And most importantly, having thought about things objectively, you’ll grow into a better professional.
What is the most valuable branding or business lesson you learned in Kindergarten? Post it below!
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