How to Build a Brand Online (The Ultimate Guide to Standing Out in Cyberspace)
Stop looking for digital marketing hacks and do this instead.
If you’re a small business owner who wants to build a brand online, there’s good news. It’s unlikely that your competitors are implementing any kind of online brand strategy, which makes the process less challenging for you and gives you an immediate advantage over them the day you start.
On the other hand, if your competitors are already engaging in an online branding strategy, you’re letting them get ahead of you by not having one.
The purpose of branding is to create an identity people can connect with while sending a clear message that sells your value and positions your product or service as the ideal solution for your target market.
Everything you put out into the world directly and indirectly pulls people closer to you or pushes them away.
Achieving this takes a lot of planning and hard work. It’s not something to be taken lightly. In this article, I’ll show you how to build a brand online that you can be proud of.
If branding is a new concept for you, read this article: What Branding Is for Small Businesses in 2020.
How much does it cost?
Small business owners know how easy it is to waste money. Part of our responsibility is to manage the wallet wisely and the last thing we want to do is invest in a strategy that comes up empty.
Building a brand online isn’t possible without a financial investment. However, rather than ask how much it will cost, we should instead ask, “How much am I willing to do?”
Branding is a business skill like any other business skill. The more you learn about it and the more you work at it, the better you will be. But if you’re not willing to invest the time to become good at branding, you will better off hiring a brand strategist to help.
Everything you post on social media, your website and print material, the presentation you make to prospects—everything—will increase or decrease your chances of generating interest in your business and making a sale.
When it comes to specific brand building tactics, feel free to do them yourself if you believe you’re qualified to do them well. But if you know the images and messages you are broadcasting are not the best they can or should be, I caution you against doing it yourself just to save money.
In fact, trying to save money can sometimes cost you more. This is especially true with branding. Prioritize brand building tasks, evaluate whether you will do it yourself or hire it done, then budget accordingly.
Rather than ask how much it will cost, ask yourself, “How much am I willing to do?”
If you need help prioritizing your branding process, click here.
Logo, Colors, and Slogans
Your logo is a visual representation of your business that will be used for all of your digital and print communication—even on things like company vehicles and uniforms.
Take time when developing your logo. The typeface (font), colors, and overall design should resonate with your target market and align with your brand persona.
Avoid using too many colors. Select one primary color and one accent color. To learn more about choosing fonts for you brand, read this article.
Taglines (or slogans) should tie what you do to what your customers want. They should also be memorable.
For example, the slogan for a well-known jewelry company is “Every kiss begins with Kay.”
This is a great tagline because it communicates multiple messages in one sentence. First, the word kiss represents romance and as we know, jewelry is a popular gift among couples. Second, the word kiss begins with the letter K. And finally, it just so happens the company’s name is Kay Jewelers.
Share Your Purpose
One question that helps us in this step is, “What do you do and why should anyone care?”
Find the specific value you offer to your customers—the problem they have that you help them solve—and tie that to your purpose.
For example, I’m a brand strategist. It’s true that I enjoy branding and want to help business owners create a brand they can be proud of. However, those facts alone are unlikely to compel people to hire me. But, if I tell them I can help them increase sales with my branding process, they will be interested in learning more.
While focusing solely on the customer helps us communicate our value to them, it poses a potential problem. Many business owners unintentionally put their purpose aside and focus solely on their customers. After all, the customer comes first, right?
The answer is, “Yes and no.”
Most small business owners pour their heart and soul into making their customers happy. But one day, many find themselves suffering from burn-out because they sacrificed everything for their customers while ignoring their original business vision.
The essence of your brand is built on why you do what you do, not only for your customers, but for yourself. Sharing your core beliefs and business philosophy keeps your business vision front-and-center. It also shows your target market that you care about something more than just making a sale.
Incorporate your philosophy and core beliefs into your website, social media profiles, and other brand communication. Don’t be afraid to share what matters to you. While people are not going to buy solely because of your purpose or mission, sharing it shows them what you care about and why.
A Word of Warning
While I advise you to share your purpose, core beliefs, and philosophy, you must also be smart about it. Be careful not to offend people or create controversy just for the sake of standing out. It’s possible to take a strong stand without making people angry.
Don’t exploit current events or sensitive issues just to get attention. There are better ways to go about it.
Your Best Customers are Not Ideal
A target audience is critical to building a brand online. If you haven’t done so already, think of the person or people you help the most and create a profile of them. This profile includes demographics such as age and location, and psychographics like emotional states-of-mind and life philosophies.
Creating an ideal customer profile is a common marketing practice. But while having “ideal” customers provides a good target at which to aim, it may cause you to lose out on some opportunities. The balance comes when you can create a profile of the people who are the best fit for your business. This gives us a definitive target without being too restrictive.
The more specific you are, the better. However, it may take some time for your best-fit customer to emerge. Rely on your brand message to connect with the people you want to reach. Most of all, be sure to link what you do to the problem your customers have.
Don’t target an audience just because you think they have more money or because your competitors are pursuing them. You must also consider other qualifiers, such as your ability to deliver. Can you give them what they need and give it to them at a high level?
Study Your Competitors
Most companies know who their competitors are but know little else about them. You should not only be aware of who they are, you should also be as familiar with them as you are with your target audience.
Take a look at their offers, their promises to customers, and what messages they send through advertising, websites, and social media. Then, compare these against your own.
Do you see any gaps or areas of weakness you can exploit?
Leverage your strengths as selling points. Focus on what sets you apart from competitors and highlight these points in all of your brand communication, marketing, and advertising. Be sure to review them three or four times each year to stay relevant.
Find Your Voice
For your communication to be effective, you need a brand “voice”. This voice can be friendly, authoritative, casual, formal, exude confidence, or be whimsical. There are as many brand voice types as there are types of people.
Your brand voice must align with the audience you want to attract. Use the same voice all the time. Like other aspects of branding, this is only effective when done consistently.
Professional Design Is a Must
The marketplace is saturated. People are inundated with marketing messages. Subconsciously, they’re looking for signals that tell them who they should listen to and who to ignore.
It should come as no surprise that first impressions matter. Your brand’s visual design will significantly impact the first impression your business makes on your target audience. The images you choose to represent your brand are critical.
It may be tempting to use free image resources, such as Unsplash and Adobe Stock. But remember that your competitors have access to these resources as well. For this reason, limit the use of stock images and implement custom ones instead. This is an area where investing money in professional photos and images will pay dividends.
Make sure the images you choose align with your brand. Keep colors, theme, and other elements of imaging in line with your brand style.
Your Website Is Home Base
Your website serves as your office in cyberspace. And like any brick-and-mortar store or office, the design and ambience of your website sets a tone for visitors. You want to make it an experience people enjoy.
Make sure your website is user friendly, concise, and easy to navigate. Also consider that people are using different devices to view your site, specifically mobile phones. For that reason, your website’s design should take multiple viewing connections into consideration.
Update your site regularly with fresh and relevant content. Create a wealth of resources for visitors such as blog posts, videos, and other educational material that demonstrate your expertise. Link your site to social media profiles and online indexes like Google My Business to build an online reputation.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is complex but implementing it as you build your website will generate traffic over the long-term.
Web builders such as Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly make design easier. However, the quality and function of the site may be limited when compared to professionally designed sites.
Target Brand Keywords
Keywords are search terms that link your business to prospective customers. For example, if you own a roofing company, your customers may use search terms like “roofing companies near me” or “roofing quotes” to find your business. Incorporating these relevant search terms into your content (on websites, social media, blogs, etc.) will increase your chances of being found.
It’s important to find keywords your target audience uses that relate to what you do. Keywords that generate traffic are nice, but they won’t help you if they aren’t relevant to your product or service because they won’t bring the right audience to your site.
Ubersuggest is a great resource for discovering brand keywords.
Create Brand Content
Original content (i.e. blog posts and videos) allows you to educate your target audience, build trust, and establish your business as an authority. Many small businesses ignore this powerful strategy because they don’t believe it’s worth the time investment. Unfortunately, they’re missing out on a lot of opportunities to connect with potential customers.
It’s true that “content is king” but your content must be great—not average. It must be relevant to the problem you solve and interesting enough that people will engage with it. This is no easy task.
It’s best to start with the type of content you enjoy creating and master it before moving on to another. Forcing yourself to write blog posts when you hate to write or to make videos when you don’t like being on camera will show through at some point and may actually push people away instead of drawing them to you.
Whatever form of content you choose, be sure to use proper spelling, high-definition images, speak clearly, and avoid errors. Sloppy content will have a negative impact on your brand.
It’s important to know what kind of content your target audience likes most because that will dictate the type of content you need to create. You must also know what platforms they are on. Putting the right content on the wrong channel will still fall flat.
As always, be sure to link the theme or topic of all content to your product or service and include a next step for your audience to take. This could be to sign up for your email list, take a survey, or buy a product.
Check Your Facts
Be certain that your sources are accurate and that any statistical data you use is up to date. If you want to build a brand online, you must be a source your customer can trust and one misstep can destroy the connection you’re attempting to make.
Build an Email List
Email is still one of the most effective ways to reach prospective customers online. Stay in touch with prospects who have indicated some interest in what you do. Email campaigns also keep you in front of prospects so that when they’re ready to address the problem you solve, you will come to mind as the solution.
Reviews are absolutely essential to online brand building. As you acquire more 5-star reviews, your online reputation and authority grows stronger. People almost always investigate a business online before they buy from them and reviews are one of the primary factors in their consideration.
Respond to comments or complaints as quickly as possible and address problems a soon as they arise. Delays can damage your online reputation.
You can’t wait for people to find you online. Instead, you must aggressively promote your business if you hope to build a brand and develop an audience.
However, don’t be extreme. For example, publishing content once or twice a day is one thing, but ten times is another. How often you should post will depend on your audience’s preferences.
Share content from other sources, not always your own. Forming strategic partnerships with other businesses is a great way to grow your audience and build a brand online.
Pay Attention to Analytics
Website and social media analytics reveal the content your audience likes the most. Observe what is performing well. Studying your analytics will provide ideas for future content.
Consistency is the most important component of building a brand online. Show up every day, update your content regularly, and continue to send the same message day in and day out, telling the same story offline that you’re telling online.
Consistent branding makes a difference. How much?
It has been shown to increase revenue by as much as 33%.
Small businesses that build a brand online will create a competitive advantage, attract more customers, and generate more revenue. It’s unlikely that your competitors are actively engaging in the brand building process, which provides a great opportunity for your business.
If you have any questions, email me personally at [email protected].
Until next time,
P.S. If you would like to find out how your business compares to the competition and what you can do to improve your brand, click here.
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