Do you feel like maybe your small business is not as well off as you think it should be? Maybe you've been in business for a few years, maybe you've been in business for a decade, and you just feel like you should be further along than you actually are. You feel like you should have more customers than you have.
You feel like the people who do engage with your business get it. But it's so hard to get people to engage with you. And you don't know why that is. You don't know why this is happening. It's simple. Your business is not a brand. Or, more precisely, It's not a brand yet.
And because it's not a brand yet you're going to have difficulty getting people in. You're going to have difficulty communicating who you are and what you do. Because a brand is exactly that: who you are and what you do for your customer.
When I say a brand, I do not mean logos, colors, fonts. What I am talking about is all of the other stuff that makes your brand real in the hearts and minds of other people.
So what is a brand? Your brand is actually your customer story and how it aligns with your communication. Basically, your brand is your ability to empathize with your customer and then communicate that empathy. That's your brand.
The communication part of that equation is where the logos and the colors and all of that stuff comes into play. It's not the only thing about communication, but it is part of communicating your customer story and how you empathize with your customer.
And what is your customer story?Your customer story is all about what it is that they feel, what their motivations are, and then how those motivations align with what you do. That combination is the customer story. And that is what you need to be connecting with.
Now let's use an extremely well-known brand for an example. Nike has basically every element of their brand 100% aligned with their customer's motivation. And then that is all communicated in a cohesive customer story. Nike is a brand that is all about strength, endurance, training, growth mindset and all things athletic. All of the things that make you into a better you. That is what Nike is about. Nike's products and services are all communicating the fact that they're about strength, growth, excellence and developing yourself as a person.
When most people think of Nike, they think of all of the elite athletes that are associated with the brand. In order to be an elite athlete, you have to believe that you can grow. You have to believe that you can change. You have to believe that you can be strong. You have to believe that you have an intrinsic worth. You have to believe in your own value. You have to believe that you can indeed “just do it”.
And where does every elite athlete start? Every elite athlete starts at a try. They may start in elementary school or junior high or high school or college, but they start trying somewhere. They are trying out for sports. They are running on a track. They are running long distance cross country. They are playing tennis on a public court.
What Nike does to communicate that is that they weave together stories and images of amateur athletes and professional,elite athletes. They seamlessly weave those stories together for us to show us what their brand is all about. Their brand is about excellence, determination and growth; and we all know that. They don't even have to tell us. They can say “Just do it” because we know that is what their brand is all about. Everything visually lines up with that. Everything that they sell, all their commercials, and everything that they're doing lines up with achieving excellence.
When Nike gets outside of that brand messaging, like when they get in trouble for the practices of coaches within their track program, we are all sorely disappointed because that doesn’t fit within their message of striving to be excellent. When something like that happens, Nike has to pull itself back into line with its customers because their customers push back and demand it.
Yes, Nike is a huge, multinational corporation, but why would it be any different for you as a small business.
You are not working on the same scale, but you should definitely learn from what Nike does; which is to align yourself with your customer story and let your customer pull you into alignment instead of trying to do whatever it is you think you should be doing and then making them align with you.
When it comes to small business branding, a lot of us are out here creating our own brands, doing our own things and hoping people follow us. The problem, of course, is that's not how it works in reality. The reality is that, in order for you to be a really good company, you have to be following your customer.
So what do you need to do in order to stop holding yourself back? Identify what your customer story is and then align yourself to it, rather than trying to align them to your story. Because branding is not about you.
As a business owner, you’ve got to care about your customers and their story. You need to care about them and what they are doing and what they want. Because as soon as you stop caring about the customer story, you’ll be floating off into the wilderness without connecting to our customers. They don't even know you are lost because they don't know you exist.
First, we need to know what the customer story should be for our business. So what is your customer story? When I say the term "customer story", I simply mean, coming from a place of empathy, what is it that they are experiencing difficulty with? What are their motivations? Why would they need your product or service? And what does that look like in their everyday life? Where are they? All of those things add to become their customer story.
Going back to the Nike example, their customer story is all about someone who is trying for growth and excellence in athletics. They recognize the person who is trying and is in a growth mindset and they try to be the answer to their difficulties. Their messages say things like we help you try harder, we help you grow, we help you gain strength, and we help you get where you're trying to go. They associate with elite athletes because that association is aspirational for someone who is out there trying to be better than they were before and because that association shows a competitive advantage that those elite athletes have because of Nike products.
Once you get the customer story down, the next thing to evaluate is how to communicate that story via social media. A lot of small business owners are in a position where they are not communicating their customer story at all. If you are on social media only trying to get people to do what you want and look at you, you’re doing it wrong. Social media is about the customer and how we're communicating the message of their story in relation to our products. The more we can do that, the better.
If we can, not by happenstance but by design. look like we're putting ourselves out there AND simultaneously communicating the customer’s story, we can win.
Social media does, a lot of times, have that feel of being a look inside of the life of our company. But it needs to be a look at your company while also communicating a story about your customer. It still needs to be about them. If it's strictly about you, you lose.
Secondarily, you need to get your communication aligned on your website. Your website is a powerful way for you to communicate your brand messages and develop the brand. Your website needs to have every page on it serving your customer story and the message that it is communicating.
Every page on your website is something that you should be going through and evaluating to see if it aligns with the messaging that you are trying to deliver to your customer. Super unique businesses with super unique websites get that way because they're developing that website with their customer story in mind, they're not developing it in a vacuum.
And lastly, you need to look at your emails. How is each and every one of your emails communicating value to your customer based on their story? You shouldn’t just be sending out sales emails that are just trying to get them to do something or a newsletter that is all about you and not at all about what the customer story is. You should be looking at your emails and asking how we can turn this email into something that is going to be a value to the customer.
I have gotten so many great emails from different organizations that were able to hit the nail on the head about what my motivation was, what my needs were, as it relates to what they were selling. It becomes a no-brainer then to go ahead and buy whatever they are selling. When you can actually make that alignment happen inside of your emails, that is where you make money.
So if you are feeling like your small business is being held back, that there's resistance, then I need you to go through and evaluate all of these things. I need you to think really critically about how exactly you are pulling together your messages with your customer story. If you can make those things fit together and work for your business, you will be able to grow and move your business into the position of a brand. You can develop your own ability to always be aligned with your customer and always be communicating that alignment to them via social media, via your website and via your email marketing.
We have a Small Business Brand Audit that will help you to walk through your small business and determine where you are right now. It helps you identify your customer's perspective and position your brand based on your competitive evaluations. It also helps you to determine where your small business fits on the path to actually being a brand.
This self guided brand audit is completely freeand available to you at the link the bottom of this page. Download the audit and take it on your own schedule. It consists of eight videos as well as a 14 page workbook in PDF format that allows you to work through some instructional activities.
The Small Business Brand Audit is designed to help you get to the point where you are not just a small business owner, but the owner of a brand!