Your brand – how it appears, how it makes people feel, what it says – is what you want your customers and prospects to think about your organization.
Your brand is you.
It’s what you lie in bed thinking about at night.
It’s what Tony Hsieh, the CEO at Zappos, did when he envisioned a business with superb customer service and a culture everyone was excited about.
It comes through in your messaging, in your website content, in your social media activity, at trade shows, when you speak to audiences, and in your internal meetings.
If your branding, however, doesn’t match what people feel about your brand—both internal and external audiences—things can go off the rails.
The Brand Rules Haven’t Changed
The rules of branding have not changed. The tools have changed and the way we get feedback has changed. But, overall, the idea remains the same.
A small handful of organizations approach branding with deliberate conviction. Think about those that do: Apple, glasses.com, Nordstrom, Zappos, and Whole Foods are a few that come to mind immediately.
These organizations stay focused on their vision and their brand no matter what roadblocks are in their way. They maintain focus, discipline, and execution. Everything they do supports customer service, culture, innovative products, or the environment. They have brand stewards, loyalists, and ambassadors.
They also have critics and bullies who try to find an experience that doesn’t match the image they’re building. They know how to harness both groups, how to tweak and refine based on feedback, and what to ignore.
Most organizations, though, have a scattered approach to branding. Most don’t know what they’re trying to achieve. Some want to be all things to all people. Some don’t have specific niches. Some don’t have a clue at all. No one cares about these brands.
Not only do you have to have something to work toward, you have to give your customers a reason to care, good or bad.
While you can’t control what people say about your brand, there are some things you can do to help shape perception.
Seven Tips to Brand Your Business Online
Be vigilant. Not just in repeating your brand message over and over again, but monitor and listen to the conversations happening online about you, the company, the products, the services, your competitors, and the industry. Today we have such a great opportunity to know exactly what people are saying about us. Harness that information, be vigilant about paying attention, and use it to massage your messaging, tweak your offerings, or even create new products.
Be honest. “I’m sorry” works wonders. If there is a product issue, be honest about what is happening. Keep people updated. Communicate the ups and the downs. When you’re honest about any issues, challenges, or concerns, there isn’t a story to tell. People are willing to forgive. It might be painful at first, but the pain won’t last as long as it would if you lie or attempt to sweep the problem under the rug.
Be open. This one is so hard. It’s difficult for human beings to keep open minds about many things. When your company, your product, your service, your employees, or even your policies are under attack, it’s really hard not to get defensive. But if you show a willingness to talk about issues, and even change your policies based on feedback, you’ll create the most loyal customers.
Be active. Many business leaders think they have to jump on the social media bandwagon and have accounts on all of the social networks. That just isn’t true. If your customers and prospects aren’t on Twitter, for instance, why would you spend precious resources there? That said, it could very well be your customers use Twitter for personal reasons. Maybe they follow celebrities, watch for deals, or lurk to get the news but they don’t tweet or engage in conversation unless they have a customer service concern. If you’re being vigilant about listening to the conversation, you’ll see them tweet about you, even if you don’t have a Twitter account. Be active in responding to that and be open in the feedback they’ll provide.
Be consistent. Many organizations don’t know who they want to be when they grow up. Because of that, employees all deliver a different message when they attend trade shows, when they meet someone on an airplane, when they blog, when they tweet, or when they go to networking events. The rules haven’t changed…only the tools have changed. Figure out what your vision is, create your elevator pitch and supporting messages, and train everyone to use them. The way your organization is described should be consistent – through every single person who works for and with you. After all, if you aren’t consistent, how can you expect your customers to know who you are?
Be creative. Not every person who complains about you online will deserve a response. And not every complaint will be solvable. But if you’re creative in how you handle those things, other customers and prospects will see how you try and will appreciate the effort. There is a sandwich shop in New York that had a bad review. One bad review. The person anonymously posted on Yelp that the sandwich they’re famous for was disgusting and uninteresting. The next day, the sidewalk chalkboard sign in front of the restaurant said, “Stop in and try our daily sandwich. The one @djinto thinks is disgusting.” Not only did that encourage people to stop in, it made the rounds on the social networks. People love a sense of humor and they love creativity.
Be proud. Once you figure out your vision – what you want to achieve, who you want to be when you grow up – post it everywhere. Create plaques for employees to hang over their desks. Have a sign made for your entryway. Include it on your website. Some organizations even include it in their email signatures. While it will eventually be something people are accustomed to seeing, no one will have any doubt about where you are going. Be proud of what you are doing and don’t be afraid to tell the world about it.
Pay attention to what your customers are saying about you online. Participate in the conversation. Listen to their wants and needs. Let them help you with customer service, new products/services, and market research. Let your customers tell their friends about your brand. And stop thinking about how you’re going to control what they they say about you.