6 Steps to Elevate Your Brand
I call myself a bumbling entrepreneur proudly. To me, it means that I built my company from the ground up. I made all the mistakes; I did all the wrong things before I did the right ones. But it’s those experiences that really make me valuable to others in advising young entrepreneurs on which paths to take and which to avoid. I’ve come up with six steps (this list is by no means exhaustive) that I wish I would have known at the inception of my business in order to really make an impact with my brand. These are things I’ve figured out along the way, but the sooner you can implement them, the better.
1. Determine what is unique/differentiated about your product or service
a. With so much competition in every industry these days, it's important to identify the differentiated portion of your value proposition. Maybe you have superior customer service. Maybe your product uses naturally derived and locally grown products. Or maybe it’s just best in class in terms of quality. Whatever your differentiated point is, learn to communicate it concisely and effectively. This will be important from now until forever. In my case, I wrote a science-fiction/fantasy book of short stories, with color illustrations and all black characters, for high school and college-age readers. Find me another book like mine. I’ll wait.
2. Identify your target audience
a. You want to have an organic following of folks who are genuinely interested in your brand. What are the people that you want to reach interested in? Do they go to school? Work-full time? Align to a certain ethnic demographic or lifestyle? Factors like these and more will determine how/when/where you engage with them. Your work can have broad appeal, but it’s good to settle on a focal target off of which to run tangential marketing activities. The more your business engages with customers, the better sense you’ll have of who you’re serving. Sales data and reviews have shown me that my most loyal customers are college-educated black women ages 21 - 25, with an interest in social justice and black culture. I address as many demographics as I can, but I put the love back into that target that it has put into me.
3. Create a marketing strategy
a. Many small-business owners and people unfamiliar with marketing misconstrue its true usefulness. Jeff Besos, the CEO of Amazon, is on record as describing Brand as being the sum of all interactions with an entity. That means every time you shake a hand, exchange a business card, send a confirmation email or a tweet, your brand is being exposed, and that can be helpful if your brand is strong, but detrimental if not. When thinking about marketing, think about all the ways that you can interact with audiences. Then create a really specific plan of what tactic you’ll use when and where. You should consider events. What conferences, networking events, or festivals can you attend to meet people face-to-face? Facebook has very affordable sponsored content options that are easy to construct and target toward a specific audience. Use your social media profiles to the utmost capability, and check out the free Hootsuite classes to learn about automation and efficiency with social media vehicles. Consider direct email campaigns with Mailchimp as another way to engage your pre-defined audience.
4. Have a dope website
a. Most of the things I’ve recommended so far are free or very affordable, but I urge you to spare no expense in creating a holistic website that serves as a one-stop-shop for everything people need to know about your brand. Creating a website is also a great opportunity to buy black, as there are many independent web developers/companies that do great work. My company of choice is LOTUS Creations. They did http://www.thesoutherndistrict.com for me and their level of professionalism is second to none. Your website will legitimize your operation to unfamiliar audiences and allow you to be included in free business directory listings all around the Internet. You’ll also need it for your business cards.
5. Leverage your (social) network
a. There’s no denying the power of network effect in today’s business world, which is so reliant on e-commerce. If you do not have a strong LinkedIn presence, establish one. There are not only millions of potential audience members/customers there, but thousands of groups, constructed by industry, to serve as networking forums for like-minded professionals. You can also tap into the alumni network of any school you have attended and reach out to folks directly within a pre-established affinity group. Facebook has many similar groups as well. Use group chat apps like Groupme, WhatsApp, etc. to find app-based groups that cater to your interests and provide a more intimate community for people to learn about your brand! I’m in a Black Business Professionals chat and a Black Vegans chat that I absolutely love.
6. Keep stellar records and build a library of content
a. Records are everything. It’ll benefit you, come tax time, to have a thorough list of business expenses and receipts even if your business is not yet incorporated. Also, if you maintain up-to-date customer data, you can reach out and re-engage at any time. You may want to form focus groups of people who have already bought into your brand, or you may want to let them know about the newest offering. Don’t get so caught up in the race that you forget to count your steps. Furthermore, content is everything. Photograph and record as much as you can of what you do. It’ll help with your website, and also to keeping audiences engaged via social media. The Internet loves pictures and videos. I have a Dropbox full of headshots and other professional photographs, interviews with customers, and clips from my speaking engagements. Some of it is on my site, but much of it is waiting to be repurposed for future campaigns. When I decide I want to begin a new marketing campaign, I don’t have to get all new content; I can simply repackage what I already have.
I hope this has made sense and is helpful for all moving forward. Being an entrepreneur is challenging, but it's also very rewarding. There’s no feeling quite like seeing your vision come into fruition, and knowing that something you created has touched the lives of others. Stay encouraged, remain steadfast in your aspirations, and lend a helping hand to others. We all build and break each other.