MARKETING: Branding: Perception Matters
Column by Vickie Thomas
As a small business owner it may come as a surprise to find that it is not your perception of your company that matters. So whose perception does matter? Your customers. Customers, vendors and associates can be your biggest fans, your best brand advocates. What they think of you, what they believe you are known for, is what they communicate to the marketplace. This is branding.
At its core, branding is about the image of your business that resides in the hearts and minds of others. The experience that people have with your business at all points of contact creates their reality. As a result, the relationship with your target market is critical. From face-to-face meetings, social media presence, telephone interaction to email and direct communication, how you show up is what your business will be remembered for.
Managing this perception can seem like a daunting task to many business owners. So, how do you go about managing what you want others to think of you? In other words, how do you manage your brand?
Those questions are the driving force behind branding and why it has become a core skill for small businesses seeking increased revenues, differentiation and marketplace success. Incorrect assumptions about your business can lead to brand disaster. If you aren't clear about your brand and the image you want to convey, then you are leaving your brand up to others. And guess where the management of your brand fits in with someone else's plan ... it doesn't!
The good news is there is a simple technique that will shed some light on how the perception of your brand measures up to reality. With the information gathered, you will be able to determine the brand direction for your business.
Perception & Reality
Your brand includes everything your business does, tangible and intangible as well as the beliefs your target market has about who you are and what you do. This means that if you are in business, you already have a brand. The first step is determining what that brand is.
For this exercise, you will be creating two lists. On the first, capture words that convey the perception people have of your business. These words should encompass what others believe you are known for and the experience they have with you.
A good way to obtain this information is to conduct a survey. The survey can be formal or informal. A simple yet effective method is to ask customers, vendors, employees and associates to share three words they believe best describe your business and what you are known for. This is a great process for creating buy-in and support from your brand advocates. The beauty of this simple technique is that it gives you clear and concise feedback which will help you better understand how your business is perceived in the marketplace.
The second list is about you. Start by bulleting words that most accurately reflect your reality. This part of the exercise should reveal how you see your business. Describe who you really are, what your business is known for, the experience you believe your customers have with you and what you deliver. To enhance this part of the exercise try to be as open, authentic and objective as possible.
Next, select 3 words from the two lists. The words selected should best represent each category. And yes, in case you are curious, 3 is the number. No more, no less. Compare the words. Does the perception that others have of your business match up to reality, the way you see your business? Note the similarities and the differences.
Do you have a match? When what people perceive your business to be matches with who you really are you know you've done a good job of branding. From here you can build on that brand and the platform you've created. Your brand promotion is clear.
What if you don't match? That means you have some work to do. When the perception of who you are does not match up with reality, the result is brand confusion. Business owners feel the effects of brand confusion in their bottom line. When your target market is confused about your business, they don't buy. This is a signal that you need to put more effort into your branding and marketing in order to overcome a negative or confusing marketplace perception of your business.
Once you understand your brand, create a strategy to manage and promote it at all points of contact. This is where a brand management plan, also called a marketing plan, comes into play. Your plan should outline specific activities you will carry out in order to connect with customers, referral sources, prospects and resources.
The implementation of your plan is where brand perception meets reality. Through consistent execution, the following is built:
• Brand Loyalty: You take care of customers and make their experience with your business something they look forward to.
• Brand Integrity: You do what you say you will.
• Brand Promise: You deliver on what your brand promises customers they will receive when they do business with you.
A plan implemented consistently ensures that you are managing the perception of your business. It supports what you want people to think about you.
Why should brand perception matter to you? A successful brand management program will turn perception into dollars. To business owners, this is the perception that matters.