Thursday, January 27, 2011

Do You Woo? A Bit More About Branding.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day I wanted to expand on my thoughts about branding using the analogy of romance.  The great thing about this post is that it can be helpful for anyone and everyone, because, whether we like it or not, if we want to be considered relevant in this consumer based society, we have to make ourselves into a brand. 

Now I must admit I missed out on the online-dating experience.  When I was single social media barely existed beyond email.  It wasn’t the force of nature it is today.  People who resorted to searching for love online were considered desperate.  But just as almost all social interactions and all business transactions have shifted to the World Wide Web, utilizing the internet to find that special someone is now considered pragmatic.  I know a handful of couples who are happily married after meeting online. 

I have said this before and I am destined to say it again, life can be lived-while not necessarily fully-completely online.  Branding is important for everyone regardless of one’s life circumstances.  The only variable is the reason why you’re creating a brand in the first place. So let’s proceed with my romance analogy.

Your Online Profile:

Creating a dating profile, for it to successfully sell you, has to be well thought out and well crafted. You have to determine which sites best suit who you are and what you are looking for.  Then time and energy must be spent on choosing the best words and images to draft a solid composite of how you want to be perceived in the few brief moments someone is going to spend glancing at your profile. When you’re looking for love you want to present you at your finest.  You exercise, dress up, behave. You may not be looking for love, but if you are a business looking for new customers, this process is just as important.  Careful consideration has to go into how you present yourself in today’s aesthetically conscious and brand-driven society. You have to know who your customers are, or who you want your customers to be.  Knowing this will then guide you to connect with the right websites and social media, while using the right design and marketing concepts.  You only have a fraction of a moment to appeal to your perfect customer, so you must ensure your brand is solid, eye-catching, and consistent no matter where that person goes to learn more about you.  Because let’s face it, we all use the Google.  In fact it’s prudent to Google yourself every once in a while.  I do it all the time.  If you Google me, you find exactly what I want you to find.  When you Google yourself, ask Is this how I want to be perceived?  Is there anything here that shouldn’t be? Is there anything missing? Using these answers as a tool, do what you can to reformat and refocus your online presence. Because the stronger and more solid it is, the more comfortable a potential suitor (i.e. customer) will feel about approaching you.  It must be your siren’s song, forcing the suitor to slow down and come closer for a better look. Let’s face it: suitor and customer can be interchangeable because for a business they are exactly the same thing.  While most of us don’t want a harem; those of us who own a business want a bevy of loyal customers. So now that you’ve formulated your online image to entice love, you have got to work on your woo.

First Date/First Impression:

All of us, ever since the day we were born, have been taught “Never underestimate a first impression”.  How many of us have met someone, made some snap judgments, and then gotten to know that person, only to realize later that our initial assessment was accurate?
I once read somewhere that one can learn on a first date what will be the end of the relationship.  You may scoff at this but it’s true!  Think about your relationships.  I’ve always been a long-termer; most of my relationships lasted WAY longer than they ever had a reason to.  Looking back over every one I have to admit that yes, the reason why it didn’t work out was blazingly obvious on that first date. 

In terms of business, the first date is the first interaction (it may or may not be a transaction) a potential customer has with you. Does you woo live up to your marketing?  This is the second part of branding.  As I’ve said before, image is only going to get them through the door.  What are you going to do to get to that first sale?  Your woo has to live up to the expectations of the customer.  Wooing by my definition is giving a customer a great product and great service at a price that reasonably matches the quality of the item/s and the overall experience they had.  Making sure this suitor has a fantastic first impression ups your chances of moving on from a first date to a relationship.

Looks Like We Made It….Well…

Now we all know, over time, we can get a bit lazy in a relationship.  It’s easy to assume, if someone has stuck around this long, they’re going to stay.  So if you want to keep that customer happy you can’t take them for granted!  The relationship needs to be nurtured.  Otherwise you may find yourself alone.  You don’t want your customer to one day say, “You’ve changed.  I don’t know who you are anymore.”

Remember there are plenty of other businesses out there similar to yours who are doing all they can to gain your customer’s attention.  There are ample opportunities to replace you and you will certainly start to destabilize your relationship is you believe you’re irreplaceable. If you’ve made your relationship vulnerable through neglect you are creating the risk of finding yourself alone.  So remember to offer consistent, personalized service.  And don’t forget those tokens of appreciation!  Let them know you care.    

I hope you will use this month to reevaluate your woo.  Figure out how you can strengthen and focus your visual aesthetic and marketing materials.  Decide if your online presence complements the image you want to project.  Refine your professional methods so you can stand out from the masses.  Do all you can to get and give more love in this world. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brand Me, Baby!

Makery’s helpful posting on branding: Shop Makeover: Creating a Brand Identity for Your Shop got me thinking.  I teach workshops on how to create and maintain a brand, and in my posts I’ve discusses the ways one can offer consistent and professional service to customers.  But I haven’t taken a moment to discuss what branding is.  And for many of you who may be out there scratching your head, that is where we need to start.

Our internet culture has completely redefined how the world functions.  These days, for better or for worse, almost all interactions-from socializing to commerce-occur online. The pioneer users of social media understood it was a fantastical way to create a smoke and mirror effect.  It allowed one to present a completely manufactured persona to the world; most of the time this identity had little or nothing to do with reality.

As time goes on there are ever more ways to sustain a full-time life on the web.  Because of this who we actually are versus who we present ourselves to be has become even
grayer.  This is the core concept of branding. 

A brand is the collective experiences and images consumers associate with a company or an individual.  For the sake of any artisans reading this, let me use the example of a famous artist.  If I say “Andy Warhol” you automatically think of many elements of his career: perhaps his artwork, The Factory, the Velvet Underground, his public antics, or famous quotes.  While we may never be as famous and timeless as Warhol, we should strive to have that tight of an impact on the masses.  Every facet of Warhol’s life and art bleed into one another to create and reiterate a powerful brand. 

The trick is; if you’re offering something to the world, the transaction has to live up to the brand you’ve created. Smoke and mirrors will only get you so far.  There has to be something deeper to keep your customers satisfied and to gain a larger client base.

Think about global companies.  The ones we as consumers think positively about in our current culture are the companies that are working for the betterment of the globe and its inhabitants, right? That’s how companies want to be considered. Consider Starbucks.  When they first expanded, their brand was based on the idea that one could get the dependable experience of a cafĂ© with high-quality products no matter where they went.  But as they drove out independently-owned coffee houses and set up shop on every corner, public enthusiasm began to wane.  Starbucks has reestablished their brand by stressing fair trade, adding healthier options to their menu, and developing a reputation as a caring employer. Even though you are just one individual, you want to create a brand that has positive associations. 

So how does one go about defining one’s brand?

One simple starting point is to create a personal manifesto.  Use these questions to begin:

What can I live with (meaning it isn’t ideal but livable)?
What can I live without (meaning what are you willing to sacrifice)?
What can I not live with (what would be too compromising)?
What can I not live without (absolute necessities for your quality of life)?

These questions define your core values.  They define who you are. You need to establish a sound definition of yourself and else you leave up to the world to define you.

I must stress this again: branding goes well beyond the window dressing of your logo, your color scheme, your online presence and your inventory.  It has to have more substance.  Step number two should be to ask yourself: How am I relevant? What do I have to offer the world?  

Answering the above questions as concisely as possible will not only help you compose your business manifesto, it will guide you in determining what to sell, where to sell it, and how.  It will be the seed that leads to your marketing materials, your social media persona, and most importantly, your product.

A brand is everything you do: your marketing which includes the materials you use for displaying, packaging, and promoting, the events you participate in, how you handle yourself professionally, how you treat others.  All of this has to complement each other to reinforce your business and make you memorable.

The most important thing you need to do is keep your brand visible.  The easiest, most readily available way to know how to get yourself out there is to connect your head and your heart.  Develop your intuition and keep on constant lookout for new opportunities.  Opportunities can be right in front of you.  Start by thinking micro-economically or hyper-locally and expanding from there.