Two examples of companies who have got it spectacularly right are Apple and Google. The former’s reputation – fostered by the visionary genius of Steve Jobs – for an obsessive dedication to building cool products is a compelling one. The Apple brand – regularly voted the “coolest” on Earth – has an appeal that goes well beyond just what the company’s gadgets do.
Google is a company whose primary business is very techy. Few of us have the faintest clue how a search engine actually works. There are dozens of them, but Google dominates, accounting for 71% of global searches. Its brand stands out as much for the company’s image of Californian hipsters rollerblading to work and scoffing ice cream in the Googleplex as the way the thing actually works.
While both of these brands may seem a world away from the average British SME, they can offer salutary lessons in how to get it right. Both made full use of technology to build their brands – from the internet to social media. You should too.
The basic building block of your brand – and in practice the first thing you set up as you start trading – is your website.
This should encapsulate your brand – who you are, what you do, why you’re so great at it and what sets you apart from the competition. But don’t just use your site as a platform to set out your stall and flog your service!
You should include sections that will be useful to visitors – free information and advice. By building trust with people this way you are likely to turn them into customers, but also get them to think of your company as a brand, not just a faceless supplier of goods or services.
Don’t overlook the all-important practice of search engine optimisation. The best-looking site in the world is useless if no-one finds it! Think about what terms your potential clients are searching for and ensure your site is optimised for them.
Social media is a word that we hear constantly, yet many business owners still feel uncomfortable “doing” social media. We’re always hearing about social media’s ability to build brands – but it’s not enough to set up a Facebook page and send a few tweets.
Social media is a great way to connect with potential and existing customers, build a network of fans and humanise your brand. So don’t just tweet your latest offers – engage people by commenting on the news and weighing in on what’s trending.
Once your business has succeeded in bulking up your virtual Rolodex – either twitter followers, or better still, customers – you should ensure offer one key thing: consistently great customer service.
Keep your customers happy by offering them honesty, professionalism and reliability – but use email / your website to get their feedback. Even if only a small proportion respond, this information is vital to helping you improve the customer experience.
Finally, consider using partnerships to reach your target market. Buddying up with businesses who share your target market but are not competitors is a great way to grow you business online. You can provide links to each other’s site to create a community of useful suppliers/contacts.
The other thing to remember as you build your brand is that much of the expertise you need to grow your business is available – online! While you should focus on your core competencies – ie doing what you do best – many essential business functions can be outsourced online. Some specialist skills like PR, web design, tax or book keeping are best left to professionals who can take a load off your hands, and leave you to concentrate on building your brand.
John Hoskin is a director of CleverAccounts.com, an online accountancy offering small businesses access to comprehensive accountancy and tax planning services for a low (and fixed) monthly fee.