Branding is A Verb: 3 Things You Can “Do” To Turn Your Tiny Biz Into A Beloved Brand

Last Updated 1/12/2018

Branding is not a logo, it’s a verb. An action. Thinking about it that way helps me stay clear about what it really means. Some people will tell you it’s about putting your logo all over everything and sticking to a color palette… but it’s actually everything you do that customers can form an opinion about.

3 things small businesses can do to create a brand people love

As a logo designer, it might seem counterintuitive that I preach “your logo is not your brand” so much.

It isn’t that I don’t think it’s important, it’s that I want my clients to use the design process as an opportunity to get super crystal clear about how they’re going to use branding to get visible with the right people — and that takes clearing up more than a few misconceptions.

Think about it this way:

It’s possible to have a gorgeous, award-winning brand identity system (your logo, biz cards, graphic assets) and still disappoint your customers and have a failed business.

It’s possible to not even have a logo or fancy design and create a business your customers will love so much they’ll tell all their friends about it.

Always remember that your brand is largely determined by people’s experiences. It’s emotional. So the goal is not just to have pretty graphics and call it good, it’s to create an experience people will love.

Design is the promise, it’s up to you to live up to it

Good design sets expectations. It’s the first impression; it aids in memorability and understanding; it can elevate, establish credibility, and even evoke warm and positive feelings. But that’s just the promise… it’s still up to you to live up to it. The term ‘branding’ simply refers to all the actions you take to live up to those expectations.

Every single interaction you have with your customers is an opportunity for you to fulfill your brand promise. Let’s uncover some uncommon ways you can do that:

3 things you can do to create a brand people will love

1. Collect customer feedback

There’s no magical design cure for a bad customer experience — I’ve had clients come to me in desperation to help them fix perceptions and to broaden their customer base, but that’s like changing the packaging on a shitty product: it might create a little bump in sales, but eventually things will go right back to where they were.

Here’s a real conversation that took place with a former client many years ago, a restaurant owner:

Me: “One tactic successful restaurants use is to put customer feedback cards on the table when they present the check. I could design one for you! This way we can get to the heart of what’s going on. What do you think?”
Client: “Oh hell no. That’ll just open up a can of worms … people like  to bitch and complain about everything and I don’t want to deal with that.”

Instead of paying a few hundred bucks to get some customer feedback, they spent $40,000 on a fancy custom bar commissioned by a local artist, tens of thousands more on radio ads and other advertising, spent thousands more building a website and hiring marketers to build up their social media presence. It was a big push: “look at us! remember us! buy from us!”

Meanwhile, their Yelp! page was filled with reviews describing how their food and service had gone downhill, and stories of employees drunk on duty and making scenes and other horrible things.

They were losing customers faster than they were gaining them, and any new customers they acquired as a result of their promotional efforts didn’t become loyal or tell their friends.

Nobody from the restaurant ever addressed any of the disappointed customers or did a single thing to resolve the underlying issues.

Head? Meet sand.

Within a year they were bankrupt and out of business.

If you’re struggling with customer retention or satisfaction, you must focus on fixing that first.

But even if you’re not, or if you’re just starting out, being brave enough to ask your customers for feedback is one of the best things you can do. Whether you like it or not, what they tell you is your brand.

This will not only help you understand how to create an even better experience, it’ll help you gain clarity about your brand by learning about it from their perspective; this will help you hone and perfect your brand message. 

Every time I wrap up a project, I send out a customer survey (I use Google Forms for this – so easy). I ask them:

How satisfied are you with the communication and responsiveness you received working with me?
How satisfied are you with the training and/or guidance you received?
How satisfied are you with the final result of your project?
How likely are you to refer me to others?
What specific area(s) of my service do you feel needs improvement? In what ways might I have made your experience better?
What specific ways, if any, have I helped you or helped you solve a problem?
Any pleasant or unpleasant surprises?
If you’re so inclined, I’d love it if you could write a brief testimonial about your experience.

This may feel a little scary at first, but it’s better to know if something needs improvement 

We’re always so focused on acquiring new customers that we forget to focus on the ones we have. And yet, it’s exponentially easier and cheaper to keep a customer you have than to get a new one.

How can we improve retention? How can we inspire customer loyalty? How can we learn from their experience to improve with the next customer?

The only way to know is to ask them.

The good feedback is just as valuable!

I’m being pretty doom and gloom about this, but what if you get GREAT feedback? It’s important to know that too because what you assume makes your customers love you might be completely different than what the actual reasons are!

Armed with the actual reasons for their positive experience, you can get even further clarity. You even can steal their language and use it to tweak your messaging: “Huh! My customers keep saying I’m intuitive, responsive, and fun — I should use these words so other people know  what they can expect when they work with me!”

2. Behave like everyone’s watching — because they are

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of professionalism in creating your personal brand online. Here are some real statements I’ve heard from business owners in online business and entrepreneur communities:

  • “Don’t worry about people unsubscribing from your list, consider yourself lucky you purged all the leeches who just want free content.”
  • “I can help you get more traffic from Pinterest, feel free to send me an email but only if you’re serious.”
  • “Be firm about your refund policy and don’t over promise, too many people are just out to take advantage of you.”

Now, these may not have been conversations with customers, but thousands of people read those statements because they were posted online. While I can understand why people get cynical, how do you think people perceive these business owners? They’ve made their view of the world, their values, clear: “Customers are not to be trusted.”

And whether they were aware of it or not, they were “branding” an impression on people about what it’s like to work with them. Ain’t no logo in the world gonna fix that y’all!

Be mindful of what you share, what you write, and how you speak. People work with other people, not logos.

This is not to say that you should never have a controversial opinion or express who you are — you absolutely SHOULD. Nobody likes interacting with robotically-professional people who never let their guard down, express a personal opinion, or allow themselves to appear less than perfect — mere mortals like the rest of us.

You can admit mistakes, even failure.
You can admit that you don’t know things.
You can admit that you feel passionately about things, issues, and causes personally.

People dig it when you’re authentic and vulnerable. My point is to just be mindful about it.

Here’s an example in my own business. It’s no secret that I’m pretty passionate about progressive politics. It’s not relevant in my business so I don’t post political things on my business Facebook page or anything like that, but anybody following me on Twitter will soon find out. I’m okay with that. I made a conscious decision to be okay with that. I don’t flood my Twitter account with political posts because it’s used mostly for business, but I’m not afraid of alienating people with my opinions either.

Over the years I’ve worked with people who share very different views, and I think that’s great! So long as there’s mutual respect there’s no problem. However, as a result of my decision to be open about my beliefs, I’ve attracted MOSTLY progressive clients. This means I get to be involved in work that really lights me up — whether that’s political action, social causes, or just working with amazing people who share my view the world.

As a solo professional, what I post on social media from my personal accounts and business accounts is different, but I’m my brand. I’m super aware that there’s no separating that.

In the examples above, “customers are not to be trusted” probably isn’t how those people would describe their brand values.

For me, progressive is who I am, and working with clients I like personally has always been important to me. So, sharing my beliefs and being authentic is purposeful. I attract the right people to me. Am I turning off potential clients? Probably. Don’t care, they’re not my people.

The point is to be mindful. You never know who’s watching.

3. Be aware of micro-interactions, they really add up

What lacks in a lot of our business interactions these days is humanity — we don’t have time for it, we’re all too busy shouting for attention.

As a result, people have forgotten good old-fashioned manners: they forget that there are other people on the receiving side of every interaction, no matter how small.

I call these “micro-interactions” — things like:

Responding to a comment left on one of your Tweets
Replying to an email even if you don’t stand to gain anything from it, just leaving people hanging
Saying “thank you” when somebody answers a question or gives you a moment of their time to do something on your behalf

You might say “I don’t have time for all that, do you know how much time that would eat up?” If you’ve got so many people engaging with you that you don’t have time for a simple, “Thanks!” then you’re probably doing so well in your business you can hire someone to help you out.

Billions of these tiny interactions happen online every day and people don’t expect all that much anymore. And therein lies the opportunity to stand out. Be the person who doesn’t just push one-way messages and ignore what’s coming back to them. Be the person who approaches others with appreciation and respect.

Automation tools — if you use them, but you’re not monitoring to see whether there are live human beings engaging with you — you’re just broadcasting. And what a pity, because you’re missing a lot of opportunity to create real connections.

Here’s the thing: You never know when somebody’s on the other end thinking, “Gee, they seemed so great, but they ignored me, so I’m not going to…

Share their content
Connect with them on social
Sign up for their email
Recommend them to others
Hire them

You just never know. 

On the other hand, when you’re a real human and you take a minute to engage, you’ll create an even stronger bond with that person. Recently I read a great book and sent a DM to the author on Twitter to tell her how it inspired me. A couple of weeks went by and no response and it didn’t mean much, that’s how it is these days. (Sometimes it feels like, “Hello?! Is anybody out there!?” amirite?)  Eventually she got back to me with a brief and sweet message, “That’s so great to hear Taughnee! Here’s to a great 2018.”

Her investment in the 5 seconds it took her to read and respond to my message means I’m now more likely to remember her and recommend her book to others. Cha-ching. $

I feel more warmly about her now than other people I’ve sent messages to with no response — those people I just forget about. My feelings were reinforced that she’s legit, professional, human, authentic. That feeling? That’s her brand. Get it?

Capture Every Opportunity

It’s hard out there to get visibility, so we have to constantly be on the lookout for ways we can do it a little better, a little differently than how everyone else is doing it. Little things matter — empathy, listening, what we say and all of our micro-interactions  You become a beloved brand when you care about your customers’ experience and respect the people around you; branding is just demonstrating that in everything you do. 

Designing your brand identity system is an opportunity to get clear about your brand promise. Work with me to create a one-of-a-kind logo and I’ll guide you through the process.

#Branding is a verb: Learn 3 things you can
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