1. What are your best tips for developing your brand image?
I think you have to first identify your target consumer group and know exactly what their wants and needs are before you can brand your company. Because properly researching your market allows you to understand what is most important to them and how you can fulfill those desires.
So market research and branding go hand in hand. For example, Zappos knew through market research that their largely female consumer group craved a much satisfactory customer experience than they were getting from online shoe companies, so they put a premium on empowering their customer service reps to process discounts, sales, free returns and refunds without obtaining supervisory approval. Zappos quickly branded itself as the most customer-friendly shoe company in the industry.
2. Any best practices SMBs should be aware of?
I think your website design is a huge part of branding for SMBs, simply because you don’t have the luxury of a huge marketing budget the way some of the larger companies have, so your site has to pop. Spend time and money on a website that immediately conveys your company’s culture and the niche you are trying to occupy in your industry.
Then as always, I think your blog has to offer content that is valuable, entertaining and actionable, because outstanding content stamps your authority and builds trust, two major components of effective branding.
And you have to be really active on social media platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram, where consumers interact and engage with companies.
3. How can they decide whether or not they need a partner?
I think brand managers can be useful, but it really depends on the marketing budget and needs of a company. SMBs that are working in very narrow or specific niches may need a partner to help brand their company because there is some type of expertise involved in the products and services that they are offering. SMBs that are working in broader categories in which products and services are more mainstream should seek a partner if their analytics are showing that their branding strategy is lagging.
4. What are your tips for choosing that professional partner?
Choose a brand manager who knows your company culture, products, and services, but most importantly, your customers. Because branding is largely about how your targeted market perceives your company, and if you don’t hire a brand manager who understands your consumer group, it won’t work.