When you think of a brand, two things may come to mind: the symbol used to mark livestock and the symbolic embodiment of a product or service. While the first can put a mark on your cattle and other livestock, the second can mark your business, distinguishing it from all others. You cannot drive down the street, listen to the radio or turn on the television without being bombarded by brands. But what does that mean to most small business owners? If you can’t launch a multi-million dollar branding campaign and become nationally recognized, how can you even play that game?
Like any business, small or large, your firm already has a brand. It may not have been intentional and your brand may not even be what you want… but your law firm is already recognized by its “look” and its “reputation.”
So, what is “branding” anyway? A lot of times it is confused with marketing or even public relations, but it is bigger than that. Branding is the entire process used to define the image (or brand) of your business, which includes both marketing and public relations, and is integrated through your business at every point of contact. The purpose is to create a unique market presence that both attracts new clients but also encourages loyalty.
Branding for a small business can take many shapes but three key points to remember are to have a clear message, differentiate and be consistent.
1. Creating a clear message is the first step to utilizing your brand. This can also be thought of as your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or Competitive Advantage. Create a message that is objective, unique and long-term. The best messages compel prospects to pick you over your competition, so choose your message wisely. A great example of a clear message is Dominos: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less – or it’s free.” If you are having trouble creating your message, try asking your current clients why they hired you. Why YOU think they hired you and why THEY actually hired you can be two completely different reasons, so asking can help you understand your place in the market.
2. Differentiation is a vital part of establishing a successful brand. If a prospect has to choose between you and one of your competitors, what do they draw upon to help them decide? Your brand! It is important to stand out, be different, and claim your competitive advantage. Creating your clear message is a step on the way to differentiating yourself. It is also helpful to know your competition, who are your top competitors? Do you know their competitive advantages or USP’s? If your competition does not have a USP then you are one step ahead. If they do have one, it is important to acknowledge it. Differentiate yourself by making a proposition your competition either cannot or does not offer.
3. Consistency may be the most important element of branding. Every part of your business must reflect your intended message or brand. This includes all employees, advertisements, social media, your website, relations with the media, and many others, but most importantly, interactions with your current and prospective clients. Your differentiated message must be integrated at every point of contact with the public. That means including it on your letterhead, email signature, business cards, your office signage, etc. By doing this you are creating an expectation, and giving your clients something they can rely on. If your actions are not consistently supporting your message clients will become dissatisfied, which will undermine any branding you have done so far.
Small businesses may not have the budget for branding that large corporations have, but that does not mean it should be disregarded. Establish a unique message that differentiates you from your competition then make sure you include it on everything. Do not slack, it is your identity in the market place. Without an identity how will anyone know you exist or where to find you? So remember, branding – it’s not just for livestock – every business should be doing it!
Chelsea Wilson, Member Services and Marketing Administrator
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.