Starting your own business requires developing your own brand.
When I say “brand”, you’re likely imagining a logo, taglines, fonts, or colors, like Coca-cola and their polar bears. Maybe you’re thinking about Taco Bell’s “Live Mas” campaign, purple and yellow and orange marketing materials, and their stucco building with a drive-thru.
You’ve just conflated “brand” with “branding”.
Branding: the tangible marketing aspects of a business – the logo, the colors, the typography, the taglines.
Brand: the story that your customers create about you and your business based on their experiences (with you, specifically, and with life, in general).
Branding doesn’t often make you think about your small business, your products or services, and how your customer perceives them. Worse, you’re probably not thinking about how your specific business with its specific products and services fills the particular needs of a select group of people. All businesses develop branding over time, and the way to make sure the brand you create is one that makes you money is to ask yourself three simple questions.
1. Who are your customers?
The first marketing mistake most small business owners make is trying to market to everyone, as if their customer is anyone with a wallet and a pulse. Not getting specific enough with your target customer and target market, and how you market to them, is a common point of failure.
It sounds nice in practice – and by no means am I suggesting you unquestioningly turn down money because a customer who is not in your target demographic decides to buy from you – but the reality is that most people are likely not to really care about what you’re selling. It might not be the right fit for them. They might not know that their problem exists. Or they might be thinking of their problem/need in a different context than the kind of solution you’re offering. If you’re targeting “anyone with a wallet”, it means you’re spending time and money marketing to people who will never be interested. To put a real price on this, imagine your hourly rate. Now imagine walking through the mall and stopping random strangers to discuss your business. What kind of response would you get? Would most care? Would most walk away?
Now imagine if you knew that your target customer was tween girls about to get their ears pierced for the first time. Knowing that you can effectively camp out in front of Claire’s or another store with that demographic, rather than say – GameStop or Yankee Candle (or just randomly roaming the halls) – allows you to better leverage your time and efforts.
There are naturally exceptions. Coca-cola spends a lot of money on marketing to basically everyone, but they are not the rule. While there are things to learn about their processes (like how to effectively manage a supply chain), trying to emulate Coca-cola is a losing strategy for most small businesses
The best way to leverage your time effectively is to figure out who your customers are specifically – by imagining one. You might know your “target market” is college students. But “college students” and “has a wallet” aren’t all that far off from each other in terms of specificness. Not all college students are stoners, but maybe your target customers are a little bit stoned. And maybe they have an average of $5 to $10 on them at any given time. And stay up late. And have a lot of things battling for their attention. Consider Taco Bell’s advertising. Lots of cheese and meat and crunchy things. “Fourth Meal” for late night visits. A dollar menu. Open till 3AM. A talking Chihuahua and other humor mixed in (the quips on the sauce packets, for instance).
Do any of those things make you think 40-something, red-tie wearing business manager power lunch?
No way. Not Taco Bell’s target market, not their target customer.
Which leads us to question number two:
2. What are your customers’ needs?
So you know who your customers are. Now you have to figure what their needs are.
Just like Taco Bell in the example above, your target customer has needs and desires – but they’re “coded” in the context of their environment and lifestyle. A college student needs to eat; many college dorms have meal plans. Food is food, right?
This is where “anyone with a wallet” thinking breaks down. Taco Bell isn’t the best food on earth, but it is a status symbol for college students who have a little money to spend. (Odd that the same exact object in the hands of, say, someone who just fell off the Weight Watchers bandwagon, is an entirely different status symbol).
So why should your target customers buy from you?
Don’t stop at “they need my product”. That’s too vague. What do your customers struggle with? What problems do they have that you can solve? Are they aware of those problems? What language do they use to talk about those problems? Is it the same language you use? Do you need to teach your customers about the problem to make the solution more valuable?
Think about how big their budget is. What resources do your customers have available with them when it comes time to purchase? What mindset will they be in? Where will they be? What will they do afterward? What were they doing just before deciding to give you their credit card number?Really think about the people who would need to buy your product. Once you can clearly articulate who they are, how they live, and what they feel, you will begin to know how to market to them.
3. How do you fulfill your customers’ needs?
The final step is to figure out how you fulfill your customer’s needs. You’ve thought about your customers. You know what their interests are and how they live, what age bracket they fall into, what sort of a budget they have, and what sorts of problems they face. You have an understanding of why they need your product and how they talk about their problems. Now comes the fun part. You get to connect the dots: “How do I fulfil the specific needs of my customers?”
The answer isn’t always apparent, especially with disruptive products or services. Nobody needed roller blades until they saw a neighbor speeding around the neighborhood. Humans survived for millennia without refrigerators, but now there’s one in every home. That didn’t happen overnight, but through a long, winding education of a customer base and slow changes in lifestyle.
You have to match your product or services to the needs of your customer in the context they’ll understand and respond to them.
If you have a health food company, you might want to play the guilt card – staying healthy for the sake of your customer’s family. Or you might want to focus on making them feel healthier, more energetic, or allow them to sleep better.
If you’re a plumber, you want people to know that when an emergency happens with their pipes, you will be there to make it all better. Your marketing has to speak to trust, and you have to be memorable – the context your customer will be in when they call you is a 3AM emergency. Or unshowered, irritated, and commuting to work. If you’re a landscaper, you want your customers to use their weekend for relaxing and leave the landscaping up to you. No more hours spent toiling in your garden when there are football games to watch, and mountains to climb! The landscapers will do it for you! (This requires that your services are actually, you know, relaxing and not anxiety-inducing – knick a gas line and you’ve destroyed your brand for this customer).
Once you’ve done understand how to match your offers to the needs of your customers, you can go beyond building your brand and into shaping experiences, which we will go over in the next blog.
Having a trouble formulating a strategy? Contact us for a consultation with Howdy Neighbor Marketing. We’ll help you figure out the best way to go.