By David McGorry
Every business is a brand. It doesn’t matter if you are a Fortune 500 company, a one person consulting firm or a family owned business. Although this sometimes presents challenges, managing a business as a brand enables any company to build emotional bonds with customers that can make them more successful.
So how can regional and family owned businesses in the Hudson Valley take advantage of branding tools and strategies that often give national chains and global companies a competitive edge?
Well despite the marketing advantages major brands have at their disposal, local businesses can establish themselves as brands and leverage branding strategies to attract and retain customers. Local businesses that do this well can protect their customer base and establish a solid platform for growth.
So how do local businesses build and manage their brand? If you haven’t done this already, take some time alone, with your partners or with key members of your staff to define a broader purpose for your business. The purpose needs to reach beyond what you sell to identify the deepest level of value you provide to customers. If you are a local insurance agency, are you just there to write policies or do your customers come to you because no matter what their insurance needs are, they trust you to ensure they and their families are protected in any type of emergency.
If you run a family restaurant, do you want to be known for just serving great food in a nice atmosphere or would you rather become the place your customers trust to help them celebrate the most momentous and memorable events of family life? A restaurant that delivers at this higher level earns a place in the family album and more important, a powerful word-of-mouth recommendation to the customer’s family and friends.
Branding a business used to be about distinctive logos, consistent design and catchy advertising followed up with a great product. Those things are still important, but equally as important today is the experience a customer has with your business. Can they trust you to deliver an experience that consistently satisfies or exceeds their needs every time they do business with your company?
Successful brands leverage every component of their customer’s experience to differentiate their business. And, the easiest way of finding out which parts of the experience are most differentiating is to learn from the customers. For many small companies that do not have budgets for formal research there are still many ways to learn.
There is no cheaper and better way to learn how your customers feel than just by talking to them. Ask them how they are, if they are getting everything they need and if there is anything else they would like you to do for them. Even a complaining customer can provide valuable information. They can help you identify a problem and resolve it. The worst case is a customer that just goes elsewhere and you never hear about the problem.
While listening to your unhappy customers is valuable, you can also learn from your best and happiest customers. It is through them that you can learn the most attractive things about your brand. They can help you design the most ideal customer experience and you can work to make that real for every customer.
Social media provides opportunities for local businesses to learn about their customers and find ways to build better client relationships. Businesses can track Twitter comments about their company and their competitors to learn what customers like best and least about their experiences with both.
Social media also creates opportunities to market your business. A local liquor store established a twitter feed and grew their follower base to the point where they could offer impromptu sales to their most loyal customers. They used Twitter in extremely bad weather to let customers know they would be closing early. Location, hours, any part of the customer experience is an opportunity to differentiate your business.
Today all businesses are brands. This can be challenging but if you are able to define a higher purpose and build a deeper relationship with your customers a local business can leverage this to differentiate themselves from even their biggest com-petitors.
David McGorry lives in Fishkill, NY with his wife and two daughters. He worked for IBM for 29 years as a brand and naming consultant and works nowas an independent brand strategist and naming consultant.