“What do you do?”
“I own a coffee shop.”
“Oh, that’s cool.”
The small talk continued for a few minutes as we both sat at the airport bar waiting for connecting flights. Then this little gem came about when my bar mate said: “I’m on my way to Guatemala. I source my coffee beans from a little coop of smaller coffee growers. It’s amazing. I get quality coffee beans and they make more for their families than they would through other options to sell their harvest. They really care about quality and my customers care about where their coffee comes from.”
What?! There is a huge difference between “I own a coffee shop” and “I help small-scale, Central American farmers get their amazing coffee to my customers, who love coffee and care about where it comes from.” There are thousands of people who own coffee shops, but few who do it this way…or few who have at least learned to talk about it effectively. This process of defining the why of your business and being able to effectively communicate that keeps most small businesses from moving beyond the continual hunt for leads. This is the essence of your brand and is what differentiates you from the rest.
Finding your business’ unique story isn’t always as easy as this, but it is absolutely essential to define your purpose before moving on to marketing and social media strategies. Far too often, small businesses spend both time and money on the quest for more leads or customers without first defining why those customers should choose them in the first place. This is known as your brand and messaging architecture.
Branding for many people means the look and feel of your logo, product packaging or website. That’s all important, but your brand identity is much more than that. Writing a good mission statement is a good first step, even before all that other stuff. A well-thought-out mission statement doesn’t just tell customers what you do, but gives them an idea of the values behind your products. Let’s say you make handmade jewelry. Simply stating this is no different than, “I own a coffee shop.” But “I craft minimalist jewelry using recycled materials that women can wear from the office to a night on the town” tells potential customers not only that you make jewelry but that it is sustainable, minimal, and flexible for wear. That image must flow through all your messaging and advertising.
Next, think about the experience you want people to have with your company and products. Do you want their experience to be fun? Hassle free? Stylish? Write down some adjectives that describe this experience. This will help you align your advertising, social media, blogs, and other content to keep consistency in how you want to be known and remembered. Don’t do this alone. Ask your customers how they feel about your company and products or services. They can provide vital insights.
Finally, spend time looking at your competitors, not so you can copy what works for them, but so you can differentiate yourself. Doing this research is super important. What makes your service or product different (notice I didn’t say better, although that may be part of it)? Can you explain that difference? Keep in mind you may have to help educate customers so they understand. This education is an excellent use of your social media channels. For example, rather than talking about how you use a different installation method, talk about the problems that method fixes.
In the end, it’s okay to get help. A PR or branding expert can help you refine your brand image and messaging, help you position yourself as an expert, and guide you with finding the issues and values your customers find important. All of this will focus your business’ purpose and quest for success.