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Shireen Qudosi

How Small Businesses Can Build an Online Brand

May 04 2011, 11:38 AM by

Many small business owners think that if they’re internet-based they don’t need to worry about presentation in the same way as they would if they had a physical store front.

Wrong.
You Are Already Online
First, all businesses are internet-based. Whether you have an e-commerce or a physical store front, you have to consider that most clients will look you up on the internet before they offer you their business. You have an internet presence whether or not you like it. So the question is, what type of internet presence do you have and what is this presence saying about your brand? Remember that the goal of any brand is to attract customer loyalty and generate repeat users.

Your brand is your image and in an online world your image becomes critical. Your brand will make an impression on tens of thousands of people before you ever meet them. What do these masses think of you? If you’re getting the web traffic but not the conversion, the problem is very likely that your business is failing to convey a strong brand.

Consider your brand message. What is it about your company that you want to share with prospective customers? You should be able to relay your core message in under one sentence if not just a couple of catch words and phrases. Think about what your business offers that others don’t, or how you do it better, and there you have your message.

When most people think of brands, they think of Nike, Coca-Cola or other high end clearly visible labels. Those labels didn’t just pop into mainstream attention overnight; they were built from the ground up just like your brand will be. Luckily for you, branding confines were broken down the minute the internet, media and social media were introduced in the marketing arena. With glass ceilings shattered, even the smallest business can reach out and compete as aggressively as heavyweight brands. How? Simply by using the same formula that larger, more established brands use now - and then adding in a dose of creativity.
Crafting Your Website
Your business needs a site – a virtual stop for customers to do business with you and learn more about you. But just having a webpage isn’t enough; you have to consider the ins and outs of your website and how it plays into your brand. Consider the following:
 
Is your purpose clearly defined? Does every page on your website have a message and a meaningful call to action? Understand your customers and what they want and you’ll begin to get a clearer picture of your brand and whether you’re headed in the right direction.
Does your website design reflect your brand? Think color palates, visuals and key text. Remember that design and functionality go hand in hand; have one without the other and you’ve instantly lost your branding impact.
How user friendly is your website? Some people have slow internet connections, some can’t install a Flash plug-in, for others the alignment may be off or they may not be able to view the images. Not keeping these factors in mind means that you’re likely to lose customers/readers that don’t have the patience for a mismanaged page or slow mobile uploads due to heavy image content.
Put Social Media to Work
Diversify your brand’s presence by using channels beyond just your website. The go-to solution is social media. When you consider that even big name brands like Coca-Cola are now primarily focusing their branding and outreach efforts through Facebook, it becomes pretty clear how important it is to leverage this tool to share your brand experience with your customers. Use social media to show you’re relevant, build a following and listen and interact with your customers. Your brand isn’t just about a product or service anymore; it’s about a positive, rewarding user experience. Use social media to also evaluate your competition in addition to leveraging dialogue for customer feedback.
Have a Voice…and Share it
All brands have a voice. They have a message and something to offer their customers. The best way to give your brand a voice is through a blog. Use a blog platform embedded within your website to offer your customers news and updates on your brand and to share relevant information that caters to your customers' needs. Remember, your brand should offer them something they can connect with; online marketing is about them, not you.
Form Valuable Partnerships and Associations
Strengthen your brand by creating valuable partnerships and associations with like-minded but not conflicting groups and businesses. Form partnerships with neighboring businesses that allow you to host mutually beneficial events that draw in the crowds. I know a local chiropractor that has built a successful business out of this practice. By linking herself with events at local high end beauty and fine wine/food venues, she’s elevated her practice beyond just health and toward an association with luxury and leisure. Her brand is not just about chiropractic health care; it’s now about getting pampered. With these strategic associations, she’s managed to associate chiropractics with luxury.

Beyond these tips, remember to take advantage of face-to-face time with customers through newsletters, thereby continuing to present and reinforce your brand to your core audience. It’s not enough to just have a brand - you have to remind your customers of its relevance in their lives.

Posted in Online Branding

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