Many business owners know the importance of branding and how it not only increases profit margins but also market share. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the main reason that many small business owners do not actively brand their companies is the myth of high costs.
While cost can be a factor, the proliferation of social media has now leveled the playing field. In cyberspace, a small café in the heart of Chinatown has the same chance as Starbucks to be on page 1 of Google or Yahoo! Having a big advertising budget no longer guarantees you prime advertising space. In the era of social media, all else being equal, social media know-how and ideas is the strategic edge to effective branding.
At the risk of over simplification, branding addresses the question of why someone should choose your company over your competitor. In other words, what is your company’s unique selling proposition (USP)?
It is important to note that some USPs are inherent in the product/ service, while others are created in the minds of the target audience. For example, having the “fastest processer” is an inherent USP (Intel), while being seen as the “must have gadget” (Apple) is a created USPs. Both USPs are equally strong when done well.
For Singapore small business owners interested in branding themselves, the following are three steps you can take:
Step 1: Identify Your USP
The first and most important step in selecting a USP is to answer the question of why someone should buy your product or service over your competitor.
As a guide, whatever USP you choose, it must be compelling – if not, it is not a USP. Common USP includes newness, performance, customization, design and usability, reduced cost, reduced risk, convenience and status.
Step 2: Develop Your Theme And Messages
Once you have decided on your USP, the next step is to develop a communications strategy. Generally, Themes are the over-arching idea/concept which the company wants the target audience to conclude, while messages are individual pieces of information which the company uses to "build" the Theme in the target audience’s minds.
Themes are therefore never directly communicated but are deduced by the target audience. So, for example, if your USP is that your product is the best in Singapore, you will not come out and say you are the best. Instead, a more effective strategy is for you to communicate that you have an A-list clientele and you have won numerous industry awards and accolades.
Step 3: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
With your communications plan developed, the next step is to continually communicate your USP. As research has shown that 90% of all buying decisions now involve some form of online search, small businesses that actively brand themselves on social media have as good a chance as the big boys.
Continual communication is important as it not only takes time for your target audience to “get” your theme, but continual communications keeps you top of the mind. The latter is important as opportunities may arise and if the prospective client does not even think of you, you will never have a chance at the deal.
In summary, I believe that branding is no longer limited to big companies with big budgets. Any company that (a) has a computer with access to the internet; (b) has the social media know-how; and (c) has creative ideas, can now effectively brand themselves.
Justin Fong, Principal Consultant at CW Fong & Associates.
CW Fong & Associates (CWFA) is a management consultancy that specializes in helping Singapore SMEs with their communication needs. Established in 2011, Justin and his team has consulted with close to 50 local and regional SMEs and assisted them to develop and implement branding strategies leveraging on social media. CWFA’s clientele includes multiple MNCs and government agencies, and also local celebrities for reputation management.
Justin can be reached at Justin@cwfongandassociates.com.