Why the hell should small businesses even care about brand?

Brand is something most people have an understanding of — Heinz, Apple, Ford, Nike, Sony. Just about everyone knows the value of a brand name and the perception of others towards you when you invest in those brands. But what about your own brand, and does it even make sense to talk about your own business brand when you’re a small business?

The rules that apply to the Ford’s and Apple’s of this world also apply to your local plumber, joiner and electrician. Recently, I wrote about the 10 personal branding habits of the professionals, which has been a very successful article, one that clearly resonates with a lot of businesses around the world. However, it’s not the rules that separate the large businesses from the smaller ones, but the words, phrases and terminology; big businesses are much more likely to have university educated marketeers who’re up on all the current business parlance. As for the small business? It’s all buzz words and jargon to them.

The cult of personality marketing

Over on Marketing Donut, a growing business services and advice web magazine, a title caught my eye — “I’m a small business – why do I need a brand?” It’s a good question. It’s also a very good article, too!

For the most part, talking about brand with small businesses is just confusing and stirs up more questions than it answers. However, the advice offered here in the above article is precisely the kind I offer to my clients, which makes the whole thing much more understandable to the plumbers, joiners and electricians of this world.

Oftentimes, the client will reply by saying: “Oh, so this is like a brand name, yeah?” So I find it’s better to let them make that connection, rather than me try and place it there. At that point, brand isn’t this big thing, but something they can not only get a fix on and pursue as a function of their own marketing, succeeding by the sheer weight of their own personality.

It’s easy to think of marketing, or any kind of promotional activity, as being external to you and your business, as if there’s no physical connection between the two. But that’s what brand is essentially all about; bridging the perception of your business with the business itself. In reality, you become the very essence of your marketing.

But even this sounds contrived and lofty, when for the most part a smile, a disarming joke, a professional approach to work and a little honesty are all hallmarks of someone who’s likely to do well from word-of-mouth marketing. And at that point, their brand begins to grow and grow.

Out there, all over the country, thousands of plumbers, car mechanics, joiners, painters, decorators and electricians have thriving local trades, all of which are directly attributable to them marketing themselves through their personalities.

The brand performance curve

I’ve found is that smaller businesses often feel a greater benefit from an improved brand image than larger more established businesses, with the plumber being a good example; you really wouldn’t expect your local plumber to have professionally designed and printed business cards, would you?

So that one thing makes a statement which implies someone who is established and professional enough to put their name to their service. Immediately, the perception of that business is lifted high above their competitors. But for the larger more established businesses, the effort required for differentiation is measurably more difficult. Why? Because it is expected that larger businesses have business cards, compliment slips, headed paper and envelopes, pretty girls answering telephone calls in plush office receptions, account handlers wearing crisp suits and wide smiles —here, differentiation demands extraordinary people making extraordinary effort because these businesses have ridden their brand performance up and over the curve and are now coasting along the plateau.

Do you still care about your brand?

You should. But I wouldn’t get too hung up about it, either. Many business people recognize their deficiencies, so if you can see where you’re going wrong, you’re already on the road to a remedy. That said, knowing that little changes can lead to better things for your small business, perhaps you ought to think big!

10 personal branding habits of the professionals

One of the many keys to success is habitual professionalism. So I’m going to explore ten personal branding and brand management habits of the professionals.

As I see it, the number one goal of personal branding, brand identity building and brand management on the web is to make your name synonymous with a certain phrase, or a collection of phrases which you feel best represent you and what you do — which I alluded to in my previous article on brand building.

Personal Branding and Brand Management

If you’re serious about personal branding and brand management, here’s ten things you’ll see the professionals doing:

  1. Comments are your calling cards. Be sure to use these as an opportunity to draw the focus of the ‘blog post towards your comments. Make sure you drop in a relevant link to an article of yours in the URL field. That way, you’re not just making a statement, you’re opening the door for bringing the dialogue to your own ‘blog article. A word of caution here: misuse of this idea is essentially comment spam. If you’re going to comment, then make sure you’re adding value to the article you’re commenting on, or don’t do it at all, OK?
  2. Think and act like a professional. Don’t get drawn into heated debates, unless you’re sure you can do so without just throwing away your dignity and losing some serious credibility into the bargain. As I’ve discovered — much to my amusement — I’m both a contrarian and a conflict writer. Don’t be afraid of contradicting or correcting someone, but be damn sure that you’re right and you’re not going to annoy and antagonize people in the process.
  3. Have a theme? Well stick to it! You don’t see too many truly successful general ‘blogs. Most might start that way, but as those few that stick around longer than twelve months will attest to, some trimming of the excess fat inevitably takes place. The web rewards those that carve out their own niche. Working within a niche and becoming an authority within that niche is better than being one voice amongst many in a crowded room.
  4. Be seen, be known. Remember what I said about your comments of other people’s ‘blogs? Right, well there’s other places you ought to be hangin’ out, too. There are some notable social web venues up and down the internet superhighway, and you need to make a few well-chosen stops along the way. But choose wisely; don’t just sign up for every social network there is. Doing so will be an over-commitment on your part and you’ll be spread too thinly. Begin small, but think big and long-term, then work outwards from there.
  5. Don’t be afraid to sing your own praise. To begin with, few people will know of you, who you are or what you do — so you need to be seen. If you’ve had some recent successes (strong linkage from a major website or ‘blog, high praise from a client or a notable mention in a publication) then talk about it. Better yet, create you own media page, like the one here on Octane. Use that one success as a driver to help you with the next one, wherever that may come from.
  6. Be consistent with your image. Every blog post, every comment, every instant message, every email. If you feel that you’ve got a ‘house style’ then apply that style wherever you go. Some may like your style, others may loathe it, but for me, that’s where you want to be. I’d rather have a load of people hating and praising me, than have just a few think that I’m all right.
  7. Be an opportunist. If news breaks on a story that’s very much local to your topic of choice, make a move and get your thoughts / opinions / ideas out there first. However, be sure to put the emphasis on quality and not speed. There’s no point being the first out there if all you’re doing is saying: “Hi!” Sometimes, it’s a well to be fashionably late. Over time, as your name spreads, those that know you will wait. Additionally, being bad-mouthed could be a chance to make friends and influence people. Charm the pants off them, schmooze, cajole and you might just win them over.
  8. Get a ‘blog and get ahead! ‘Blogs routinely outrank websites on the search engines for a number of key reasons. The main reasons are that a typical ‘blog has a constant stream of ever-changing content, there are a great number of out-bound links to other sources, and there’s usually a community of people commenting on your articles. In addition to this, make sure people can do things with your articles. By that I mean make sure you have some way of syndicating your articles, either by a newsletter or from an RSS feed, sharing with friends via email or sharing on a social network.
  9. Be seen, be known .. be available. So you’ve got your audience, you’ve got some notoriety, but you’re aloof! Someone might catch a quick comment exchange with you occasionally, but that’s usually it. Make sure people can contact you. What you’ll have noticed is that some of these suggestions are about being a shameless self-promotional whore. As bad as that might sound to you, you’re going to be competing with people who may have less moral and ethical restraints than yourself, so you need an edge.
  10. Be yourself. To make this kind of thing work, there are a few prerequisites, which I hope I’ve covered above. But there’s one prerequisite to rule them all. It’s there when you’re commenting on ‘blogs. It’s there when you’re talking to someone and explaining yourself to them for the first time. It’s even there when things go wrong and you make that graceful recovery. That quality, that essential personal ingredient is charisma.

Success rarely comes to you, and even trying to meet it half way often isn’t enough. As for me, well, I’m still fighting the good fight, and I know what I need to be doing. Hopefully, after reading this little lot, you do too.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “10 Personal Branding habits of the pros

Manage personal brand like a porn star

There’s a lot being said about personal branding, and brand management. Turning your name and your message into a brand and an identity are key to recognition, respect, status and possibly even fame, and dare I say it, the path to fortune? And those kings & queens of personal branding would be?

Well porn stars, of course! But before we get all personal, we need to get, well .. personal, actually.

We’ve all heard people describe themselves as “rock stars”, “experts” and “pros”. But the fact of the matter is, they don’t get to ascribe such notable attributes — we do, assuming those people even deserve such epithets.

Details aside, the goal is to make your name synonymous with what you do. It’s about finding the right person. It’s about the ‘S’ word. We’re talkin’ specificity, baby!

So if you were looking for Wayne Smallman, then the chances are, I’d be at the top of that list. Or at least I hope so, anyway.

Personal Branding & Brand Management by ‘blogging

The goal of personal branding and brand management is to make your name synonymous with a certain phrase, usually the very thing you think you’re good at, or what you do.

For a porn star, that’s easy. If you’re Jenna Jameson, or some other sex star .. not that I know all that many (ahem!) then she’s going to be pretty happy if she gets Joe Blogs (no pun intended) finding her website on Google with the phrase: “nekkid female pornstar” or something similar.

For thee & me, the correlation needs to be similar to that, though for topics much more mundane, but maybe not any less colourful.

For me specifically, it might be a little more intangible, since I have an angle; over on the Blah, Blah! Technology blog, I take an irreverent sideways glance at technology. I rarely concern myself with the minutia of the technology, because there’s usually a ton of people out there doing that.

Wayne Smallman is all about technology trends and technology news. I look for the story behind the news. I look for the human angle to the technology. Or, I prognosticate with oft contrived predications about where technology is leading us.

While here on the Octane blog, I impart practical business advice in the guise of a story or an allegory.

If you’re a ‘blogger and you’re keen to build your own personal brand, then you’re going in the right direction, and Darren Rowse has some ideas on personal branding from a ‘blog:

“My own philosophy on personal branding is that it needs to be approached on two fronts – a big picture and a little picture one. On a big picture front one needs to think about the larger ‘picture’ that you’re wanting to paint of yourself. You might do this by thinking about the words that you want associated with your name for example. So someone like Guy Kawasaki you might associate the word ‘entrepreneur’ or Michael Arrington it might be ‘Web 2.0’”

That’s the bigger picture, which links in nicely with what I was harpin’ on about. But then it’s the smaller scale where the wheels can come off:

“On a smaller picture / micro level I think bloggers need to consider that every action that they take has the ability to add to or subtract from their personal brand: Every Blog Post, Every Comment, Every Instant Message, Every Email…”

Which could easily read: every indiscretion, every moment of weakness, every angry tirade, every snipe, criticism and moment of pretense.

So this is a question of managing your personal brand, which is about manipulating people’s perceptions of you, nudging their ideas of you towards something akin to your own view and opinion of yourself.

You’re basically looking to create your very own Reality Distortion Field, just like Mr. Steven P. Jobs.

Always remember that the search engines don’t lie, or at least not knowingly. So those indiscretions, moments of weakness and angry tirades will be squirreled away somewhere in the dark, dank, cold recesses of some cache store, waiting to be discovered.

Sometimes, the perception people have of you is so shot through, it’s just too tempting to walk away and leave well alone. Start afresh, maybe?

Even in times such as these, it’s a chance to attack the negativity surrounding your personal brand head-on and turn that sudden infamous notoriety into an opportunity, which Neil Patel over at QuickSpout explains:

“When people start slandering your name your gut reaction is probably to ignore it and hope it dies down. The problem with this approach is that it can lead to people that don’t even know you looking at you in a negative way. Instead of just ignoring the problem you should respond to them in an apologetic fashion and let them know you are listening to them and trying to fix the problem or issue that they have brought up. By doing this you are letting people know that you are listening which might start changing their perception.

If you have had people slandering your name in the past and you ignored it, go back and respond. It is never too late to try and fix your name.”

You cannot control what people think of you, but you can influence the variables a little, influencing their perception. Be hands-on and tweak, so to speak.

Want to build brand? Give them something to remember you by!

The porn stars are usually a generous lot .. again, not speaking from any personal experience. This is all accumulated knowledge gleaned from my more broadly-travelled nephews. No, honest!

The porn stars want your money. It’s that simple. And to get your credit card details flung over the electronic ether into their merchant bank accounts, they usually flash their white bits through the odd short video clip, or in a small selection of images. It’s the old Loss Leader trick. Very much tried & tested.

So the question is: what are your white bits? Where are they? And what is their value? Well, that’s for you to decide.

Two examples in the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) & SEM (Search Engine Marketing) biz immediately spring to mind, those being SEO Book and SEO Egghead. They both give away oodles of knowledge, insights and tricks of their trade on a near daily basis, as well as offering books (of the electronic and dead tree variety).

For my part, I flash my white bits in the form of my own ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, which has enjoyed a healthy number of downloads.

Why do we do this? Because we’re building brand and then managing that brand even further by way of driving the visitor towards our books, which reinforce our attempts to build a sense of authority.

The successful guys get to stand up in front of strangers and talk, stuff like that. That too is an aspect of personal branding and self promotion. It’s actually one of the best ways to promote your brand. People get to see you and interact with you personally.

And finally, if ever there was any doubt that sex sells, let me widen your cultural orifice with a brisk exchange of social fluids, and watch the following video clip for the, err .. lowdown, so to speak.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “Manage personal brand like a porn star