If you have a business, you have a brand. You can either take control of your brand’s image and portrayal, or throw yourself at the mercy of the online world. But either way, your business and your brand are going to have an online presence. The good news is, you can take the reins of your online branding strategy and work toward giving your business its best possible public face.
Websites, Blogs, Social Media Pages: The Branding Front Lines
The article “These 8 Simple Things Will Reinforce Your Small Business’ Brand Online” reminds us how bad the bad old days of online marketing actually were in the late 1990s. You just can’t afford to have a bad website today – and with all the tools available, there is no excuse. Your website says everything about your brand. Whether you like it or not, you and your brand are inseparable, and your website is your digital first impression.
Stick to the fundamentals of web design. Be honest about your limitations in both time and talent. Hire someone for web design, web management or both. Freelancers don’t have to be expensive. If you design your own sites or supervise their design, remember the basics:
- Don’t use more than four fonts, and maintain continuity by using the same fonts across all of your platforms.
- Don’t change fonts or color schemes too frequently.
- Avoid visual clutter and distractions.
- Don’t try to cram in too much information.
- Focus on functionality – make menus easy to find and navigate, and categorize and condense information in groups instead of scattering it across the site.
Continuity: Your Brand is Always Your Brand, No Matter Where it Goes
Maintain a look and feel that is consistent across all your different channels. Each site is unique, but your blog, your website and your social media accounts should all have a unifying theme, an identifiable layout, a unique font choice or a recognizable color scheme. This extends into the actual world, as well. Your business cards, stationary and print ads should all be unmistakably yours.
All of this revolves around the cornerstone of your brand’s visual image: your logo. Take your logo seriously. With the exception of only your brand name, your logo is the most readily identifiable image your brand will ever know. One industry publication reminds us that even toddlers can recognize logos and identify the associated product before they are able to speak the word of the product or brand.
Don’t get tunnel vision on conveying industry imagery. The Nike Swoosh is arguably the most recognizable logo in the world. It has nothing to do with athletic equipment. Coca-Cola and Ferrari prove that with the right font, a word is all you need for a great logo.
Become a Resource – It’s Good for Your Readers and Good for the Rankings
Consistently create and showcase compelling content. Content is compelling when it is authoritative, helpful, insightful or entertaining. The content you display and disseminate should position you as a source of information about the product or service that you sell. If you sell steel rebar to construction suppliers, your blog may contain articles, infographics, and tutorials about the different kinds of rebar, the history of reinforced concrete and what to watch out for when buying reinforcing rods.
Content should be frequently updated for two reasons.
First, showcasing compelling, frequently updated content gives people a genuine incentive to follow you on social media, to check out your website more frequently and even to sign up for your email list for updates and notifications.
But the other effect, which may be more important, is that it can boost your placement in the search rankings. Studies consistently show that people click the first link on Google more than half the time. The second link gets clicked only 15 percent of the time, and from there it falls down to single digits. Whether or not you like the term SEO, search rankings matter for online branding – a lot. Google likes and rewards sites that contain consistently refreshed, compelling content.
On Social Media, Make Connections and Have Discussions – Don’t Broadcast!
You already know you need to have a social media “presence” – but what does that mean? Well, you have to have social media accounts, but that isn’t enough. Always establish separate business and personal accounts that don’t overlap. Don’t make the mistake of using social media as a bullhorn. Simply plugging your product or even announcing deals doesn’t work. Use the same concept as before, and work on disseminating compelling content on your social media profiles. this will give people a reason to pay attention to you. When they do, engage them in dialogue and target them for benefits and incentives like coupons or giveaways.
Remember that social media content is not one size fits all. Pinterest is dominated by women and people who earn a higher income. Instagram skews young. LinkedIn is used by more than 90 percent of employers during the hiring process. Simply cutting and pasting your tweets onto your Facebook wall misses the nuances associated with each platform.
The best online branding campaigns are built on foundational basics. Be unique. Be consistent. Offer something compelling and useful. Position yourself as an authority on the subject matter. Be aware of your online presence. Set up Google Alerts for your name, your business’s name, and all of their common misspellings so you’ll know when something is posted about you. Maintain a reliable, attractive website, and update your blogs frequently. Use different strategies for different social media sites, and remember – branding doesn’t mean anything if your business doesn’t back up its promises.