Branding is not your presence on the Internet (or elsewhere), it is not the amount of marketing that you do and it is not your advertising effort. It is the perception of your company, business, or your presence that people have. Branding has more to do with feeling rather than presence. So when you think of building an effective online brand you need to think in terms of how people perceive your presence. Do they have respect for you? Do the trust your products or services? Are they loyal to you? Do they recommend you to their friends and colleagues? All these tangible manifestations make up your brand, whether online or off-line.
Sure, marketing and advertising can have an impact on your brand and big businesses have an advantage from this aspect, but even as a small business you can build your brand effectively with a concerted effort. You don’t even have to spend lots of money. An advantage of being a small business is that your audience is going to be narrower and you will enjoy a direct contact with them, rather than as a domineering, unapproachable, big business. You can directly know your customers and clients and vice versa.
This blog post on Search Engine Journal has reviewed an infographic published elsewhere that lays down the basic tenets of building an effective online brand. Some of the highlights of the infographic are:
- Know your customers and clients personally: This can be your biggest strength as a small business. You have enough scope to approach people personally and converse with them. Find out where your target customers and clients spend their time online. Start being there. Don’t be intrusive. Start creating engaging threads and very politely start pitching in.
- Be known for good content: Whether you are publishing content on your own website or blog, or under your social networking profiles, be known for publishing good content. Make your content relevant, useful, timely and reliable. Try to establish yourself as an authority through quality content publishing.
- Become an authority figure: Gain as much knowledge as possible about your field and then share that knowledge whenever there is a need. Remember that knowledge and wisdom is something you never run out of. So share them on your blog and on Twitter and Facebook. Encourage people to hold meaningful conversations with you. Visit other blogs and online forums and present your valuable opinion without bias and without being judgmental.
- Organize meet ups: While big businesses can organize conferences and workshops, small businesses can definitely organize meet ups. If it is not physically possible to organize meet ups you can do it online using Google Hangout or some other service. You can also organize an event under your Facebook page. The basic idea is giving people something to come together and talk about it.
- Stand out: Everything is too much on the Internet because it is very easy to get onto the web. Similarly it is very easy to slog on your computer day in and day out, create lots of noise, and be present everywhere. But this doesn’t mean that you’re doing something unique. You need to stand out. You need to do something exceptionally well in order to be noticed by your prospective customers and clients.
- Be in touch consistently: This is especially necessary in the times of social networking. The timelines on Facebook and Twitter move extremely fast. Having more than 200 friends, followers or connections is a normal thing. With so many people talking to each other it’s often difficult to keep track of everybody. That’s why it’s important that you constantly keep in touch with your target customers and clients so that they remember you.
- Be there in the time of need: During the recent Hurricane Sandy many businesses pitched in and provided help, irrespective of who the recipients of that help were. Digital companies like Google helped people trace the itinerary of the storm. Local businesses provided shelters and free supplies. Social networking websites created special forums where help and rescue missions could be coordinated. When you help people in the need of time they always remember you. Don’t do this because you want to strengthen your brand, do it because you are a part of this community.