We all start out with grand plans of what we want our business to look like – but it usually takes time and money to build your brand and attract customers.
As a result, many business owners are faced with the same dilemma. Do we spend big on building our brand before going into business, or launch into trading to start making money and worry about branding later?
It’s the age old paradox of the chicken and the egg. Which comes first?
Well, that depends…
Image is everything. Isn’t it?
In the age of instant consumerism, it’s easy to believe image is everything. And for many, it is. Even modern-day dating is being reduced to looks alone, with estimates showing female users of the matchmaking app Tinder “swipe right” or like only 14 per cent of profiles, and dismiss the rest after seeing little more than a headshot.
Are our attitudes towards brands the same?
We mere mortals are like moths to a flame – highly influenced by visual stimulation. Studies have found a signature colour can boost brand recognition by 80 per cent. While a staggering 90 per cent of a person’s opinion about a product is based on colour alone – and that decision is made in less than 90 seconds.
But do we fall in love with brands based solely on appearances?
If you find a barista serving the perfect cup of coffee, but the cafe hasn’t finished its fitout or installed any signage – would that stop you from going back?
Or what if you discover a new B2B supplier offering a great quality service, but they don’t have any business cards printed yet. Are you going to look elsewhere?
I highly doubt it.
And that’s because, unlike Tinder profiles, there is a lot more to branding than a witty one liner and pretty pictures.
What is a brand anyway?
A brand could be described as the personality of a company, its messaging and storytelling, the relationships and emotions it creates with its customers, staff and stakeholders – or all of the above.
The logo, motto, colour scheme and corporate identity, while beneficial, are all secondary to the feelings and opinions people associate with your brand.
US author and former business executive Seth Godin defines a brand as ‘the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another’.
As a result, branding isn’t always something tangible or visible that you create in a physical sense. Instead, it evolves from the perceptions and experiences of your customers.
If you’re relying on a logo or business card to deliver all of that for you, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
So how and when do I build my brand?
If you’re a startup weighing up which branding elements to invest in, ask yourself what impact it will have on the customer experience if you don’t have it.
Unlike the new cafe with the great coffee, a signwriting business should probably prioritise its own signage before opening the doors.
Or if you’re planning to launch online sales on a certain date, but only half of the website is completed on time, it would be best to hold off until it’s ready.
If you have what you need to deliver what your customers want, and live up to their expectations, it’s generally safe to start trading and growing your revenue. The rest can wait.
But if the customer experience will be impeded in any way, rushing into business could do more harm than good. In this case, it’s best to raise the capital first to build your brand, which might include bootstrapping, securing a business loan, angel investors or crowdfunding.
Business relationships and customer romance
The book ‘Customer Romance’, written by Peter Applebaum, explores the concept that building your brand and customer relationships is a lot like dating.
We all want to make a great first impression, but just dressing to impress is not enough. Good conversation, a great personality and a mutual understanding and respect all play a role in a successful first date.
“The rules of customer engagement are simple: offer something that they want and then ask if you can keep in touch. Essentially, it’s like asking for a second date.”
Brands have unlimited chances to make a last impression, and every touch point with a prospective client gives you the chance to start, or rekindle a relationship.
But unlike dinner at a three hat restaurant, it doesn’t have to cost a lot to win hearts.
We’ve explored some of the most effective methods for building customer loyalty in previous articles, including low cost marketing techniques to create something from nothing, key strategies for acquiring new customers, and quick ways to boost website traffic.
Using social media or digital marketing to create discussion around your brand’s point of difference, relay uniform messaging and engage with storytelling also helps to build positive customer relationships.
And just like sharing your real age in an online dating profile, honesty is always the best policy. Studies show 94 per cent of people will stay loyal to brands with transparent communications, while 80 per cent of consumers say authentic content is the greatest influential factor when choosing which brands to follow.
Brands can also build consumer trust by interacting positively with customers on social media. Simply providing fresh updated content is powerful enough to earn the trust of six in ten Australian social media users.
So even if your brand looks a little rugged around the edges, it’s what’s inside that really counts when it comes to convincing your customers to ‘swipe right’.