COSE WebEd Series: Brand Building Basics

Building a brand is not easy, but here are a few ways you can lay a strong foundation for your brand that will keep your customers coming back for more.

If you’re not thinking about the image your small business’ brand projects to the marketplace, you’re making a big mistake. Your brand represents the image you want your customers to take away, which leads to customer engagement, which can lead to sales.

But how do you go about building your small business’ brand in the first place? During a recent COSE WebEd Series webinar, Amanda Altman of A3 Design provided a few pointers on where to start.

RELATED: Listen to a replay of Altman’s full webinar on brand building.

Tell a story

First things first: Your logo is not your brand. It’s more than that. It’s how you present yourself to the public, all the way down to how you answer the phone. You want your brand to be something customers want to return to, and one of the best ways to do that is to create a story.

Start this process by narrowing down your promise to your customer. Make this as specific and niche as possible. Think about the lifestyle you want to promote, the promise you want to deliver, and the emotions you want to evoke.

Identify the competition

Now, think about who else is out there. What are other companies offering and how are they differentiating themselves? Relatedly, how are you different? You want your brand to be creative, authentic and something people can relate to. A good exercise to do when thinking about this is to describe your business in three words. And ensure these words are authentic.

Create your brand playbook

Branding is all about consistency. Think about what your design philosophy is. What colors do you want to use? For instance, some people are followers of color theory that finds that yellow indicates optimism, warmth and clarity while blue shows trust, dependability and strength.

It’s a good idea to also have a style board as it relates to your brand. Are there any secondary logos you might want to use? Or color swatches? What about another package design? Anything you think might fit should go on this style board.

Find your tribe

One of the biggest benefits of having a strong brand is it creates a group that is not just intensely loyal to your business, but also become brand evangelists who spread the good word about what you’re doing to others. For more insight on this, Altman suggested checking out Seth Godin’s book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”.

RELATED: Here are 11 other business books you should’ve read by now

Learn about other COSE events that can help your business succeed by visiting our events page.

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  • Next up: Council of Smaller Enterprises Encouraged by House's Amended State Budget Tax Proposals

    Council of Smaller Enterprises Encouraged by House's Amended State Budget Tax Proposals

    The Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) welcomed changes to tax proposals previously included in House Bill 64, the state biennium budget bill. The House tax proposal would provide for a 6.3% across the board income tax cut beginning in TY’15. It would lower the top rate to below 5% and would provide over $1.2 billion in tax relief to Ohioans over the next two years. Most small businesses are pass-through entities, meaning that they pay taxes on business income at the income tax rate of their individual owners. 

    The Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) welcomed changes to tax proposals previously included in House Bill 64, the state biennium budget bill. The House tax proposal would provide for a 6.3% across the board income tax cut beginning in TY’15. It would lower the top rate to below 5% and would provide over $1.2 billion in tax relief to Ohioans over the next two years. Most small businesses are pass-through entities, meaning that they pay taxes on business income at the income tax rate of their individual owners. 

    “The House proposal is consistent with our belief in the value of predictable support for small business that encourages their efforts," said COSE President and Executive Director Steve Millard. “COSE has and will continue to support tax cuts for small business that allow business owners to invest more in their companies, and not at the expense of increased tax burdens for other businesses.” 


    The personal income tax cut would be permanent and, also of importance to small business owners, the proposal would make permanent the 75% small business tax deduction on a business owner's first $250,000 of net business income which expired at the end of 2014. 


    “COSE believes in the need for consistency and predictability on tax rates and structures with a focus on making understanding and compliance easier for small businesses – the permanency of these proposals are key for small business,” added Millard. “COSE will continue to work with policymakers and partners throughout the process and we commend Speaker Rosenberger and members of the Ohio House for their efforts.” 


    Severance tax, sales tax, and commercial activity tax changes are being removed from the substitute budget bill. Those tax proposals will come out of the budget and go to a "2020 Tax Policy Study Commission" made up of lawmakers and representatives of the governor’s office. The Ohio House of Representatives will consider the budget bill over the course of the next couple weeks while the Ohio Senate is expected to complete its work in June. The Governor must sign a new budget into law by June 30, 2015. 

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  • Next up: Tips For Your Business: Create a Memorable Environment for Customers

    Tips For Your Business: Create a Memorable Environment for Customers

    The half-dozen Melt Bar & Grilled locations in Ohio ooze personality. Matt Fish, co-founder of the restaurant chain, credits the company’s 350 employees and staff members for helping create a positive guest environment. The key to building that environment begins and ends with training the staff, Fish said during a recent interview with COSE. Restaurant workers are encouraged to be themselves while on the job.

    The half-dozen Melt Bar & Grilled locations in Ohio ooze personality. Matt Fish, co-founder of the restaurant chain, credits the company’s 350 employees and staff members for helping create a positive guest environment.

    The key to building that environment begins and ends with training the staff, Fish said during a recent interview with COSE. Restaurant workers are encouraged to be themselves while on the job.

    “We want our guests to know who you are,” he said, describing what new hires are told. “I want their personalities to shine. We don’t tell them how to dress, how to act. We don’t tell them to go to the table and have canned responses or you need to up-sell this or up-sell that.”

    The personalities of the restaurants become what they are because of the staff, he said. For example, the flagship Lakewood location, which opened in 2006, has continued to improve during the course of the past decade in large part because of the staff and their interaction with customers setting the stage for the dining experience.

    “You enjoy the restaurant, you enjoy the food. Explain these things to the guest. Give them the inner secrets of the menu. Tell then what you order as a member of the Melt team.”

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  • Next up: Customer Engagement: 7 Ways to Get Your Customers to Think of Your Sales Team as Trusted Advisors

    Customer Engagement: 7 Ways to Get Your Customers to Think of Your Sales Team as Trusted Advisors

    The “show-up-and-throw-up” strategy isn’t going to cut it when you meet with potential customers. In this COSE WebEd Series Webinar, sales guru Marvin Montgomery explains how to conduct these initial meetings so that your customers think of you as more than just a sales person.

    There’s a stigma around salespeople these days, and that stigma is that the salesman or saleswoman is focused only on dumping information and making a sale. That is the wrong way to go about handling those meetings, according to nationally known sales expert and consultant Marvin Montgomery.

    During a recent COSE WebEd Series Webinar, Montgomery laid out 7 tips that will get your customers thinking of you and your sales team more like trusted advisors instead of just someone looking to make a quick sale.

       • RELATED: View other COSE WebEd Series Webinars

    One of the most important ways to get your customers to think of you and your team as advisors is to show that you are invested in what they have to say. And one of the best ways to indicate your interest is to show that you are listening. Montgomery discussed seven ways you and your sales team can indicate your interest:

    1. State your purpose
    To get things started, make sure the customer knows that the reason for the meeting is to find out exactly what their needs are and to provide a customized solution based on those needs. Set the expectation right up front that this is not just going to be an information dump on your part, but rather, a two-way discussion.

    2. Ask questions
    If you’re truly paying attention to what’s being said, then you should have some follow-up questions based on what your customer is telling you. Asking questions also surfaces any pain points your customer might have. (Keep in mind that there will be things a customer won’t tell you unless you ask, for instance, previous delivery problems they might have had with a vendor.)

    3. Pause
    When you do ask your sales suspect a question, make sure you pause and let them answer. Remember: You’re there to gauge whether your services will be helpful to this person and, if so, how you can create a customized sales solution that best fits their needs. With that in mind, it’s important to give them time to answer your question. So, ask your question. Then pause. Make a statement or ask another question. Then pause again, and so forth.

    4. Take notes
    Taking notes, either with old-fashioned pen and paper or by recording the meeting with your mobile device, signals to your client that you are listening to what they have to say as well. It also obviously will help you later on when you need to revisit what was said during the meeting.

    5. Stay in the moment
    Don’t assume to know where the customer might be going when they start to talk or race ahead to what might be said. Listen to what they are saying, and, again, ask questions if something is not clear.

    6. Paraphrase
    When your customer responds to your question, try paraphrasing it back to them. This forces you to understand what’s being said and, again, shows you’re listening.

    7. Body language
    A lot of your message is nonverbal in nature so ensure you are nodding, leaning forward and maintaining eye contact.

    Get more insightful sales tips such as this at COSE’s Sales Academy program. And click here to view upcoming Sales Academy programs, as well as other COSE events.

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  • Next up: Customer Engagement X Ways to Get Your Customers to Think of Your Sales Team as Trusted Advisors

    Customer Engagement X Ways to Get Your Customers to Think of Your Sales Team as Trusted Advisors

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  • Next up: Defy the Hand You’re Dealt: Weapons of Mass Creation Fest 2015

    Defy the Hand You’re Dealt: Weapons of Mass Creation Fest 2015

    Six years ago when Go Media Partner Jeff Finley had the idea to combine three of his passions – art, design and music – into a cool, creative endeavor, he never dreamt where it would lead. Today, what started as a grassroots event to inspire and motivate local creative talent has snowballed into one of the most recognized creative conferences in the design industry. And it is right in our own backyard. The sixth annual Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, to be held at the Allen Theatre August 6-9, is produced by Cleveland graphic and web development firm Go Media and runs on the energy and fortitude of the small staff who take inspiration from the strong community behind it.

    Six years ago when Go Media Partner Jeff Finley had the idea to combine three of his passions – art, design and music – into a cool, creative endeavor, he never dreamt where it would lead. Today, what started as a grassroots event to inspire and motivate local creative talent has snowballed into one of the most recognized creative conferences in the design industry. And it is right in our own backyard. The sixth annual Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, to be held at the Allen Theatre August 6-9, is produced by Cleveland graphic and web development firm Go Media and runs on the energy and fortitude of the small staff who take inspiration from the strong community behind it.

    Members of the Weapons of Mass Creation (WMC) community help to lead decisions about where the fest will organically go. Those discussions lead this year’s content curators, Go Media’s own Heather Sakai and Bryan Garvin, to stray from the fest’s roots in music and pull the focus to the heart of the matter: networking and education. 

    One of the first to hop on the 2015 Fest lineup was design legend Michael Bierut, partner in New York City’s multidisciplinary design firm Pentagram, founder of the Design Observer blog, and a senior critic in graphic design at Yale School of Art. Bierut, originally from Parma, is donating his time due to his passion for Cleveland and WMC. According to Bierut, there was nothing resembling WMC or graphic design in the suburbs of Cleveland in the ‘60s when he was growing up. Bierut will explain his journey in a talk titled: “How to Use Graphic Design to Get from the Corner of Granger Road and West 132nd Street in Garfield Heights to the Corner of Fifth Avenue and 25th Street in New York City in Only 50 Years.”

    The Fest, whose motto is “Defy the Hand You’re Dealt,” is expected to bring more than 1,000 attendees to Cleveland for three days of learning, self-discovery and knowledge.  

    This article originally appeared in the July 20, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.



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