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7 Ways to Build Your Online Brand
If you're a small or medium-sized business, then you might not consider branding as relevant to you - after all, it's just for big players like Coca Cola and McDonald's isn't it? Well actually, no. There's a lot that we mere mortals stand to gain from this practice, and with the internet gaining more mainstream acceptance by the day, branding is now more accessible than ever before. But how do you do it?
First things first
Firstly, it's useful to ask 'what is a brand?'. Although some of us will have considered this question as part of a Business Studies course in the past, that could be starting to seem like a looong time ago now, and this all assumes that you weren't too 'busy' down at the Students' Union Bar in the first place!
At its heart, a brand is really about trust. Ask yourself about the perceptions of quality you have when you are in the supermarket. Do you regard £1.00+ branded paracetamol as being of a higher quality to the generic stuff you can get for 30p a pack? Many people do (which is why they still sell it at that price) even though paracetamol is a carefully regulated substance and the active ingredients in the two products are therefore exactly the same.
At its heart, branding is nothing more than taking a perfectly ordinary product or service and adding an intangible magic to it. Walt Disney would be proud.
On a broader scale, think about things like washing up liquid too - do you really see a massive difference from a premium brand product when compared to a supermarket's own? We're guessing not. Fuel for your car? Bleach? You get where we're going with this, right?
The thing is, even if you don't buy the more expensive brand-name item, you may still weigh it higher in your mind. And that folks, is the power of branding. At its heart it is nothing more than taking a perfectly ordinary product or service and adding an intangible magic to it. Walt Disney would be proud. Well actually he probably would - what with Disney being one of the most powerful brands on the planet and all that.
But there is a little more to this than Disney magic and fancy logos. That's because a brand is your friend. Well ok, you've not got each other on speed-dial and you don't go round for dinner on Saturday evenings, but brands would dearly love you to believe that they care. Problem with your product? No worries - because the brand will sort it right out. It makes sense for them after all (because nobody there wants to damage the brand). So a brand gives you a sense that you have some comeback and reassurance.
1. It's all in the personality
So, branding is really nothing more than a clever psychological hack. But how can that hack be applied to a purely digital presence? Although traditional branding has been studied to death, the online sphere is really still in the process of taking off - which as we say, leaves plenty of room for smaller, more reflexive companies to take advantage and gain some ground.
We've already written on how to get your personal brand up and going, but how can this be done with something as complicated and abstract as a company? Well one way to do this is to think about your company's brand as if it is a person itself. This may sound a little corny, but if you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Think about where your brand would shop; what restaurants it would eat at; the car it would drive, or whether it would even drive at all.
Consider what type of person your brand would be. Remember that you want it to engage with your customers - so it may be worth doing some research into your target demographic if you're not 100% sure who they are. A brand that targets females in their mid-20s will have a very different voice from one that is going after middle-aged males, for instance.
Think about where your brand would shop; what restaurants it would eat at; the car it would drive, or whether it would even drive at all. The key to this exercise is to have an open mind and a decent imagination - so if you are lacking in either of those (be honest) then it may be worth handing over the reins to someone who isn't. Hello creative team! If you need some tips, then check out the article we recently wrote sharing some of our top-secret tips on how to be more creative.
Everything flows from this, and you don't want to change your brand once you've started - so spend some time on it and create something that you're happy with. One thing that you definitely do not want to do is copy your brand from that of another company. This will undermine everything that you are trying to achieve, and make you look rather silly in the process.
2. Old-school is still cool
Although we're discussing online branding here, there's no reason that we can't still take some lessons from the companies who have been playing this game for decades. In fact, many of the classic techniques of branding will transfer nicely over to digital - including having a decent logo, colour scheme, excellent customer support (see point four), and even giving your business a 'face'. This last point is especially valid online, because websites can come across as a little sanitised and soulless - and by giving them a 'face' we can help to avert this.
We won't spend a lot of time going over these techniques, as there's so much information already out there on them, but the important thing to take away from this point is that the old methods shouldn't be ignored. Embrace them and carry on moving forwards.
3. Blog your heart out
There are many reasons to write a blog - and search engine optimisation (SEO) is just one of them! The reason blogs are good for SEO is that Google is trying to encourage companies to share the wealth when it comes to knowledge - with the top dogs tending to be real gold mines of rich primary content.
But besides simply driving more traffic through the doors of your website, a good blog will also reach out to your market in a way that normal website content just can't. The thing is, when people are looking at a blog, their guard tends to be down. They are probably searching for information - and you just gave it to them for free (hopefully)!
Not only does this mean that they are more likely to visit your site in the future, but also that they will begin to associate your brand's online presence (your logo, colour scheme, etc.) with positive things. Congratulations - you are becoming their friend! You should now be able to see why point two is so important, too.
And finally, if this concept all sounds a bit like a dream within a dream given that you're reading this on the Agency Central blog, then at least we can't be accused of saying one thing and doing another! We practice what we preach here at AC.
There's a bit of debate out there as to whether or not companies should use social media - but in our eyes there really shouldn't be. The crux of the matter seems to be that many firms are using social media purely as an exercise in box-ticking, without really having any idea what they are doing. Their loss, we say. More or less every firm we can think of can benefit from using social channels in some way, and that goes double if they deal with the public - who of course love this stuff.
As well as being a great way to find and communicate with your brand's target audience, there are a number of benefits to 'going social' that you may not have considered. The first of these is the customer service angle that it can bring to your company. Nowadays a disgruntled customer is just as likely to get in touch through social media as they are more traditional methods - and a speedy (public) response from you can work wonders for your brand.
As with anything in life, you will get nowhere by being little more than another sheep following the bleating herd.
Then there's the fact that a social media presence will make it easier for people to mention your brand - essentially doing marketing for you for free. You can run things like competitions and polls to facilitate this, but eventually it should be something that more or less takes care of itself. You can also use social channels to supercharge your blog presence - by posting content to help your followers keep up with what's going on.
Social media shouldn't be something that you do just because other brands happen to. As with anything in life, you will get nowhere by being little more than another sheep following the bleating herd; this is a recipe for mediocrity. Stand out from the crowd. Put as much effort into this project as you would anything else your brand does and it will reap rewards. Make half an attempt and you will get half a result. Ignore it entirely and you will never know what might have been possible.
5. Spread yourself out
There's a bit of a fallacy sometimes, when companies want their brands to spread far and wide across the internet, but restrict their output to their own website and social media channels. What you really need to do is to get your name out there. We're not talking about blatantly spamming comment threads with messages about cut-price electrical devices here, but when you read blog posts and discussion threads and have something to contribute, you should be doing it.
What we are trying to do here is to build an online brand that will stand the test of time and lodge itself in the mind of your target audience - not simply make a fast buck and run off.
Obviously this needs to be carefully managed, and it's important to ensure that you are writing as your brand, rather than yourself, but this can be a great method to get people to buy into what you are saying. Getting your ideas out there is an important step on the road to thought leadership, and can even lead to you having an established outpost on a forum or other discussion channel, where people will contact your brand in order to gain information.
Whilst you will see little in the way of direct profit from externalising your ideas, as every smart marketer knows, this isn't always the best indicator of a project's worth. What we are trying to do here is to build an online brand that will stand the test of time and lodge itself in the mind of your target audience - not simply make a fast buck and run off.
6. Welcome feedback
If you're ever trying to get better at something - in any way, shape, or form, then (unless you're an actual genius) you will require some kind of external feedback. This is as true in business as it is if you are trying to learn the piano - and the good news is that there are sites out there specifically to help you with this!
What we're talking about of course are review sites like Tripadvisor and Trustpilot - where end users of your business can post public reviews of your service. This won't be relevant to every business, but if it is, then you need to be checking what your customers are saying about you and getting tips about where you can improve things.
If you're able to respond to a review (especially a negative one), then you absolutely should - and as quickly as possible. Customers love to know that their voice is being heard. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can just write any old thing though - because you need to ensure that each response is hand-crafted in your brand's voice to suit your customer. No one likes to receive automated messages.
Feedback can come from other sources as well of course - and you should make it as easy as possible for users to give feedback from within the confines of your own site. The same rules apply though - and every piece of feedback should generate a well thought-out response from your brand.
7. Get creative
This point is loosely related to point five, but is a bit more involved. You're still going to be piggy-backing your branding efforts across external sites, but this time you're going to be creating content for them too. We're mainly talking here about sites like YouTube and Vimeo - where video content can be shared with the world, although there are many other types of site to consider - including the likes of Instagram and Pinterest. Depending on the line of business you're in, this could really pay dividends for your brand.
Think about the 'Will it Blend' campaign and how successful that has been for the blender manufacturer Blendtec in terms of raising brand-awareness. Blendtec are far from the only brand taking advantage of this - DC Shoes' Gymkhana series being another notable example - and the best part is that it really doesn't have to be anywhere near this expensive in order to be a success.
If you go with this approach, then it really gives you a chance to show off the friendly, human side of your brand to your audience - which is exactly what most people want to see.
If you go with this approach, then it really gives you a chance to show off the friendly, human side of your brand to your audience - which is exactly what most people want to see. The key is to be as genuine as possible, or you will come across as fake - which is the last thing you want to do!
You really just need to work out how this strategy can be applied effectively to your niche and then go with it. We're not necessarily suggesting that you'll create a viral masterpiece on your first attempt, but something as simple as a series of how-to videos could still be very useful for your brand.
So there you have it - seven ways that you can instantly begin to build your online brand. Now this isn't a universal toolkit, and some of these methods are more suited to some types of business than others, but they are all worth considering - because since when has thinking in a different way been a bad thing?
We look forward to seeing lots of this type of activity from our readers now - so why not catch up with us on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin and let us know how you get on? We can be the first contact for your new social media presence!