It seems that many small businesses are good at pursuing a relationship with customers, but they aren’t as active at nurturing it. That’s too bad. First, nurturing a relationship allows you to reinforce your brand and increase brand loyalty. This, in turn, helps you weather the storms of increasing competition. (Your competitor may drop its price, but your customers will remain loyal to you.) Second, small businesses, due to their size and flexibility, are in a better position than large ones to leverage customer relationships. When it comes to this aspect of brand-building, small businesses actually enjoy a “leg-up” over large competitors.
Many entrepreneurs assume branding is expensive. But reinforcing your brand, and thus increasing customer loyalty, doesn’t need to cost a lot.
1. Create an affiliate program. A good affiliate network allows you to grow your e-business efficiently and affordably, channeling additional traffic to your site without the expense of pay-per-click advertising. Provide your affiliates with links and ads that carry your branding message.
2. Start or contribute to a blog. Look for a highly trafficked and searched blog in your industry, then write and post relevant articles about your business. Let your personality shine through in the tone of your writing.
3. Print your logo on labels or stickers and place them on all communication with customers. Stickers appeal to our tactile nature and add interest to just about anything. They don’t need to be fancy, but they should feature your logo and corporate color(s).
4. Attach your tagline to your email signature. If you don’t already have a tagline or motto that communicates a key difference between you and your competition, create one. Consider trademarking it.
5. Print your logo on an inexpensive premium like a hat or golf ball – the more memorable the item, the better. Distribute your premium on every sales call, to customers, prospects and even suppliers. Buy in bulk to reduce costs.
6. Start an email newsletter for your customers and prospects. Include your own articles as well as links to other pieces that are relevant to your industry. This is a great way to keep your brand in front of customers and prospects regularly.
7. Offer your expertise to local or industry media publications that are read by your target customers. Make yourself available as a source for upcoming stories related to your business. Or, write an article and pitch it to target publications.
8. Visit your clients around holidays (or minor holidays like Groundhog’s Day), leaving them a holiday-themed surprise with your logo on it. Use the stickers you print (see #3 above) to customize the treats you choose. This one takes some creativity, but a little candy can go a surprisingly long way.
9. Follow up with customers to thank them for their business and/or get feedback on your product and/or service. Call, email or visit current customers as often as time permits.
10. Ensure that all your promotional materials match one another graphically. At the very least, your business cards, stationery, signage, packaging, brochures, and website should all feature your name, logo and tagline consistently.
At its core, branding is about building trust with your target audience. This takes time and consistency – but not a huge advertising budget. Happy branding!