How social media can build a small business brand - part 1

The concept of building a brand can often be overwhelming and confusing for small business owners. You wouldn’t be alone if you thought your brand was your logo, period. And that brand building meant incorporating that logo into more stuff. The truth is that you wouldn’t be completely wrong either - brand certainly does incorporate logos and images, but it also reaches far beyond these expressions of brand, making branding both a powerful and daunting concept.


My goal for my clients is always to break down the jargon of marketing and explain things in ways that are easy to understand, relate to, and most of all apply. I love to be able to show them that when you do break it down, marketing doesn’t have to be a confusing and intimidating bunch of corporate academic voodoo, but in fact, should be fairly common sense. The reason for that is that marketing is about people and relationships, always was, always will be. It can get a bit fancy as it moves more towards applied psychology, but even still, at the end of the day, it’s just about people, their behaviour and their relationships.


This got me thinking when a client of mine wanted to know about the science behind a social media marketing strategy. She hasn't used a great deal of social media in her business and although she’s committed to implementing a strategy to grow her brand, she was really keen to know why and how it works, and what she’d actually be achieving. Most of all, she recognised that a social strategy was a sizeable commitment and wanted to be sure it was able to deliver results based on traditional marketing principles. A very good question.


… and the answer turned out to be rather long, so I’ve split it into 2 parts. In this post, I’ll cover the first 2 steps, identity and meaning, and then tomorrow, I’ll cover response and relationships...


Traditional marketing principles commonly teach that there are several steps involved in building a brand, and that each step builds on succeeding at the preceding level. Let’s strip out the jargon, explain them in plain English and see how those steps play out in a social media marketing strategy;


1. The first step is identity - who are you and what do you do?

This is all about establishing an awareness of the brand, where you want to help your customers, potential and existing, to understand what you do.

You want them to know what product or services category the brand operates in, and which products and services are sold under that brand. In other words, you want to establish an awareness about what products and services your brand represents without people having to read much or to go to too much trouble to find out. If they don't already know what you do, you want to make it pretty obvious for them, and if they do know what you do, then you want represent than consistently so they're not confused by the brand.


In order to establish your brand identity, you need to get it in front of a lot of people and educate them on what it is you do. Social media not only gives you access to the masses, but because of its interactive nature, enables you to educate them about your brand through conversations and images. Through social conversations and sharing valuable content, you teach your audience to associate your brand with the products and services you provide, which in turn, serve their needs.


2. Then comes meaning - how well do you meet needs?

This is where you want to influence the different types of associations your target market links to your brand. That is, the meaning they attach to your brand beyond what you say you do. This is primarily achieved through the performance of your products and/or services, and imagery. So you want your products and services to have been developed in response to what your target market wants and needs, and you want to deliver those products and services in a way that exceeds their expectations. That way your customers and clients not only know what products and services your provide, but they know how good they are. Your brand now represents what you do as well as how well you do it - there’s a quality and performance aspect.


And what do customers whose expectations have been exceeded do next? They begin to form beliefs about your brand, they pay closer attention to what you do and say and they start to tell others. Wouldn’t you like a tool to help you influence, capture and share these responses? An active social media presence means you can.


This is also where you can use imagery, as mentioned above, to influence the more abstract aspects of the brand. If your product or services are the tangible things that exceed customers’ expectations, then imagery helps to imbed those associated meanings. Images in the context of social media can be used to encourage favourable associations between your brand and the values of your audience. For example, your brand might use images to form strong associations with environmentally friendly practises, recyclable packaging, a small carbon footprint and sustainable living. Or, for another industry, it might be the creation of wealth, financial security, family and shared experiences, travel and attainment.


Remember that a picture speaks a thousand words and think about the feelings and associations you want your audience to conjure in response to the images you use in conjunction with your brand. It's well documented that social media posts that contain images elicit more engagement, that is, more likes, shares, retweets, pins and comments. Now isn't that a happy coincidence?


So you can already start to see how these traditional branding principles transfer perfectly to the world of social media. Access to an audience of millions means it’s almost a given that your particular target market is also well represented and accessible. Social media loves images and stories - it’s how we’ve chosen to use this medium to create and foster relationships and makes establishing your brand identity and meaning a whole lot easier than it used to be.


In tomorrow’s blog post, I’ll continue with steps 3 and 4 in building a brand; response and relationships. It’s exciting to think that traditional tried and true marketing science can not only be successfully applied to a modern tool, but applied in a way that has the potential to produce better results.

Thanks for reading, see you tomorrow,


Photo credit: View from the top of the Rock, New York, by Dimitry B. via Flickr