What is a Brand Story and Why Does My Business Need one?

A small business owner asked me the other day, “What do you mean by brand story? Is that website copy?” 

I said yes, sort of. But it’s bigger than that – it is not just one sentence, but it’s also the vibe and value promise of your business. Your brand story is not simply what you sell. It’s your purpose and what you believe. How you’re different. What value your offerings ultimately give to a buyer.

Porsche and Honda both make cars. They do NOT have the same brand story. They are not selling to the same people. Customers buy from them for very different reasons – not simply “because I need a car.””

Your business, no matter what industry you are in, needs to understand this.

How did this brand strategist get into the empathy advocacy game? Simple. Empathy is the key to marketing and sales success.

Marketers get this. You can’t influence or persuade someone – or build right-fit offerings for them – if you don’t understand them.(TWEET THIS!)

You must peek into their lives, see things how they see them, and ensure your solutions meet those needs, address those goals, and fulfill those aspirations. Or quite frankly, they should not be doing business with you.

Sometimes empathy gets a bad rap when used by marketers – or sociopaths – to manipulate. If it is used in that way, that’s just lazy marketing in my book. Marketing should be about elevating the truth of your story so the right people can find you and achieve their goals or solve their problems.

Empathy has always been the key to successful advertising. It’s never about the product, is it? 

A 1995 Nike campaign that always stuck with me, which I mentioned in my first book Branding Basics for Small Business, was called “If you Let Me Play”. The ads showed bright-eyed young girls playing sports and each would in turn say,

“If you let me play sports

I will like myself more;

I will have more self-confidence,

I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer;

I will suffer less depression.

I will be more likely to leave a man who beats me.

I will be less likely to get pregnant

I will learn what it means to be strong.

…If you let me play sports.”

This was not just about the features of their shoes or athletic clothing. It was about empowerment. About safety. About strong mental health for girls. 

They got me, as a just out of college woman back then. They knew exactly what engaged and connected with me. They knew who I wanted to be and what I wanted to stand for. And they likely grabbed loads of parents who felt exactly the same way.

That’s empathy in marketing. Understanding the goals, desires, fears, values, and needs of your ideal audience and creating products and services that speak to them. But one step further, a good marketer has to be able to communicate that they understand.

That’s where brand story comes in.

Many business owners and even marketers can speak eloquently about the features of their products. But they might not be as connected to the story they can share that will inspire, engage, and influence their ideal customers to join their community and stay loyal to the brand.

Sometimes this is because we get so caught up in jargon, we don’t speak in the way our customers actually talk. Which is the cornerstone of empathetic marketing! Sometimes, they think customers want to hear önly the facts”- when research proves that we often make purchase decisions because of emotion but justify that decision with logic. Yes, even our most skeptical, data-driven buyers do this because….WE’RE ALL HUMAN! Don’t believe me? Check out my podcast episode with behavioral economist Melina Palmer on all the research proving we don’t buy for the reasons our conscious brains tell us we do. We respond to other cues we are not even aware of! 

But what to say? How to say it? How do we even know what our ideal customers really want and need?

New Course to Help You Craft Your Brand Story! Brand Story Breakthrough

As some of you know, I have shifted from pure brand consulting to focusing on empathy speaking and training.  So  I’m unveiling what I hope will be a signature course to help marketers, business owners – and even agency professionals such as PR and design experts who need to help their clients nail their brand story and may not have a good process.

Check out  Brand Story Breakthrough, a 5 week digital course, along with weekly live coaching with me for feedback and guidance. This is my way to help people at scale uncover the magic of their brand story and build all the tools for their messaging toolkit so they can attract their perfect customers, stand out, and grow their revenue and impact.

And the root of the entire course and process? You guessed it. Empathy.

Empathy is too often what is missing from messaging. I once had a corporate VP client who disrespected their target client base, calling them arrogant, entitled, and not interested in the data. You cannot successfully market your offerings to those who need it if you despise or disrespect them! Sorry, not sorry.

If you’re struggling to get attention from right-fit customers you know you can impact, I would love, love, love to help.

Please check out details right here and see if it’s right for you (There’s even a free masterclass video on that page that will be super valuable for you) 

PS, this process works whether you sell products or services, B2B or B2C, non-profit or for-profit. Because it’s about flexing your empathy muscle and communicating in a way that resonates with the right people and ignites them into action. Not to lie to them. Not to deceive.  But to connect with them in a genuine and value-driven way.

Bottom line: We are all human. And if your mission is to have an impact and offer genuine value to customers or clients, you deserve to reach them and they deserve to know you exist for them. Marketing done right  is not sleazy. It’s a way for you to let the people who need you the most find you. Get excited to share your story. If not you, then who?! ChatGPT can only get you so far. First, you have to emotionally connect with the people you serve.

Photo Credit: Social Cut on Unsplash

3 Tips to Differentiate Your Messaging

3 Tips to Differentiate Your Messaging

So often underused, yet so powerful. MESSAGING 

Sure, messaging might not be as sexy as logo design or digital marketing but nailing your messaging can do more for your brand effectiveness than any other aspect of your brand strategy mix. 

Many times, I work with successful companies that already have customers and are generating revenue, but they are revamping their messaging to accelerate sales, go after new markets, or stand out in a crowded market

Did you catch that last one? Stand out in a crowded market. 

Marketers often get too hung on thinking “rebranding” means the whole visual, verbal, and experiential kit and kaboodle. New logo, website, colors, stationery, signage, t-shirts, tchotchkes. But many smart companies know that simply revamping messaging can do wonders to accelerate growth and attention. 

If you clarify your messaging and ensure it’s absolutely compelling to your target audience, I submit this will take you farther than a slick website or cool visual design. 

Not at all to say those things don’t all work in tandem to tell a cohesive brand story. But if you’re looking for the lowest hanging brand fruit, start with your messaging. 

Messaging is where my brand strategy works starts! Without clear messaging, how do you know what you are trying to communicate and to whom visually or experientially?  (TWEET THIS!)

But how can you use your messaging to stand out and get noticed?  

Here are 3 tips to differentiating your company messaging 

(Warning: This will all sound great in theory, but your company leadership may not have the stones to implement them!) 

  1. Adopt the language of your customer, not jargon: No one cares what the analysts call your category or what your CEO decided in a vacuum was the most important term for your space.  

Your company should talk how your customers talk.  

Ditch the jargon that (you think) makes you sound really smart. Talk to your customers and capture their exact words. Articulate the problem and solution in the words your customer uses inside their heads. When you talk how your people talk, they will connect with you. They will pay attention. They will say, “Hell, yes, that’s what I’m talking about!” and will clamor to learn more. If you only care about appeasing the Gartner analysts, ask yourself if Gartner pays your bills! 

  1. Take the competitors stance – and twist it: Watch what your competitors are saying…but don’t worry about it. Find a way to turn it on its head and capitalize on how you do it better. Never adopt messaging simply it is because it’s how everyone else talks about your product or service. Of course, use the language of you industry but never second-guess yourself just because a competitor is saying something you are not. I’ve suffered through too many CEO’s who wanted “our website to have a section like their website.”  No strategy. No vision. Just “do what they’re doing.” 

Well, first, what if they don’t know what they’re doing? What if they’re wrong? And second, what if their brand voice and story is speaking to a different buyer than ours? Resist the urge to simply adopt messaging because it’s what everyone else is doing, unless there’s a strategic reason to do so. Remember, your mom’s advice whenever you wanted to do something all the other kids were doing? “Is all the other kids jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too? 

  1. Develop a unique brand voice and tone: One of the best ways to differentiate your messaging is not in what you say, but how you say it. After a deep dive brand strategy exercise, determine the unique brand voice and personality that best serves your customers and genuinely reflects who you are. Method Cleaning Products does a fabulous job of owning a unique, funny brand voice on their products and it’s aligned with their culture of “being weird.” If you truly want to stand out, stop sounding like everyone else and develop your own viewpoint and personality so when people come across your messaging, they will know it is distinctly YOU. 

Want some help crafting that brand messaging and unique voice so you can stand out and accelerate sales? Take a look at what we can do together and let’s chat! 

Why You Need a Niche

Why You Need a Niche

Niche is rich” so some people say. But why do they say this? I mean, it seems counterintuitive to limit your market size, doesn’t it? You want to sell to as many people who will buy your product or service, don’t you? 

A few clarifications to help you make better marketing and sales decisions: 

Your niche is about outbound, not who can buy from you 

Defining your niche helps you focus your marketing and outbound efforts. Where will you spend your valuable time, resources, and energy? Unless you’ve got billions of dollars to spend and can target multiple segments effectively it’s wiser to pick your lane and own it. Don’t spread yourself so thin that you waste effort trying to be everywhere and don’t have enough presence to be effective anywhere. 

Your niche helps you attract the right ideal customers and decide if you are the partner they seek. 

That said, you can certainly sell to anyone who wants to buy from you! Anyone for whom your message resonates. You’re not going to tell them, “Sorry, you don’t fit my ideal client profile!” You’ll gladly take their check and serve them well if you decide you want to when they show up at your door. 

Your niche leads to smarter, more effective branding decisions 

When you are clearly not trying to be all things to all people, you resonate more fully with specific people. Those people will pay attention. Defining your niche ensures the verbal, visual, and experiential aspects of your brand are speaking to just the right people. When you create content, you will be talking to a specific type of person, with specific needs and aspirations. 

Always remember: When you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to no one! (TWEET THIS!)

Find the right niche 

Of course, you can’t pick a niche of only ten possible buyers in the known universe. That’s not sustainable. Pick a niche with a healthy amount of people in it. My niche for my fast-growth corporate clients are those that value marketing and brand and have a team ready to support and implement change. I’m not interested in helping every company out there, or trying to convince people why brand matters to their bottom line.   

Targeting women entrepreneurs is specific but healthy enough to make a living. Targeting adrenaline junkies or home businesses are also specific but broad. Your software may be able to do “all the things” for every possible industry out there but don’t confuse people or make them figure out where you play. Define where you play and clearly explain why you are the best option in that space. There should be plenty of opportunity for you there if you choose wisely! 

Your market is not necessarily all the people who’ve need what you have to offer. Honda and Porsche both sell cars but they definitely do not sell to the same people buying a car for the same reasons! 

Use your niche to differentiate. If you become the go-to expert for small local brick and mortar businesses, or mompreneurs, or SaaS software companies, that’s the first step to stand out from your competition.

Need guidance to a niche that is profitable and sustainable? Not sure how to craft your ideal customer profiles so that your marketing instantly engages the right people? Let’s talk!

3 wickedly easy ways to differentiate your brand

11.17.15-Differentiate-Your-Brand-BlogMost of us have not invented anything new. As I’ve shared with you before

“We are not doing something customers or clients can’t get elsewhere. We are not discovering a new element or identifying a new species or creating a way for humans to live on Mars. (Some of you may be working on this, but most of us are not).”

Differentiation seems to be the most common place where my clients get stuck. Why am I different? I’m not doing something unique and innovative. I’m just the best (BLANK) I can be and I know my stuff!

You don’t have to invent something new to make your brand + business stand out (Tweet this!)

Here are 3 crafty and clever ways to differentiate your offerings–you just need to play them up in your brand messaging:

Your TRIBE: Who do you serve? Are you specific? Do you serve a specialized niche or an overlooked market? Perhaps you are a life coach for ambitious women on a mission versus women going through divorce or the death of a spouse versus women in transition. I choose to focus on entrepreneurs and small to mid-sized businesses versus ginormous enterprise companies or the Fortune 500. You can stand out by being crystal clear about the audience you serve, rather than claiming (falsely) they you serve everyone and anyone.

Your VALUE: What do you offer? How does it benefit people? Porsche and Honda both sell cars but the reasons why people buy one or the other is different. They emphasize different benefits. They are not really the same thing, even though they are both automobiles. You can be a life coach that focuses on brain science versus one that focuses on intuition and energy.

Your VIBE: What is your brand personality? Are you modern, urban and energetic? Are you safe, reliable and thoughtful? Are you sassy, fresh and focused? Use this to inform your look and message. When you see an Apple ad, you know it’s Apple. Your vibe can help you stand out. There are a bajillion brand strategists out there. My vibe, however, is unique to me and my approach: full of wit, smart humor, a conversational tone, tough love and wine references…oh, so many wine references. And bringing my unique interests and background to bear, how many other brand strategists can also say they are fiery redhead actresses who adore Jeopardy, dogs, football, writing, indie films, crime dramas and are working mamas married to a Scotsman – oh and who have survived a brain aneurysm? I’m thinking not too many. So wear your vibe as a differentiated brand of pride and bring it to life in your writing, work and personality. You are the only you out there.

Your turn: Can you clearly define your tribe, value and vibe? Tweet me @redslice and let me know!

Image credit: Sam Howzit via Flickr

Why Passion is Great for Your Business

09.22.15 Why Passion is Great for Your Business (Blog)

If you do not follow social media expert Jay Baer on LinkedIn for subscribe to his Convince and Convert email newsletter, you should check both options out.

Recently, I joyfully read the transcript of his Content Marketing World keynote. He delivered it without slides or fanfare and seemed to have just spoken from the heart. His concept of The Mom Test is a rallying cry to marketers and businesspeople to stop turning content creation into a machine and focus on making connections.

Damn, I love that.

One of his gems: “Content is the emotional and informational bridge between commerce and consumer.”

And building that bridge requires more than spreadsheets and plans and analytics. It requires HEART.

Another gem: “Competition commoditizes competency”.

Meaning, if you use the same hacks, tools and systems that your competitors do, all your marketing and content will start to look the same. So, the only thing you have to differentiate what you do is your people and your passion. They can’t copy that, no matter how much they try.

They can copy form emails. They can copy price promotions. They can copy sales pitches. But if you believe in what you do and create content that improves lives in ways great or small­–whether helping fight global disease or even just giving a busy mom a moment of rest and reflection­–they can’t replicate that passion and brand fire.

From Jay: “But they can’t duplicate, they cannot steal if you fundamentally care more than they do. About content, and about content’s role to improve the lives of real people.

So I ask you a simple question, an existential question really:

Do you love content enough? Are you making content, or are you making a difference?”

It’s not about passion for passion’s sake. “Follow your bliss” makes for a lovely inspirational slogan but you have to marry passion with purpose. (Tweet this!)

What value does your passion offer to others whom you’re trying to turn into buyers, readers or donors?

This reminds me of an email conversation I recently had with a friend and online marketing rockstar who writes the most exuberant (and useful) content. I literally devour her words and look forward to her musings, even if she’s pitching me something. Doesn’t matter how crowded my in-box is that day – I make time to read her content.

I asked her how she organized her content marketing calendar. Her answer? She doesn’t have one. According to her: “Editorial calendars make me one sad panda.”

And you know what? Despite an editorial calendar being a great tool for staying organized and efficient (and one I recommend to my clients, in all honesty), she’s kind of right. Her content is super useful and it’s addictive because she cares. Her passion shines through every word.

Do whatever you need to do to stay on top of things. Use tools, templates, automation where it makes sense. You want to strive for consistency. But more importantly, when it comes to any marketing efforts meant to amplify your message and boost your brand, don’t just crank things out to simply check them off your to-do list.

Focus on the passion to deliver true value. Speak from the heart to attract raving fans.

How do you build your passion into your content, marketing or work in general? In one sentence, what is the passion that drives your business? Please share in the Comments!

Image credit: Ahmed Rabea via Flickr

What’s your point of view? You’d better know.

10.6 Point of View (blog)

Creating thought leadership for your brand means you have something to say, a point of view to add to the conversation. If you just roll along the way everyone else does, what sets you apart? At that point, you’re simply a lookalike commodity and just another voice adding to the noise.

Being a thought leader means having a clear point of view. What’s yours? (Tweet this!)

Brand leaders who share a clear point of view make it really easy for prospects to say, “Hey! I like what she’s saying and how she thinks…what she offers is perfect for me.”

Scared to express your point of view because you don’t want to risk alienating anyone? Remember my mantra: “Everyone” is not a target market. You cannot be all things to all people or you’ll be nothing to no one. Power brands know that some people may, at best, ignore them and, at worst, despise them. It’s okay. They are not your target customers or clients anyway.

If you don’t clearly express a perspective, a philosophy, or a reason for being you’ll get lost in the marketing cacophony. And no amount of “But my products/services/offerings are the best” will help you, my friend, because no one will even know you’re there. In your quest to please everyone and “make as many sales as you can” you will attract nobody.

There are many ways you can express your point of view:

To express your point of view, you of course have to know what it is. What do you stand for? What do you believe? What are your brand values and attributes?

Want to gain clarity on your brand point of view and how to share it with the world? Check out my digital self-study program, MOMENTUM Pro!

 Photo Credit: Stephanie Watson via Flickr

4 tips to create magnetic brand messaging

How can you engage and delight your audience without sounding like everyone else?

Brand is communicated through more than just a pretty logo. It’s actually communicated in three important ways: visually, verbally, and experientially. I call this the Three Legged Stool of Brand. I’ve talked about this in a past video.

Visually is what you think of when you think of brand: logos, colors, design.

But your brand is also communicated verbally: your copywriting, your tone, your messaging personality.

And finally, where the rubber hits the road, your brand is communicated experientially. Now that you’ve promised me a brand visually and verbally, do you deliver? If your brand screams hip, cool and innovative, then your products and services – even your employees – better walk the talk!

In today’s Red Slice TV video from MySourceTV, I’m focusing on the verbal aspect and sharing 4 tips that will help you craft magnetic messaging that engages, informs and delights your audience. This is oh-so-important in everything from your About page to your sales copy.

The way your business “talks” is one of the most vital ways to convey your brand (Tweet!)  What is the “voice”? How should you write your copy? What is the story that you tell?

Photo credit: Brendan-C, Flickr

The secret to differentiating your brand? You.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde (Tweet!)

What makes your brand, business or creative endeavor uniquely you? 

When we’re insecure teens, it seems easiest to just copy someone else. At that age, originality is just too risky.  Or is it?

Let me take you back to 1988. My best friend and I were inseparable. Whether it was busting out dance moves to Whitney Houston’s latest hit, swooning over teen heartthrobs (she: River Phoenix, Me: Kirk Cameron – before he went all oddballs) or taping our own version of Siskel and Ebert at the Movies (hopefully lost forever), we found comfort in our shared interests and tastes.

But the scandal that threatened to rock our friendship? We bought the exact same denim miniskirt jumper.

I admit, it was adorable when she bought it and naively thinking it would fun, I went and bought one, too. It fit both of our lean frames to a T. But she was not pleased at all and as you can guess, the inevitable happened: we wore it to school on the same day. Now granted, out high school teemed with more than 2000 students, but still….she didn’t speak to me for a whole day, which back then felt as long as the Civil War.

And I realized I had messed up.

In trying to take a short-cut and simply copy her style, I failed to cultivate my own identity – and ended up coming off like a first-rate tool.

What works for someone else may not work for you. Either it’s not at all believable, or it just looks desperate and sad. Just think about all the Apple lookalike ads you may have seen for sub-par (and not as cool) technology. But the inverse is also true: what works beautifully for you may be laughable for someone else to even attempt. (Tweet!)

You need to walk your talk and authentically deliver what you promise. How do you do that? By embracing and owning who you authentically are. It’s your story. Only you – with your perspective, experience, world view, sensibility, taste, emotion and intelligence – can tell it the way you  tell it.

While visiting the UK, I caught a news program on an MSNBC-type network. The pundit shouting at me sounded an awful lot like Rachel Maddow, who I happen to like. But it was a sad attempt to mimic her success – down to the cadence and tone with which she spoke. It was clear she was trying to replicate someone else’s success rather than create her own.

Why do we think it’s easier to copy someone else rather than break new ground? Why do we feel that our story is not as valuable just because others have told something similar? If we all thought that way, another book would never be written, another painting never created, another innovative clothing design ever produced. (Tweet!)

Can you imagine? “Well, we all have enough shirts in the world, don’t we? No need to design another one.” Please.

When working with my branding clients, our process always starts with the unique spin, strengths, perspective and benefits they offer that no one else can, regardless of if they offer something that thousands of other people do. No one else can do it like they do it.

That is how you build a breakout brand  – find your uniquity and let it shine. I mean, there’s tons of branding strategists out there, right? But you’re here, now, visiting moi. Thanks for digging my unique style!

Photo by Levi Saunders on Unsplash

How to brand your brick and mortar business

If you are fortunate enough to own a sweet little boutique on Main Street or a bustling restaurant along the wharf or a funky pet store in the city’s hippest arts district, I have to admit my jealousy. Brand is just as important to service- providers that survive on a laptop as it is for physical businesses. But there are oodles of possibility for boosting your brand when you have a tangible location to decorate, staff and gather your tribe.

Here are 9 ways you can boost the brand of your brick and mortar business:

  1. Build your online community – and then gather them together for a Fans Only event: Whether you host an exclusive wine and cheese Tweet-Up or invite Instagram followers to a seasonal sale, use your space to host real-life events to not only treat your loyal fans like royalty but to create memories and connections rooted in your physical store. Nothing endears people to your brand more than remembering a good time they had making new friends that was all because of you.
  2. Decorate with intent: While many of us only have websites as our main customer storefront, you are lucky. You have a whole physical space in which to convey your brand in a way customers can see, feel, smell, hear and taste. Carry your visual identity into the store with paint colors, signage in your official fonts, and brand imagery throughout. Trying to create a fresh, airy, calm brand vibe? Lay out your store in a similar way. Stock merchandise and create a floor plan that delivers the brand promise to your community in a real, live way. Choose appropriate music and even lighting schemes and scents. If you can, choose a location that extends your brand. If you’re all about being hip and funky, can you rent renovated warehouse space with brick walls or exposed steel beams? If you’re all about adorable, frilly and cute, can you find an old Victorian and give it a fresh coat of lively colors, inside and out?
  3. Collaborate with “The Enemy:” Befriend competitors or neighboring businesses and exponentially reap more rewards for everyone. Can you host a sidewalk sale with all the businesses on your street, share expenses for some entertainment and ads, and draw more foot traffic for everyone? Can you partner with complementary businesses to offer a “crawl” of some sort that take people from place to place as one package deal, like a food tour or yarn crawl (something I recently learned small local yarn shops do). By joining forces, you can do something bigger than any of you could do alone – and not only create more category awareness as a whole but reach a heck of a lot more people. And this collaboration will only spark amazing brand goodwill in the eyes of all customers involved.
  4. Support a cause: Do you love animals? Support a local food bank? Contribute to the fight against cancer? Partner with a local non-profit and host a charitable event at your location. You can offer 10% of all net sales to the charity for the night or ask customers to bring a canned good to get $5 off their purchase. Not only is it brand magic (and good karma) to give back and align with a worthy cause (especially one that compliments your brand, like a pet store hosting a mobile animal adoption event or a women’s boutique raising money for breast cancer), it can attract new customers and perhaps garner you some killer press.
  5. Sponsor targeted events: If you’re an athletic apparel store, sponsor the city’s annual 10K Holiday Run. If you’re a pet photographer with a lovely studio, contribute a photo session package to the Humane Society’s fundraising auction. If you’re a spa, sponsor a local women business owners’ luncheon. Similar to #4, this involves going out into the community to support a worthy cause or event related to your target market, rather than bringing people to you. And you can often provide a goodie bag item or some other tchotchke that gives people a reason to visit your location when the event is over: a discount, a free sample, an exclusive invitation.
  6. Offer live classes and educational events: You’re lucky enough to have a space so use it. Just like you promote valuable educational content on your blog, you can also give people a live experience. If you’re a yarn store, offer Knitting 101 for Beginners. If you’re a pet store, conduct a seminar on proper dog and cat dental care. If you’re a book store, bring in a local business book or cookbook author to present a mini-seminar. If you’re a hair salon, ask one of your product reps to educate on the benefits and proper usage of some of their most popular products. Offer attendance incentives, serve some nice appys and beverages and keep the selling soft. Nothing endears your brand more to people than when you give them something useful. They will remember.
  7. Develop a signature touch: OK, so the Tiffany blue color is taken, but what little touch of class can you add that will become your brand signature and delight customers? A local coffee shop places a single chocolate-covered espresso bean on the lid of every drink. Totally unexpected, totally cool. A home décor store wraps your purchased items tissue paper enclosed with a delicate raffia ribbon. Felt like a gift to yourself every time. Examine your business from every customer angle: Can you do something with the packaging, check-out process or even in-store displays that can become a brand differentiator for you? Maybe all your shelves are a unique recycled wood, maybe your hangers are all purple velvet? Get creative.
  8. Hire right: With the unique ability to convey your brand in the physical world comes great responsibility. Just one negative experience in your shop with an employee will ruining your brand forever – and with social media, you don’t want to take the chance of that one unhappy person influencing thousands. Hire good brand ambassadors. Will they support your brand values and leave the right brand impression on customers each and every time? Do they treat people who don’t buy on a visit just as well as the treat the ones who do? Just one employee has the ability to make or break your brand, since that one person represents your entire business to the customer at that moment. Hire people you know will live out the brand when they pick up the phone, turn around a disappointed client or ring up the next person at checkout.
  9. Remove all barriers to purchase: This sounds obvious but I’m constantly shocked by how many times small businesses get this wrong. Make it as easy and seamless as possible for someone to buy from you. This experience will make or break your brand. This means accepting cash AND credit cards (sorry folks, cost of doing business), investing in a really great and easy-for-employees-to-use POS system to expedite checkout. Clearly labeling all items with the right SKU’s. Posting the right pricing information near the product (don’t make me guess). Making sure you staff well enough so people don’t wait forever in line and change their minds because it’s too much hassle. I hate when I’m ready to buy my stuff and the cashier has disappeared for a spell. Ensure your staff is trained well so they can truly serve the customer and are not just some hired monkeys scanning a bar code. I’m always uber-impressed with bike shops. My husband is a cyclist, so we’ve been to many and we never fail to find that any staff person we may grab is super passionate and knowledgeable about cycling. They attract the right people, invest in training and ensure there is no reason for the customer to leave without exactly what they are looking for, unless they don’t happen to carry it. And if there’s ever a wait, a staff member will always drop whatever they are doing to assist in almost every bike store I’ve seen. That’s quality.

If you have a brick and mortar business, how have you branded yourself? What has worked for you or been less successful? Do any businesses you love have a signature touch? Please share your wisdom in the Comments!

Embrace your freakdom: Creating a breakout brand with Kelli Bielema of Shindig Events

I was hit by the hurricane that is Kelli Bielema at a recent Seattle entrepreneur panel which I moderated. Instantly, I fell in love with her vibrant personality and quirky branding for her event planning business, Shindig Events.  Her business creates “events that rock your face off” so you instantly know you’re not dealing with your everyday event planner.  Kellie longs to be a “Froot Loop in a world of Cheerios” and admits she stole that personal mission off Pinterest. She describes herself as a “Country girl who pines for city life. Chicago. Los Angeles. Seattle.”

Clearly she is not trying to attract your average bride or event maven. And I dig that about her. She boldly presents a unique alternative and either it speaks to you or it doesn’t. That, my friends, is targeting your brand and speaking to your tribe. But one thing is for sure: her brand stands out. So I sat down to ask her what advice she could share as you try to build a breakout brand.

RS: Welcome Kelli! I adore how your brand stands out in a world of very copycat event planning competitors. How did you determine your unique brand?

KB: When determining my business model, I knew I wanted to channel my party-participating energy into my party planning skills. Parties are fun and your planner should be too. The branding or marketing aspect part of an event is actually my favorite task, so I wanted to reflect that in my own business.

RS: Who is your ideal client? Were you ever afraid that claiming such a funky and offbeat brand would mean less revenue?

KB: People who are fun, flexible and funky are my targets.  We spend a lot of time together, doing everything from brainstorming to budgeting and then the event itself is often a marathon event, so you ultimately want to like and respect one another. You’ve got to have a sense of humor during the whole process or you are going to go bonkers.  Maybe once upon a time being unique was, well, unique. Any more, I see it as more the norm. People are embracing their freakdom more than ever (Tweet this!) and I am here to help facilitate that. Takes one to know one…!

RS: Well put! Based on your success, what wisdom can you share about effective positioning and differentiation?

KB: Having a point of view is great, but making it fresh, unique and distinct to your personality is vital. Finding out what it is that makes you and your business standout from the crowd is the key to developing marketing success. I’ll also add that being authentic in your business is just as critical as being authentic in your personal life.  People want to like and trust you…show them you are worthy of it by being real!

You can connect with Kelli and Shindig Events on her website, on Twiter @theshindiggery, or on Facebook: Shindig Events

What quirky brands stand out in your mind? What are you favorite ones? What is unique about your business brand? Please share in the Comments!