Coke. Nike. McDonald’s. Wal-Mart. When most people think of brands it is either the well-known products or nationally known stores. But when you think about it, your community is full of brands known to residents. With the advent and proliferation of the Internet and social media, even local citizens are going online searching for where to shop. In order to keep your store top of mind to this generation of shoppers you need to think of promoting your company’s name online.
“Taking your brand online isn’t a choice any more; it’s a necessity,” said Ivana Taylor, CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer. “The ways you can your brand to life online are limited only by your creativity.”
She recently offered a few tips that are mostly free or a relatively low cost on how you can build a powerful brand presence on- line. Among them:
- Blogging: It isn’t just for individuals, she said. “It’s a wonderful way to personalize and humanize a brand that’s being perceived as too big or too corporate.” While a small town store may not have to worry about this, the point Taylor is making can be applied to any size business. In a sense, taking a cue from the successful giants may be the best route to take. In the case of corporate blogging, she used WalMart as the example, saying it is not only fun to read but truly informative. Why? One reason is “the writers are all real-life buyers and their writing and bios show a real enthusiasm for their topic.”
- Microblogging (Twitter): When Oprah opened a Twitter account a couple of years ago, Taylor said it officially arrived as a brand enhancement tool. “Today’s consumers want a relationship with their brands. They want to know there are real people behind the products and services they buy,” and Twitter can help a company achieve that. As a storeowner, keeping customers updated or giving them bits of advice adds that relationship-building connection.
- Online videos (YouTube): If you want to get your brand ranked highly on Google, Taylor said put up a video. This is a natural for flooring stores. As she points out, if you have “before and after” demonstrations (i.e., installations) these “are one of the greatest values [and] you can’t afford not to use YouTube or post videos on your website.”
- Social networks: Starting a group or fan page on social networks such Facebook or LinkedIn is a wonderful way to get your customers to interact with each other about your brand and the ways in which your brand plays out in their lives, Taylor advises. “You might think that creating a group on a third party site would dilute your brand, but that’s not true. Creating groups and communities outside your web space actually grows your brand’s fan base.”
- Widgets: If having your logo plastered on clothes, shoes and hats is cool, “Then having your widget appear on websites and blogs is even cooler,” she explained. These are inexpensive, practical ways to build your brand.
- Crowdsourcing: Taylor called this “a great way to move your brand into the future.” Crowdsourcing lets your customers suggest what improvements or changes you will make next. “While it might seem frightening to put the fate of your brand in the hands of your customers, it’s not only an inexpensive way to collect ideas, it gets your customers involved in the process as they vote ideas up or down.” Take advantage of some of the available tools such as UserVoice and Idea Scale. Crowdsourcing also serves as a marketing communications opportunity. Customers get to put their two cents in and you get to save thousands of dollars in market research. Best of all, Taylor said, “As their ideas are implemented, customers be- come loyal to your brand and refer it to their friends.”