Anyone running a business knows it is a lot of hard work. The dream we all had about being our own boss and having more free time, well, it was a nice dream. Having a business means you also have customers and customers can be a challenge.
Just Plain Finicky
Many customers are finicky. Demanding. Hard to please. Now, more than any other time in history, they are better informed and less inclined to be loyal. Back in the day, before Amazon, if you were a local store, you could stock your shelves and all the local folks would buy. People did not go online looking for reviews or better prices. What’s up with that?
Well, it’s a brand new media-driven world. Sigh. At the end of 2014, 1.6 billion people worldwide owned smart phones. By the end of 2015, that number would be over 2 billion. In the United States, 77% of the population owned a smartphone by 2016.
In this very connected world, customers are in their cars, at the cafe, standing in line to buy groceries and they are going on the internet with their phones to check out products. I do it myself. Standing in a hardware store, looking at the latest sprinkler with its plastic-non-metal frame, I go online, type in the model number and the word ‘reviews’ and there it is–everything the buyers said about it. Good or bad, it is all there for me to see and decide if that lifetime warranty means anything or not.
I don’t see myself as finicky, just a smart shopper. Like, is it too much to ask that a sprinkler work for more than one season? My dad has sprinklers from when I was a kid that still work. Me, I have a box of watering devices that sort-of sprinkle. So from my perspective, the first business that sells me an honest-to-goodness, bullet-proof, ‘yard irrigation solution’ will have my business. Now really, does that make me a demanding customer? Maybe.
But now that you see one of the real-life challenges of an ordinary customer, you understand how your products provide solutions to your customers’ needs. This includes everything from a gift item for an eccentric aunt, a baby toy that does NOT make noise for an already stressed mom to an auto service package for the business person who has no time to figure out which auto repair shop is the best.
Bring on the Solutions
All customers are just out looking for a solution to their problem. That’s what your customers are thinking about. The first business that we trust and that fits into budget may find themselves the winner of our wallet. So the goal for those of us in business is to be that go-to solution.
You should also know that when people head to a store they expect to spend money. They are willing to pay for a solution right then. Most of us don’t really want to shop online we want to buy it today. So I leave you to think about how you can find out what problems your customers are having when they come into your business. When you understand your customers’ needs, you can be their immediate solution and you will make more sales. Exciting, right?
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Your business is a brand, but building your brand is more than your name, logo, catchy tagline or signature colors. It includes those things, but branding is mostly about managing your customers’ perceptions. Yes, you guessed right, it always comes back to the customers and what they think when they see your logo.
Branding your business is how you use every marketing channel, every event, every customer contact to connect with your shoppers’ hearts. I know it sounds a bit touchy-feely, but studies have proven time and again that people decide with their emotions. Once we connect emotionally, our minds come up with the reasons why we made the right choice. Howard Lim, one of my favorite branding experts, says, “Humans are intuitive, emotional beings and they do not invest in a brand until they feel something for the brand.” If you want people to invest in your brand, that means buy your product or service, then you have to figure out a way for them to feel good about doing business with you.
If you are into sports, then you know the feeling you get when you see the Nike swoosh, and when you love a coffee experience, then the Starbucks logo probably moves you to a happy place. I even have friends who emotionally respond to the John Deere logo.
Without an emotional connection, a logo is just a picture announcing, “Here we are,” but what you really want is an image that makes people feel good because they have heard great things about you or they believe in your business values or have had wonderful experiences in your shop, restaurant or hardware store.
What You Say
Having a strong brand in the midst of lot of other brands is a challenge. Sometimes we just try to talk louder to make ourselves heard, which means more advertising, more direct mail, more email newsletters and Facebook posts. Shouting that you are wonderful does not always make it true. If ‘being the friendliest’ is part of your branding, your business values and your story, then what you say about yourself has to be what the customer experiences. Ask yourself, “Is it true we are the friendliest place in town ?” Is your staff trained to be the ‘friendliest’ to every person that comes through the door, that calls on the phone, that posts a rude comment on your Facebook page? Although you have to know what your story is and what your business stands for, you also need to make sure it is authentic.
Once you understand what you want to be known for, you can create your mission, images, colors, business culture and employee training to reflect your story. Then you just repeat that message throughout your media channels, your customer service, the type of products you sell and everywhere you connect with a customer. People notice consistent, authentic brands.
What You Do
Your brand is also the promise you make to your customers. Promises such as having unique products, caring staff, hometown values or fast service. The way you win the hearts of your shoppers is in how you deliver (and over deliver) on the promises you make, because your brand is all about what the customer thinks of you. If you meet and exceed customers’ expectations the first time they visit your store and every time they visit, you are on your way to creating brand loyalty. Being consistent in giving customers what they need, want and expect is creating that elusive ‘customer experience’ everyone in retail is trying to find.
What They Say
People will talk. Don’t we know it! If we like you, we talk. If we don’t like you, we talk more. Social media has taken word-of-mouth marketing to a whole new level. People you will never know (in countries you will never visit) may be talking about your customer service right now. The point? If you build brand loyalty because you are working hard to give your customers something more than they expect, it can produce the kind of social media advertising that all the talking in the world won’t get you.
The first step in building the brand you want is to identify what your business is really about. Ask yourself what you want to be known for and how you want customers to think of you. Then look around your business and imagine it from the customers’ perspective. Begin dreaming up your mission statement and working with your employees to implement it. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun, because being in business is exciting stuff!
If you really want to do more to create your brand identity, check out our resource page.