Small and medium-sized businesses want the same things big corporations want regarding their brand: A great reputation, unwavering loyalty and instant recognition.
But whether the business is huge or small, one essential ingredient to building a great brand identity is time. You might spend years developing people, processes and systems necessary to provide a great customer experience, so don’t expect broader awareness of all your good work and your brand to happen overnight.
On the contrary, if you’re seriously committed to establishing your brand in whatever market you occupy, you must commit just as seriously to a long haul. Getting your market to recognize you and have a strong, positive perception of your brand demands that you develop a comprehensive brand strategy, and that you persist at implementing your strategy over an extended period of time.
Keep in mind that logos, colors and taglines are not strategies. They’re simply expressions of your brand – visual or verbal tools meant to convey a bit of who you are. Your brand strategy starts at a higher level with answers to challenging questions such as “How do you want to be perceived in the marketplace?” and “Why are you not perceived that way now?”
These issues can be difficult as you quickly realize that you probably need to fix some operational or personnel issues before you can take your brand identity from where you are to where you want to be. For example, if your billing process is aggravating your customers, you might need to invest in new systems or training -- or even replace an unproductive employee -- in order to provide your customers with an efficient billing system that enhances rather than damages their perception of your brand.
That’s why your brand strategy needs to include both internally focused and externally focused actions. Internally, you need to look at everything you do that impacts your customers, directly or indirectly, and how they think of you. (Remember, your brand is much more than your logo or your product packaging.) Externally, you need to look hard at how your competitors position themselves, what position you want to claim, how your prospective customers make purchasing decisions and much more.
All of this takes time. And once the strategy is in place, guess what – more time to execute. You won’t move the needle on your brand’s perceived position in the market by buying one online, TV or print ad slot. Or posting one LinkedIn message. Or getting mentioned in one news item. Or by posting your new logo on your website and thinking you’re finished.
You’re going to have work on the tactical aspects of your brand strategy relentlessly, every day, for a long time, while simultaneously providing a great customer experience on the operational side.
This is how a brand like Rackspace goes from being a tiny startup to a widely recognized brand with a great reputation. It’s how all great brands are built and maintained. Long-term vision is a must. A commitment to investing time in both strategic planning and long-term implementation is essential.