When you’re running a small business or just starting out, awareness can be a big objective. Without awareness among key audiences like the local or trade media, professionals in the market for a job (for that very opening you’re trying to fill), and targeted prospects, your fantastic product or service may go unnoticed. Even after you’ve earned a base of existing customers, it’s important to remain top of mind so that they may think of your brand when they’re ready to purchase again. And if a peer or friend of theirs needs a referral, you want your company to be the first recommendation that person shares.
So how can you keep awareness at its peak? How can you get (and keep) the word out?
Aim for a sustained effort, not a one-time punch. You can do that by building in operating philosophies and standards you believe in, making them easy to maintain.
If your product or service delivers on its brand promise, you’re off to a good start with this awareness thing. It’s much more difficult – and unadvisable – to pursue an awareness objective if marketing materials claim one thing but your actual customer experience is another. Gaps between promise and reality inhibit the growth of customer trust. Without trust, the only word a consumer can spread is a negative one.
Lay the groundwork for awareness-building by considering all the stakeholders in the business, both internal and external. I can’t stress how important it is to view your organization through the eyes of others. Their “outside in” perspective of your company can shed light on shadows you never knew were there. Become intimately familiar with how people perceive the business and its values, from customers to the new gal in accounting (their perception = their reality). Consider gathering this info and analyzing it your own personal exercise in brand awareness-building. Some of what you learn may not be favorable, but knowing is the first step to fixing.
Once you feel good your brand promise is in line with the experience your company offers and you understand how your brand is perceived by stakeholders, you can think about ways to incite those people to share positive words about your brand within their networks. Sometimes, it’s as simple as an honest Ask.
Other tips for getting the good word out about your brand:
- Say “Thank You” often, with eye contact, sincere delivery, and body language that shows you really mean it. People who spend money like to know they’re appreciated.
- In a time when electronic convenience lets us do more (and do it quickly), take the time to:
- Hand write a note to a customer to inquire how their new purchase is working out.
- Call to confirm a customer shipment was received when expected.
- Walk packages out to a customer’s car.
- Stop by an employee’s desk to ask what the best part of their day was, and what could have been better.
- Demonstrate that satisfied employees and customers are the foundation for your success– dedicate a wall or bulletin board to photos, notes, cards, and other memorabilia relating to the people that make your business GO.
- Show everyone – internal and external to the company – that they matter. If you implement a new process, be sure to communicate that Jane Doe’s idea led to the improvement. If you modify your product, use your next customer email drop as an opportunity to express how valuable a customer’s feedback was to making the product better. Remember to reply to comments left on your blog, and make it a practice to return calls and emails as quickly as you can. These actions all demonstrate respect and appreciation for other peoples’ time.
- Empower everyone to tell your brand’s best stories. At your quasi-regular employee meetings, share a story about how an employee made a customer’s day. Continually invite customer feedback via toll-free number, dedicated email address, online survey, or postage-paid return questionnaire card. Use the feedback – even if some of it is constructive – to demonstrate a corporate willingness to learn, grow, and improve. Follow-up with respondents so they can take some ownership in the outcomes. Incorporate the stories into your marketing, if appropriate.
Another great way to foster positive brand sentiment people will want to share: Do the right thing. Sometimes that may mean honoring a misprinted coupon. It may mean keeping the doors open 15 minutes late or even apologizing when you goof (even the big brands trip up).
Hold fast to your brand promise, and consistently deliver upon it with each customer interaction. Treat employees and customers with respect and appreciation, and they’ll evangelize your brand to anyone who will listen.