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Five steps to building brand equity for the small business

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by Mike O’Toole

Instinctively, every small business owner understands the importance of brand equity, even if they may not be able to define the idea. Marketing-speak aside, brand equity is how your customer recognizes why you are different and better than the alternative.

Brand equity is built on that customer’s direct experience with your product or service. This experience, repeated over time, creates equity or value in your brand. And it serves as a shorthand in the buyer’s mind that separates you from everyone else.

Brand equity is what creates loyalty that carries beyond price or the occasional product or service bump in the road. It is the quality that motivates your customers to recommend their friends or colleagues to you.

Everyone wants brand equity. But building it, when you are more likely to qualify for the Inc. 500 rather than the Fortune 500, can be a puzzle. Particularly when the role models for brand equity are global icons like Coca Cola, Volvo, or Sony—hardly your peer set.
The good news is that the path to building brand equity is clear. Here are five simple steps you can take to get started:

1. Clarify your position
The first step to building brand equity is to define your positioning: the single thing your company stands for to your customers. Single is the operative word here. Good positioning forces hard choices.
To define your brand position, get the key leaders in your company together. Decide what makes you different and better than your competition. This might sound blindingly obvious, but most small businesses are too busy responding to customers or making payroll to do a lot of introspection.
You don’t need an agency or consultant to get started. There are a couple of good exercises out there that you can do on your own. A simple one that I like is the Positioning XYZs:
“We are the only X that solves Y problem in Z unique way.”
X is the category of the company, product, or service or other offering you’ve chosen to own.
Y is the unmet need of your target audience.
Z is the differentiation, advantage, or key positive distinction you have over your competition.

2. Tell your story
Clear positioning is critical, but positioning statements are internal touchstones, not external expressions. Your next job is to make it interesting, to imbue the rational positioning with emotion.
All brands are stories, and a good way to get started is to document and share your best corporate stories: the founding insight of the company, the times you went to extraordinary lengths to take care of a customer, or the background behind the big product breakthrough.
The good news is that with ubiquitous broadband access and Web-based applications, it is within every company’s grasp to share these stories more broadly through rich-media video and audio.
B.Good (, a small restaurant chain in Boston, has done this well. It’s a burger joint that promises “real food,” positioning itself against the typical fast-food burger and experience. The real food story begins with the stories of the “real people,” the founders whose corporate values are based on their experiences growing up at their uncle’s restaurant. You’re reminded of these stories when you’re in the restaurant or checking store hours online.

3. Bring it to life
Once you have the story, you need to bring it to life. Make sure that the way your company looks and feels to the outside world matches that truth. This leads to questions about your corporate identity: Do the basics (starting with your name and logo) make the impression you want? And your broader system for communicating to the market: Web site, brochures, your retail environment.
A client of mine talked about his Web site as a “corporate veil” that obscured what made the company special. Does your corporate identity reveal the best truth about your business, or does it hide it?

4. Start building brand before they buy
Think beyond the transaction. Brands begin at the transaction level, but the brand experience goes much deeper. The opportunity to create a brand impression starts long before the buying decision. The principle is a simple one: Give away an artifact of your brand for free. In the professional services world, this means a taste of your service or your intellectual property. Here are two creative examples:
Igor ( is a naming consultancy based in San Francisco. It has built a methodology—and a client list that rivals those of much-larger branding agencies. That methodology is laid bare in a 100-page guide to naming that it gives away—without any registration requirements—on its Web site.
This move is both generous, in the spirit of Web content “wanting to be free,” and also incredibly shrewd. The naming guide is rich, detailed, and outlines a very clear process for naming. Igor understands that giving away IP (intellectual property) doesn’t cost it business—but it is its lead business generator.
It doesn’t have to be just IP. Peet’s (, the coffee retailer, allows customers to send their friends an “eCup,” an email redeemable for a free cup of coffee. This is an ingenious way to enable the fiercely loyal customers of Peet’s to promote the brand themselves.

5. Measure your efforts
Here are a few direct ways to measure the progress of your brand:
Ask your customers. Survey a subset of customers, prospective customers, and (ideally) people who chose a competitor over you. You’ll be surprised at how candid people will be about your strengths—and your weaknesses. Make sure you ask the most important question in any customer research: Would you recommend us to a friend or colleague? Research (check out has shown that the willingness to recommend is the most important indicator of brand health. This research can be done quite cheaply online, using free or near-free tools like KeySurvey ( or SurveyMonkey (
Check your search rankings. I don’t know all of what Igor measures, but I do know it fares very well in what is perhaps the most important measure of them all: organic search results. Type “product naming” on Google, and chances are you’ll see Igor come up in the top three listings (the earned ones in the middle, not the paid ones on the top or side).
Monitor the social media conversation. In most categories, consumers are holding a very active and candid conversation about the brands they love and hate. Check out what they’re saying about you in blogs, bulletin boards, and vendor-rating Web sites ( or are good places to start).

Top Five Lead Gen practices

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Jon Miller in a recent post at Marketo.
Top Five Lead Management Best Practices:

1.Be everywhere. “Cast your marketing net wide so customers will find you no matter where they are searching,” he advises. (as long as they are within your target market profile).

2. Build prospect profiles. Create a lead database to manage and store all your leads, and then make sure you have a strategy in place to keep that database clean (e.g., lead de-duplication).

2.Automate lead handoffs. He offers an example: “Define different lead status values to indicate whether someone is a qualified prospect but still nurturing, or a true sales-ready lead.” Then update their lead status in the CRM system.

3.Provide sales-lead insight. Give the sales rep the prospect’s history, and offer insight about the “interesting moments” that caused that person to become a lead.

4.Recycle leads as necessary. If your sales rep can’t follow up right away, or the prospect isn’t available, don’t let a lead just sit and turn stale. “[H]ave a process in place to reassign the lead or escalate the issue,” Miller advises.

Internet Marketing – A viable marketing strategy in a down economy

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Laura Lake explains some good ideas when it comes to internet marketing ideas and strategy.

We are watching our pennies and slashing our marketing budgets so where can we market that provides us the most cost effective vehicle as well as gives us the efficiency we need in this economy? It’s the Internet.

Why is internet marketing the most cost effective and efficient? It’s the only marketing vehicle that allows you to make tweaks and changes to your campaigns on the fly. When was the last time you ran a marketing campaign and realized it wasn’t pulling the results that you had hoped for? Do you remember the hopeless feeling you got when you saw the campaign was going to be a flop? Of course you do. If you had used internet marketing you could have made the changes at the first sign of failure. The changes could include tweaking the text, modifying the graphic or strengthening the message.
I’m not saying internet marketing is easy, but given some effort and even guidance you can make internet marketing a viable option to sell your services and products. I’ve provided you a few resources that will help you understand the importance of internet marketing strategy as well as guidance that will help you get started.

Internet Marketing Strategy: What Can it Do for You?Having an Internet marketing strategy gives you a measurable and definitive way to target your market and position your business so that those looking for what you have to offer are finding you easily. Learn what it can do for your marketing efforts.Read more

Internet Marketing Strategy : Why is it Important?An Internet Marketing Strategy is just as important as a business plan. Find out why it is important and the risks and problems you can face if you proceed without one.Read more

ABC’s of Creating an Internet Marketing StrategyThis can often leave marketers confused and wondering where to start. Learn a formula that will help you experience internet marketing success in 2007.Read more

Five Levels of Internet Marketing and the Sales ProcessCreating a successful online sales process can be accomplished by making sure that you represent and court your visitor through the five levels of the sales process on your site. You can do this by meeting the psychological needs that your visitor has. Find out how in this three part series.Read more

Top 10 Internet Marketing Strategies Internet Marketing can attract more people to your website, increase customers for your business, and enhance branding of your company and products. If you are just beginning your online marketing strategy the top 10 list below will get you started on a plan that has worked for many.Read more

Five Myths of Internet Marketing for Independent ProfessionalsThe vast majority of what appears on the Internet about marketing is designed to help you market products and services sold and delivered exclusively on the Internet. What does that mean for the independent professional whose web presence is primarily aimed at selling his or her own personal services? Learn how to identify and avoid the five myths of Internet Marketing for independent professionals in this guest article by C.J. Hayden.

6 Ways to weather an economic downturn

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Robyn Haydon from Flying Solo has some great ideas about how to survive as a small business or sole practisioner in this economic climate.

A wise business mentor once told me ‘the best job security is the security you create for yourself’. I think this is true in any economic environment. So what is the answer for solo businesses? I think it’s planning. If we establish defensive measures now, we will be ready if and when this wobble turns into a full-on slump. Here are a few ways to weather-proof your business against the looming clouds of an economic downturn.

1. Review your target markets Geoff Kelly, a leader influence consultant I spoke to, believes that not enough of us “spend enough time targeting the right niche”. Kelly has shifted his focus from small-to-medium clients to those “more medium” sized. The risk-averse could consider government clients, if the offer suits, as government will always pay its bills.

2. Adjust to short-term thinking Expect prospects to be tight with time and cash and don’t take it personally. Try improving something they already have or do, rather than selling something completely new. Accept smaller projects.

3. Adapt your offering to what customers want now Talk to your customers and find out how the economic downturn is affecting their business. Come up with ideas, products or services that will solve the new set of problems. Always be relevant.

4. Be smart about keeping your customers Turn that long-term handshake agreement into a monthly retainer for regular work. Incentivise repeat business by offering extras without devaluing your core offer.

5. Widen your new business net Sharpen up your market presence – revamp your website, or get one; revisit your customers for testimonials; talk up the value customers get from you as opposed to competitors. Shelve brand-building in favour of marketing campaigns that get an immediate return. Ask existing customers to refer new ones. Think about how you could do business with customers based interstate or overseas.

6. Know and respect your value Shawn Price, an independent career management consultant, points out that we ‘independents’ can be attractive in an economic downturn because we can offer more expertise, more flexibility and a lower risk and level of commitment than full-time employees.

The Amazing Power of Growing a Big List

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by Wendy Maynard, Marketing Maven

You may think your biggest business asset is your equipment or your inventory. But, you have two assets even more important than these. Your first big asset is your expertise: your unique knowledge and the specific way that your company helps your clients.

Your second asset is your list of satisfied, loyal customers, as well as your pool of warm prospects with whom you are building a relationship of credibility and trust. Building this list and keeping in touch is your ticket to an ongoing, steady stream of income – no matter what the economy is doing. And this is true regardless of the type of business you run. These individuals will develop a fierce brand loyalty and they will spread the word about how much they love you.
Here are some tips to build your list of leads and prospects:
If you have a website, make sure you have some kind of name capture mechanism. In exchange for people’s contact information, offer a subscription to an ezine, a free report, an e-course, coupon, sample, or some other perk.
Make sure you have an effective online system to collect the names of your customers and prospects. The best program I’ve found for managing my lead generation and follow-up activities is This program allows you to set up a name capture form for your website or blog, as well as autoresponders to automate the process of communicating with your list on a regular basis. Set it up and let it work for you as your online salesperson – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you have a physical location, place a sign-up form in an obvious place for your visitors so you can stay in touch with them on an ongoing basis. You can offer an incentive to sign up such as special coupons, discounts, or a print newsletter with tips. For instance, one of my clients owns a retail boutique and she offers special VIP Customer Discount Events.
When you give speeches, presentations, and attend trade shows, collect the names of people you interact with! In exchange for their contact information, offer people a prize like a free product or a discount. You can do the same thing if you offer telephone seminars or online courses to your clients.
Grow your list by conducting a joint venture with a like-minded business. This is one of the most powerful ways to grow a list of qualified leads. For example, a mortgage broker and Realtor can offer a free seminar on home buying. Both businesses can collect the names of the attendees.
Submit articles to various websites, ezines, and industry publications. Make sure each article has a resource box with information about your business and a link to a name capture page. Submit Your Article is a powerful service that will send your articles to numerous websites. For a fre.e online service, try
Good ‘ol phone calls can also do the trick. They often say something like: “Oh my goodness, I am so glad you called! Getting in touch with you has been on my list for weeks now. Let’s set up a time to meet because I have this great new idea for a project…” And off we go!
Direct mail is a relatively inexpensive way to keep in touch. There are so many different types of direct mail you can send to your list. But you can keep it simple. All you really need is a regular postcard to remind people of your presence. If you want to get more complicated, you can send a printed newsletter, thank-you card, or special letters with gifts inside.
Anyone and everyone who has ever purchased from you should go on your list. It is much easier and cost effective to cross-sell and up-sell to past, satisfied customers than it is to convert a prospect into a customer. Regularly keep in touch to ensure your company stays in the forefront of their awareness.

Be sure to track your marketing activities with your customers and prospects. This includes direct mail, phone calls, estimates sent, and meetings. You can use something as simple as Microsoft Outlook, which has client relationship management (CRM) functions. You can also use software with more robust CRM capabilities such as ACT! or Goldmine. If you don’t need to have the latest version of these, look on Ebay for great deals on an earlier release of the software.

Action Item: Take a look at your current system for collecting names and following up with prospects and customers. How do you store your contact data? What actions will you take in the next three months to improve the list-building aspect of your marketing, and how will you reach out to them on a regular basis?

Funnel Vision – How to build a great business (from a good one)

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Great article by Hugh Macfarlane

Standing out from the crowd is tough when your competitors are also working towards the same end. Occasionally, though, a business that has been doing ‘fine’ suddenly starts doing better than fine. In fact, it goes from being good to great. For some, this success is temporary and they soon slink back into the pack. A select few make a significant shift and go on to achieve sustained greatness.
How does a good business become a great one? Hot on the heels of his groundbreaking work with co-author Jerry Porras on the bestselling management book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, researcher and author Jim Collins set out to answer this question. As a result, he produced an even better book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap & And Others Don’t.
Collins’ team of researchers drew up a list of extraordinary companies that met three criteria – they had to have performed at or below the rest of the market for 15 years; then undergone a change; and then significantly outperformed the stock market for 15 years or more.
Collins wanted to understand what these businesses had done to transform themselves into market leaders. His findings suggest there are seven keys to creating a great business.
Disciplined people
1. Adopting level 5 leadership: build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.
2. Considering who first, then what: begin by getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off it) and then work out where to drive it.
Disciplined thought
Confronting the brutal facts (yet never losing faith): all good-to-great companies began their transition by analysing the facts of their reality while being determined to rise above that reality.
4. Embracing the hedgehog concept: this entails getting clear answers to three questions:
· what are you deeply passionate about?
· what do you know you can be the best in the world at?
· what drives your economic engine?
Disciplined action
5. Fostering a culture of discipline: getting sustained great results requires self-disciplined people who take disciplined action.
6. Using technology as an accelerator: good-to-great companies avoid technology fads, but become pioneers in carefully selected technologies.
7. Creating ‘flywheel momentum’: sustainable transformations follow a pattern of build-up and breakthrough. Like pushing a flywheel, it takes effort to get things moving, but persistence builds momentum and breakthrough.
In our experience, the final idea needs further examination. Momentum is a great outcome, but how do you get it?
In business-to-business (B2B) marketing, organisations often come up with a great idea, try it once and then go looking for another great idea. This is fatally flawed. Not only is it hard to get good at anything this way, but the market becomes confused.
Consumer marketers know that perceptions take a long time to build. They create ads and sell their message consistently. As B2B marketers, we have to do the same. Create campaigns that last for years, and execute them again and again. Refine those plans when necessary, but only after robust measurement and testing.
Adhere to these rules and you’ll soon hear that flywheel humming.

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