How to Bring Your Brand to Life Today

When business owners think marketing, they typically focus on collateral, according to experts. But those same experts say that is a mistake, and encourage entrepreneurs to change their perception of what marketing can or should be.

What do they say is the first step to doing so? Recognize that, indeed, you have a brand to bring to life – and then you’re prepared to take your brand from consumption to passion.

What people are connecting with is not on a shelf with price stickers

“The challenge is being the thing that customers are willing to pay for,” said Rohit Bhargava, senior vice president of digital strategy at Ogilvy Public Relations and author of “Personality Not Included.” “Surmounting this challenge, means that you connect with your customers on an emotional level.”

Every element of your business is an element of your brand personality—from creating your business name,to your product packaging and your interactions with customers. Bhargava defines personality as the unique, authentic and talkable soul of your brand—and, it matters, because personality is something that people can care about, as opposed to a list of prices, benefits and where to purchase.

Marketing is more than just selling.

“It’s one thing to create a brand, another to embody it,” said John Federico, owner of a marketing and business development firm in Maplewood, NJ. Your brand is “you just being you.”

Position yourself uniquely, even down to a quirky character trait. This sets you apart.

Say, for example, you are a perfectionist. Embellishing on that trait in your marketing story helps you communicate that you always get things right. And tell that story authentically. Be genuine. Conversational. Even add a touch of humor. Using stilted language or corporate speak will be off-putting, delivering a message the average consumer cannot relate to.

And, as Mom always said, just because everyone else is doing something -- that doesn’t mean it's the way to go.

“When everyone is doing the same thing, it’s difficult to stand out,” Federico said.

And another thing to keep in mind: more important than any marketing campaign is what folks say, literally, about your product.

Paul Rand, president and chief executive officer of the Zocalo Group, agreed. More than 90 percent of consumers rely on recommendations, he said.

“The moment an organization realizes this is the moment it will improve its business marketing. Word of Mouth (WOM) is the most powerful driver and measure of how your brand is recommended by consumers and experts in relation to your competitors,” Rand said.

Zocalo, a Chicago-based marketing firm and a division of Omnicom Group, Inc., helps companies and brands create “sustainable word of mouth and brand evangelists” and is loyal to that concept down to its name. Zocalo is a Mexican word for a town's main plaza, a community gathering spot where people go to share thoughts and ideas—much like in today’s society people go to an increasing number of channels, online and off, to find and share information.

Rand identifies four key marketing musts:

No. 1: Understand how your consumers and prospects are talking about you.No. 2: Be clear as a brand how you want to be talked about.No. 3: Identify people online and off who are your biggest influencers.No. 4: Engage your customers in a consistent ongoing way.

Consistent engagement builds trust.

“Your tagline gets people to recognize you. Word-of-mouth consistently communicates a ‘sharable story,’” said Rand, who is also the president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

WOM ties in with what Bhargava calls “accidental spokespeople,” customers and employees, who talk and blog about your business. These people actually work (for free) for (or against) your brand. Cautioned Bhargava: Don’t be afraid of letting these accidental spokespeople talk about you; embrace them and consider yourself in partnership with them. Their dialogue does much to humanize your brand.

Also, be sure not to overlook your critics and detractors. Addressing concerns often leads to advocacy, said Rand.

“A dis-satisfied customer is not necessarily right, but his or her feeling is valid,” said Bhargava. Be neutral. Acknowledge that the customer needs to be heard. Apologize, try to fix the problem and, “don’t screw the same thing up again.”

Social media: a significant tool in a small business arsenal

Thanks to social media, WOM is on steroids, Rand said. He’s observed that small businesses feel very empowered when they start using it.

Social media is also a cost savings that has given small businesses the capability to have a voice and a footprint without spending millions. While there used to be a cost for experimentation, today the cost is getting closer and closer to nonexistent.

Immediacy is another benefit on the online age. You can always regroup.

“That’s the beauty of the digitalized message,” said Federico. “If your customers are not excited by what you’re telling them, go back to the drawing board.”