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Transforming Your “General Store” Into a Name Your Customers Can Remember

You have your business and you have your brand.

What’s the difference?

A business produces.
A business advertises.
A business sells.
A brand creates.
A brand reaches out.
A brand provides.

But you might still be asking – what’s the difference? According to Creative Director Tom Lewis at High Tide Creative, “a brand is created over time.

Think of it this way: your business is the store and your brand is the name. And customers don’t tell their friends about stores.

Why Branding Is Important: The Difference Between the Wild West and the Big City

If you’re a fan of old Westerns – spaghetti or American – you probably have a good idea of what an old Western town looks like. You’ve got a saloon, a sheriff’s station, a small bank, a stable, a butcher, and maybe a tailor and a barber (if you’re lucky). And of course, you’ve got a general store.

This general store doesn’t need any branding. People come in, buy up all the snake oil and hair tonic they please, and go on their way. It’s the same Mr. Roberts who owns and runs it for several decades until he passes it down to his son, with little change to the signage or interior.

This is an example of a business, and back then, that was all you needed.

But then the town begins to grow. Streets are paved, train tracks are laid nearby, saloons turn into hotels and horses make way for cars. Before Mr. Roberts knows it, his little old town is now a city.

And with a city comes people. More people to buy his goods, of course, but also more people trying to make a living. So another general store pops up on the other side of town. Mr. Roberts doesn’t worry – there’s still plenty of consumers to go around. Then another pops up two blocks away, and another right across the street.

Now Mr. Roberts has a problem, one he never would have anticipated: people don’t have to buy from his store anymore. But he takes relief in the fact that every other general store in the city has the exact same problem.

Unfortunately, Mr. Roberts isn’t a likable character. Mr. Johnson – the owner of Johnson’s General Store across the street – is much more of a people person, and he takes a bath at least twice a week. Slowly but surely, Mr. Roberts patrons dry up and switch allegiance to Johnson.

Now Mr. Roberts has two choices: keep running his failing business until he goes bankrupt, or figure out branding.

Branding: Your Number One Weapon Against Choice

The change that Mr. Roberts encountered in that blurry age between gunslingers and policemen was one based on markets and competition. His business worked until direct competitors started selling the same products and providing the same service.

When you have countless competitors offering the same thing, then simply running a business turns from the only thing you have to do to the bare minimum. No one cares how consistently you come in everyday to stand behind the counter with your “Come In, We’re Open!” sign hanging on the door.

At this point it becomes a question of: What Else?

Branding is your What Else. And in the online world, competition is all around you no matter what your industry may be. So you’ve got a website? Great, but we’re sorry to tell you: that’s the bare minimum. 

According to Kantar Millward Brown, the difference between low branding and high branding in your presentation to potential customers is the difference of almost 20% in sales, even in the short-term. 

So: What Else?

3 Online Branding Techniques to Grow Your Business

1) Draw Up Your Intended Buyer Persona

74% of online shoppers hate it when a website they like starts producing content irrelevant to their needs.

A business is a cold, heartless machine with the sole purpose of transacting with your customer. But a brand? A brand is warm and fuzzy, with a smile and a hot cup of cocoa.

That means the first and most crucial difference between showcasing your business online and showcasing your brand online is figuring out your buyer persona and shaping everything around them.

Now ask yourself:

  • What’s your business?
  • What demographic most commonly interacts with your business?
  • What kind of person from that demographic is your most loyal customer?

But let’s say you already know the answers to these questions, but your business still isn’t doing well. It’s time to ask yourself a few more:

  • Who is my direct competitor?
  • Who are the customers making them rich?
  • Why are those customers choosing them and not me?

Use the answers to these questions to draw up the buyer persona your business wants to attract or keep. These are the people you want to satisfy. Every time they open your website, they need to feel welcome and appreciated. This means the site needs to match their aesthetic, and the content needs to answer their questions.

The more consistently you can hit your exact buyer persona, the better customer experience you can provide. A study from Walker found that by next year, customer experience will be the main factor in identifying a brand.

2) Start from Scratch with Your Own Brand Style Guide

One of the key factors in truly establishing a brand is consistency. Your image, your voice, your look, and your appeal need to consistently emanate from your site. Everything from the colors you use to the pictures you upload to the way you write need to match and come together to form a single, coherent personality, and this personality can’t falter in any area of your site.

Because the moment it does is the moment that the illusion that your business isn’t actually a living, breathing personality falls apart. And that’s what branding is: an illusion that a business isn’t just a business. An illusion that your business has to keep up for as long as you want to hold your customers’ loyalty and attention.

And the best way to maintain this consistency is by creating your own style guide. At a minimum, your style guide should include:

-       Buyer personas, and more in-depth descriptions of your customers if necessary

-       The vision, mission, and goals, of your brand

-       The story of your brand and your company – how you started, who started it, why it was started, and why you are relevant

-       Language choices – adjectives that describe and don’t describe the brand, your preferred vernacular, the tempo, voice, register and more

-       Your fonts, sizes, and bold or italic choices

-       Logo, catchphrases, slogans, and more

-       Any other practice that you find cool or relevant that is unique to your site

While this might seem like a lot to squeeze into your style guide, the general rule is this: any choice you make for your site and your image should be a part of your style guide. 

Once you have this guide prepared, go through every page on your site with your guide on-hand and make sure every piece of it is consistent.

3) Personalize the Customer Journey

Think about the difference between a fancy, 5-star hotel and a random motel you once spent the night in while driving across the country. The latter might cost you $25 a night, and the former $200 a night. But if you can, you would gladly part with that extra $175 for the 5-star experience.

And let’s be clear: it’s not just because of the king-sized bed stolen straight out of heaven’s gates.

It’s because of that extra little service on every little thing you experience. It’s the way they remember your name, the imported chocolates on the pillow, the reliable room service that doesn’t only fulfill your request, but go out of their way to make sure you have the exact right flavor of whatever.

It’s the pampered, personalized journey from start to finish that make it easy to spend that extra money every night, and make us want to spend it again and again.

What’s the lesson we can take away from this?

Life isn’t about utilitarianism. Stop treating your business like a utility to be used; turn it into an experience to be desired.

“But I run an online hardware store!” you might say. “How in the world do I give them a ‘luxury experience’?” You might think that your business doesn’t benefit from offering personalized, extra touches.

The truth is customers are willing to pay more in every industry, if they believe that it’s worth their money. That “premium price” can go up to an average of 14-18%, and more if they truly see value in what they spend.

While it might not be as easy as throwing out a broken mattress for the best bed money can buy, this approach is absolutely doable in whatever industry you’re dealing with. Think of it like this: the “luxury experience” is just the “extra touches experience”. 

When it comes to any business online, those extra touches can be in the form of:

  • Personalized greetings and Thank You! Notes
  • Store credit, discount codes, and other bonuses every time your customers interact with your site, from buying products to recommending their friends to subscribing to your weekly newsletter
  • Emails sent some time after the customer bought your product or used your service, asking if they truly enjoyed their experience and if there’s anything your business can do to make it even better

Here’s a great example I experienced recently. A year ago, my partner and I took a short trip to Hong Kong, and she purchased a nice little item from a luxury store (it starts with a P and ends with a “rada”). A bit pricey, but you can’t deny the quality.

A few days ago she received an email from that exact store wishing her a happy birthday and a discount code. Not only that, but the email was sent specifically from the salesperson who had worked with us, using her Prada email. This gave it that extra little touch that showed us “this isn’t totally an automated system” (even if it was).

And that was awesome. It was totally and absolutely unnecessary, but they did it anyway. How can you not love that?

Remember: the “extra touches experience” doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be there

Breathe Life Into Your Business: Turn It Into a Brand

The days of the Wild West are over, and running businesses like Mr. Roberts is over, too. When was the last time you roasted a rabbit on a stick? Life is good enough these days that we can think about more than just utility. For you and your customers, it’s all about that What Else.

It’s time to think about that What Else, and time to provide the experience that turns your business into a brand. Because if you don’t do it, Mr. Johnson will, and sooner than you think.

Don’t be a Roberts, be a Johnson. Be Writrly.

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