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Developing a Brand Identity for Your Home-Based Business

Overcome the Challenge When You Don’t Have a Brick and
Mortar Location

By Steve Nubie

Everything you do — every experience of every customer — adds up to a brand image and perception of who you are and what you represent.

Whether you know it or not, the day you go into business you’re building a brand. Everything you do — every experience of every customer — adds up to a brand image and perception of who you are and what you represent. If you do it right you build customer loyalty and equity in your brand. That’s why it’s so important that you carefully nurture and develop your brand identity. This may be easy to understand, but it poses an interesting challenge for a home-based business.

Many who pursue a home-based business model enjoy the benefits of reduced overhead, flexible hours, and proximity to family. There are challenges as well. Most home-based businesses cannot showcase and market a brand through signage and an in-store experience that comes with a traditional brick and mortar location. Just as important, you don’t always have the daily opportunity for face-to-face interaction with your customers without a location.  Brands are built on relationships. The relationships between a company and its customers define how customers think about a particular business. As a result, a home-based business needs to be especially sensitive to the fundamentals of brand-building and brand identity. This begins with the most fundamental decision you will have to make about your brand: naming your company.

Joan, of Joan’s Gems in Oxford, Maryland, figured that out early on. “As soon as I started selling my jewelry and wire art I wanted to have a business name so people would recognize me and my work,” she says. “I’ve read that for artists, it’s important that they incorporate their own name in the business name such as Designs by Joan. I also wanted a name that gave people an idea of what I sold — hence, Joan’s Gems.”

Developing a brand name that clearly identifies your product or service is important for any business, but it’s only the first step in effective brand building.

It’s All About Experience and Appearance
An effective brand identity is not defined simply by a name, logo, typeface, and a whole bunch of stationery, mailing labels, or delivery trucks with the same look. What are critical are the positive associations that customers make to the look and appearance of your name, logo and other elements like typeface. Brand identity is all about making a firm link between experience and appearance.

One of the greatest benefits of a home-based business from a customer perspective is personalized service. Big companies and big corporations try to provide personalized service but we’ve all done the “Press 1 phone game” whenever we’ve called a big company, and when was the last time you talked to the same person twice? A home-based business is different.

George Moore, a never-retired advertising executive with more than 25 years of brand experience with agencies in Chicago and New York, made this observation about a home-based business he has consulted with over the years owned by Frank Zuckerman.

“Frank’s in the collectible comic book business, and he’s always been very accommodating to his customers,” says Moore. “I think that his concern for his customers is key. He’s meticulous on keeping in touch via e-mail and follows-up after every order.”

The level of personalized service a home-based business can provide may be one of your strongest competitive advantages, and your biggest brand-builder. The considerate and consistent tone of voice you can offer as a home-based business can make a big difference with every sale, and most importantly, future sales. But there’s a key word to remember: consistency.

Effective Brands are Consistently Consistent
Consistency is the foundation of an effective brand identity. But there’s more to it than just applying the same logo and typeface to everything you do. It’s also about applying consistency of communication to customers through everything you and your employees and representatives say. Representatives that could extend from installers, to suppliers, drivers, and fulfillment companies ultimately define the experience customers have with your company and your brand.

According to Moore, “Trucks and drivers are a very important part of customer service and the brand strategy. Indeed, personalized service is one of the few places where a mom & pop business can garner an advantage over the big chains out there. Service, coming from a small, tight knit group can always be more attentive and personal than anything the bigger stores can offer.”

Your behavior as a brand and the experience your customers have with that behavior defines who you are. That’s why you have to ensure that every employee or representative of your company talks, acts, and thinks in a consistent way throughout every customer transaction. Consistent brand communication through all of your marketing efforts is simply a reflection of that behavior and a reminder. A reflection of what you’ve done right, and a reminder of who you are and why they should come back or find you in the first place.

Joan of Joan’s Gems found that to be true in a curious way, “I had made up a flyer with my logo on it and displayed it at the post office here in Oxford, MD. It basically said, ‘Joan’s Gems is back at the Farmer’s Market, now through…’” recalls Joan. “There are only 700 people in this town, but I know they all go to the post office. Months later, I met the woman who runs the Community Center at an art show. She pointed to my logo and said, ‘I know this! I’ve seen this before!’ She had seen my flyer at the post office. I guess that’s good brand recognition when a person you’ve never met before and has never seen your work recognizes your business name. I continue to work with her today by teaching classes in jewelry-making at the Community Center.”

Certain Key Behaviors Define a Successful Brand Experience
What people will remember about your business the most is the simple experience they have with every transaction. And what all businesses will tell you is that what make them successful are repeat transactions. Repeat transactions that over time build a relationship. Building that relationship is your first step towards building a brand identity.

George Moore shares this insight from a small home-based business that specializes in office supplies. “They have an interesting strategy for hiring drivers,” says Moore. “They like to hire retired phone installers or people who have retired from similar occupations. They tend to be more reliable than younger workers. The company finds that the older people they hire are inclined to take more time to listen to customers and respond positively.” That’s why it’s so important to be consistent in everything you say and do, and to make sure that everyone who works with you and for you does the same.

Did you respond to inquiries and orders in a timely and consistent manner? Is your pricing consistent and fairly communicated? Are your delivery and fulfillment practices dependable and consistent from one order to the next? The more you can establish a pattern of consistency in your business behaviors, the easier you will make it for a customer to come back to you again and again. Ultimately, that’s the greatest strength of a brand.

Certain Key Elements Define a Successful Brand Appearance
The appearance of your brand must also be consistent. Think of it as your signature. It’s who you are and how you’re recognized. Imagine this on a personal level. If every time people saw you, and you had a different face, a different hairdo, a wildly different wardrobe, and spoke a different language, they would be confused if not concerned. All of the hard work you’ve done to create a positive and consistent customer experience will be lost. Lost for the simple reason that you’re unrecognized for your past efforts.

Joan practices that behavior in everything she does. “I designed a logo and put it on everything I could from day one. Every item sent from my web site or sold at an art show has my name on it. Every bag, box, earring card, business card, or product hangtag has my logo, web site address and, in most cases, my contact info,” she says. “I also have an 8-foot banner with my logo on it displayed at every show. That is my sign over my door since I don’t have a brick and mortar storefront. It helps people to remember me, and also locate me again from year to year at repeat shows or events.

I sell my items in some gift shops as well, and tell the shop owners that as part of the deal with them, I want my logo on each item. This usually means attaching a display card or hangtag which most shop owners are glad to have since it usually assists with displaying the items.” Give yourself some credit and make sure you get the recognition you deserve every time. You do that when you consistently apply your brand name, logo, typeface, and message the same way across all communication materials, all the time.

Consistency of experience and consistency of appearance ensures you get the credit for your hard work and your growing brand.

Have a Vision — Have a Mission
Every business should have a vision and a mission. They represent a simple statement of goals and objectives. Your vision is your goal. How do you want your customers to perceive you? Are you the fastest? Are you the best value? Do you offer the best service? Are you unique in some way? Your vision is the way you position your company in the minds of customers. That vision will guide you as you develop your company name, logo, communication, and
business practices.

Your mission is defined by the measurable objectives that will allow you to reach your goal. “We will follow up every order with an e-mail or a phone call,” would fulfill a “best service” goal. “We will match any competitor’s price,” would fulfill a “best value” goal. “We will refund any order without question or cost to
you,” would fulfill a “highest quality” goal.

There can be many objectives in your mission statement but you should really focus on having one goal or vision. That vision will ultimately define your
brand. The objectives will define your mission and will guide your brand as it develops. This will essentially become your brand strategy — a strategy you should use to determine the appearance of your brand name, logo, typeface, and the experience defined by your company policies and the consistent behavior of your business practices.

If you’re developing a web site, you will use your brand strategy to guide its design and appearance. Your brand strategy should also serve as a roadmap for growth defining who you want to be in one year, three years, and five years. That’s the key to effective brand management: a brand strategy that you can consistently use to guide all of your business decisions.

Applying consistency to your brand experience and appearance will establish your home-based business and grow it. As your brand grows, your home-based business will grow. It’s a simple lesson that works for the smallest business and for the largest corporations. Make it work for you. HBM


When to Ask an Expert

It’s easy to design your own logo or web site, and mass-produce company communication. There are numerous software programs that guide you through it and make it all seem so simple. That’s okay, if you are true to your brand strategy. When in doubt, ask an expert.

If you are successful in your business the name you choose and the logo you design will be with you for years. So will your web site and every application of your company name. That’s why you may want expert advice.

Find a local designer specializing in logo design or web design and share your vision statement and mission statement with them. They might surprise you with the result. The question is whether or not it works for your business, your brand and your customers long-term. HBM

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