Even small businesses can create powerful, meaningful, sincere branding messages.
Companies are always trying to create the perfect marketing tools--tools that will make brand history, generate buzz for products, and earn those products an unshakeable spot in customer's lives. Large companies have the luxury of throwing thousands of advertising dollars into marketing budgets, but small companies rarely can. I have found that the most powerful marketing device a small company can develop is its story.
Here's what I mean:
Tell your company's story.
Everyone likes to know the story behind the story, especially when there is an underdog or a hero involved. I was recently talking to the owner of a collections agency who told me he started his business because another company bought the one he was working for, and asked him to let go of most of the team. Rather than doing that, he himself quit and started his own company, brought the entire team over to his new venture, and successfully avoided firing many people. Learning his story helped me see the kinder side of a business that otherwise seemed heartless, and I immediately felt myself rooting for the owner.
Tell your product's story.
At a trade show this weekend, I stopped by the booth of a Japanese company that makes very traditional Japanese-style screens to decorate and divide rooms. As someone who loves clean modern lines, this type of product is not something I would usually look at closely. So what made me stop? The company had recreated its workshop space at the trade show, and brought in a traditional Japanese artisan to the booth, to demonstrate how it constructed its product. The intricacy of the piece was astounding and the craftsmanship was fascinating. It made the product beautiful in a way I never would have noticed had the owners not told me the story of how it was made.
Tell your personal story.
If you have a service-based business, your personal story and why you do what you do are not only great attention grabbers, but can also be striking testimony about your expertise. The real estate agent who helped my husband and I find our apartment was a successful psychologist before becoming a real estate agent--and she points that out in the literature she provides to prospective clients, because she knows that buying or selling a home can be a difficult and emotional experience. She sells herself as a consummate negotiator and an understanding counselor to illustrate how she will get her client through the sale in good financial--and mental--condition. Out of hundreds of agents we could have chosen, she got our business.
Tell your customer how to get involved in your story.
Engaging your customers in your story can be just as valuable as engaging them with your product. There is an independent bookstore around the corner from my house with shelves I have often browsed. I had rarely bought a book there, until the shop posted a sign on the door that implored customers--who enjoy being able to shop locally and want the bookstore to be able to keep its doors open--to support independent bookstores by purchasing from them. Now I make myself buy something every time I go to the shop--even if I don't really need it.
The next time you set out to win over customers, think beyond the bullet points of your product. As Lewis Schiff of the Inc. Business Owner's Council once told me: "Facts get recorded; stories get remembered."
Vanessa Merit Nornberg: In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg