26
May

The 6 Biggest Branding Errors Most Startups Make

The 6 Biggest Branding Errors Most Startups Make

The 6 Biggest Branding Errors Most Startups Make

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Branding is an imperative central foundation to any marketing strategy. Serving as the aggregate component of your company identity, your brand is often responsible for formulating first impressions, building familiarity in the public, growing your reputation, and ultimately, securing the long-term loyalty of your customers. Without that core identity, your company is virtually indistinguishable from your competitors, and even with a solid business model, it’s unlikely that your customer acquisition and retention programs will succeed.

Branding is perhaps most significant during the startup phase, when your reputation is nonexistent, your resources are tight, and your entire company will live or die by how much revenue you’re able to generate early on. Unfortunately, most startups end up making one or more of these six significant branding errors, compromising their chances of marketing success:

1. Not having a brand.

You’d be amazed how many startups attempt to build business momentum without a brand. Or, just as bad, they slap together a brand in a few minutes thinking that it will be enough to support their business. A real brand demands much more significant effort, including competitive research, market research, creative brainstorming and multiple rounds of development. It’s not something you can improvise, and it’s not something you can procrastinate developing. It needs to be one of the first and biggest priorities for your company, and you need to take the time and spend the money to do it properly.

2. Being inconsistent.

Merely having a set of established brand standards isn’t enough to guarantee any level of branding success. Your brand guidelines are merely a playbook; you still have to get out there and execute. One of the most important factors for brand success is consistency — adhering to those brand standards, precisely, across every marketing channel and strategy you pursue. This is the only way your customers will become more familiar with your brand over time, and any deviation could compromise that consistent experience.

3. Copying another brand (or brands).

When you’re developing a brand from scratch, you’ll be looking at other brands for inspiration, including competitors and brands you admire. Witnessing these brand strategies in action, you’re going to be tempted to leverage some of the qualities that made those brands successful. To an extent, this is a good idea, and the entire reason you do brand research in the first place. However, you can’t just copy another brand and expect to see the same results. Differentiation is key.

4. Forgetting culture.

Branding isn’t just about the mask your company wears when dealing with prospective customers and the general public. It should also serve as a template for how you build your internal company culture. For example, if your brand is supposed to be approachable, friendly and creative, you need to create an office environment that encourages and demonstrates those same qualities. This way, your customer service reps, salespeople and other customer “touch points” will act in line with your brand standards, and you’ll see higher employee retention as a nice added bonus.

5. Neglecting voice.

Many novice entrepreneurs have a misconception that your company’s “brand” merely refers to visual elements or simple identifiers, such as your company name, tagline, logo and any colors relevant to your brand. However, your company’s voice is just as important. Are you going to speak to your audience formally or informally? How will you structure your blog posts and social media interactions? Who are you going to speak to, and what kind of tone or angle are they going to want to hear? These are important elements of your brand identity that can’t be neglected.

6. Omitting personal brands.

Personal brands aren’t always necessary, but they can be a massive asset for your branding strategy. Most people these days don’t trust corporate brands, even ones that they’ve engaged with for many years. Instead, people trust other people. They trust faces, names, and personalities of real experts in the field. The best way to engage with these potential customers is not through a corporate brand directly, but through a series of personal brands connected to your corporate brand as extensions. For example, your CEO or head salespeople might develop their own personalities online to increase the power of the corporate brand they share in common.

You can’t have a successful marketing campaign, online or offline, unless you first have a successful brand, permeating your company inside and out. This is going to serve as the foundation for countless strategies relevant to your company, so spend some time fleshing it out in a way that’s capable of supporting you for the long haul. Avoiding these errors won’t guarantee your success, but they will help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls for startups, and get started on the right foot in whatever marketing campaigns you choose.

26
May

10 Personal Branding Experts to Follow This Year

10 Personal Branding Experts to Follow This Year

Building your personal brand is a great way to help your business stand out.
10 Personal Branding Experts to Follow This Year

Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images

You probably know that three out of four startups fail. It is impossible for entrepreneurs to establish themselves without credibility. No matter what business, you have to position yourself in unique ways to stand out.

One way to stand out is to build your personal brand. The more you grow as a brand, the more social proof you earn. Consequently, the more social proof you earn, the more clients come to you wanting to give you their hard earned money.

Want to discover, build and expand your personal brand? These are the top 10 experts that you need to follow.

1. Leonard Kim

Leonard Kim was almost homeless by the end of 2010. Yet in 2016, he has been recognized by Inc. Magazine as a top digital and youth marketer. He creates content that inspires people, as well as teaches them how to discover, establish and grow their own personal brands.

Kim has been regularly featured in publications such as Inc., Fox News, Fortune, Forbes and Entrepreneur. He is also a managing partner at InfluenceTree and has developed a comprehensive course that shares all of his secrets to personal branding.

2. Dennis Yu

Dennis Yu helps individuals grow their expertise in social media management and strategy. Having worked with enterprise clients such as the Golden State Warriors, Nike and Rosetta Stone, he’s an internationally recognized lecturer in Facebook marketing and has spoken in 17 countries that span across five continents.

Yu has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, TechCrunch, Fox News, and CBS Evening News. In addition, he is the co-author of Facebook Nation, which is taught in more than 700 colleges and universities.

3. Cynthia Johnson

Cynthia Johnson is an entrepreneur, marketing professional, author and keynote speaker. She is also the editorial director and a member on the global board of directors for Social Media Club, a member of Young Entrepreneurs Council and committee member for the Charlotte and Gwenyth Gray Foundation to cure Batten Disease.

On top of all these accomplishments, she is an author and a contributing columnist for Entrepreneur, Search Engine Journal, Startup Grind, Business2Community, Social Media Examiner, SheKnows and others.

4. Ryan Foland

Ryan Foland specializes in strategically communicating for personal and corporate brands. He is the creator of the 3-1-3 Theory. In this process, pitches begin as three sentences, are condensed into one sentence and then boiled down to three words. Foland applies this approach at UC Irvine, where he oversees social media and marketing strategy.

As co-founder of InfluenceTree, Foland demystifies personal branding into something that people can understand and enjoy. He has appeared in Inc., Fortune, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, TEDx and more.

5. Nicolas Cole

Nicolas Cole is an author, creative strategist and entrepreneur. Published in TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Inc., Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Slate, Observer and featured as a top writer on Quora, Cole has accumulated more than 20,000,000 views on his writing online.

By leveraging each brand’s unique value, Cole has built an impressive portfolio for working with thought leaders, influencers, serial entrepreneurs and business leaders in helping them build and amplify their personal brands.

6. Mark Lack

Mark Lack is a motivational speaker and coach who is committed to lifting the careers of entrepreneurs and marketers alike. He has been featured in hundreds of podcasts, YouTube channels, TV episodes, radio shows and magazines spanning more than 140 countries.

He hosts the TV show Business Rockstars, where he has interviewed Tony Robbins, Mark Cuban, John Assaraf, Tai Lopez, Arianna Huffington, Gary Vaynerchuk and Daymond John.

7. Baruch Labunski

Baruch Labunski currently runs a search engine optimization (SEO) service company Rank Secure in Toronto. His extraordinary knowledge and professional acumen has already made Rank Secure a globally acclaimed SEO Company in a short period of time. He is considered one of the most talented and promising SEO and branding professionals, working with executives on improving their leads and personal brands.

8. Dan Simons

Dan Simons is the founder and owner of Founding Farmers Restaurant Group, of which the most booked restaurant in Washington D.C., Founding Farmers, is part of. Simons is a champion for environmental protection and workers rights, and has successfully incorporated ethical operations into his marketing and organization, resulting in breakneck growth for his company.

His frequent thought leadership on ethical operations, leadership, concept development, entrepreneurship and marketing have distinguished him as a leader in his industry. Restaurant and hospitality professionals that are looking to attract a customer base that is loyal for life, not just for a meal or even a single location, should follow Simons’s footsteps closely.

9. Charles Anderson

Charles Anderson is the CEO and founder of Currency Capital, a leader in online business financing. Anderson has made it his mission to make sure that every business can fulfill its potential, and get the equipment they need, when they need it.

Anderson’s thought leadership can be seen in the likes of Forbes, Yahoo Finance and Equipment World Magazine. His advice on disrupting the stagnated heavy machinery and equipment financing industry drives his personal branding offline as well. Anderson makes a point to visit educational institutions and inspire the young minds that will lead the future of business financing.

10. Carlo Cisco

Carlo Cisco is the CEO and founder of SELECT, a VIP club that offers its members discounts and exclusive access to experiences around the country. Cisco got his start in event planning early on, but quickly made big moves towards becoming one of hospitality’s fastest growing stars. After leading Groupon’s growth in Japan, Cisco came back to the states to start SELECT, and has successfully attracted the attention of celebrities such as Victoria’s Secret models, famous clothing designers, athletes and DJs.

Cisco is proof that the best way to gain a loyal following is tied to old-fashioned soft skills such as friendliness, passion and a great smile. However, having a fantastic Instagram account has never hurt anyone. He is frequently featured as an expert on entrepreneurship, business and marketing in Mashable, Forbes, Fox Business, Tech.co, USA Today, TheNextWeb, Entrepreneur Magazine, Wall Street Journal and Inc.

26
May

6 Personal Branding Rules to Being Popular and Profitable

6 Personal Branding Rules to Being Popular and Profitable

6 Personal Branding Rules to Being Popular and Profitable

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

One of the things that frustrates me to no end is when entrepreneurs strive too hard to build a personal brand or become an influencer before they work on building a company. We go into business to be profitable and make lives better. Yet, that is somehow getting lost in our Kardashian-worshipping world where what you appear to be is more than what you actually are.

We’ve turned being an influencer into a job title that people are starting to love and revere. We’ve also taken a process that used to happen organically and turned it into a rigid, formal process with a set of rules to follow. Whole conferences are built around meeting and mingling with online stars. But, you know what?

Outside of those conferences, you can meet a lot these influencers working at restaurants and other non-influencer jobs to make ends meet — that’s because the majority of online stars are flat broke.

Followers do not equal financial stability.

When you have a large following, you should be able to build a profitable company, but you need a solid business model behind the glitz. If you want to do make up reviews, find a way to get sponsorships, build an email list and cash checks as soon as possible. If you want to make bank with your YouTube comedy channel, make sure people can buy bonus content from you — don’t just give it all away for free.

There are a million different ways to monetize what you love to do. Just be sure that you offer amazing value to your followers if you want them to open their wallets for you. Here are six tips to being profitable and popular:

1. Be loud and opinionated

Some people just can’t over-tweet or make too many videos. Their audiences are huge, and people pay attention every time they open their mouths. Even if you don’t love everything a loud person says, you have no choice but to listen. They invite conflict and debate and don’t care whether you like them.

2. Teach

The best way to help elevate yourself is to elevate those around you.

Give until hurts. Teach everything you know. Teach your secrets. Walk people step-by-step through what you do and how you do it. Make your failures just as public as your successes. Use every lesson in your life as good advice.

Remember: Nobody listens to the silent expert.

3. Break all the rules

Productive people are too busy knocking over barriers to help their audience to waste time on rules. They don’t have time to ask whether they are doing it the “proper” way or not. One of the worst things you can do is look at somebody else’s rule list and apply it to your marketing. No two people or companies are the same. Determine what your mission is and goals are. Then make up your rules along the way.

4. Have no shame

Sometimes, people are afraid to share their knowledge because they don’t want to seem arrogant. They might not want to making a scene over a controversial topic. But, if you don’t speak up on your expertise, people will turn to the guy who does.

I stopped being embarrassed a long time ago. I know I am going to look like a fool part of the time. I am going to make mistakes. That said, I’d much rather come crashing through the wall than cower in the corner when it comes to being an expert in my field.

5. Monetize, baby

If a large online following always equated to money, the world would be full of instant millionaires. This is definitely an area of business where the 80/20 rule applies. 80% of the money online is being made by 20% of the people. How do you start the revenue flowing? How do you take 10,000 YouTube subscribers and make it rain money? Get them off YouTube ASAP and over onto your email list. Then, give them something to buy. Make something cheap for people that don’t have much money and make something else expensive for people that love you and have $1000 burning a hole in their pockets. As soon as you see your traffic and online following start to grow, develop products to make their lives better.

6. Own your platform

One of the most important pieces of internet advice I give out: Do not build your empire on rented land. The bitter reality about social media that most people seem to forget is that you don’t own your social media information. You don’t own any of your followers. I’ve seen Facebook fan pages with 50,000 followers get shut down with no explanation and no recourse.

What ever happened to all those Vine stars?

Please be sure you are building your own website and your own email list.  You can even go as far as building your own social media site with tools like Buddypress. But, start building your empire on your land today. I tell people to always imagine how their business would look if one or all of their social media sites disappeared tomorrow. If that would dramatically affect the flow of new business coming into your door, then you have work to do.

Branding is something we all have to do. Let most of it happen naturally.

Your brand is a reflection of your personality. Don’t fake it. Work on being completely yourself and totally transparent and your following will happen naturally.

Look at guys like Ryan Stewman, Grant Cardone or Robert Syslo — they are killing it in business while being popular and breaking the rules every day.

26
May

Secrets of the 10 Most-Trusted Brands

Secrets of the 10 Most-Trusted Brands


Branding's Big GunsThere’s no better way to dissect the how-tos of branding than to dig deep into the companies everybody knows and trusts. To accomplish this, Entrepreneur teamed with The Values Institute at DGWB, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based think tank that focuses on brand relationships, on a consumer survey that explored the reasons some brands manage to stay on top.

What became clear: Though they may not have the biggest sales or market share in their categories, today’s most trustworthy brands have created relationships with consumers through experiences that trigger a visceral response.

“We’re seeing more of an emphasis on brands building emotional relationships with consumers because it’s powerful and it works,” says branding consultant Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer of Procter & Gamble and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies. “When you do it, you have a much stronger affinity, a much stronger business, much stronger growth and much stronger results.

“When we looked at brands [at P&G] that had a very, very strong emotional benefit vs. our competition,” Stengel adds, “our shares were much, much higher. And the margin of growth vs. our competitor was much higher than those that had just a functional superiority.”

Here, a look at the tactics used by America’s most trustworthy brands to connect with consumers–and ways you can put them to work for your business.

Amazon

Photo courtesy of Amazon

1. Get personal: Amazon

The online retailer of, well, just about everything, ran away with the list, posting the highest scores not just in overall brand trust but in every individual trust value.

That’s no surprise to Brad VanAuken, chief brand strategist for The Blake Project consultancy. He says Amazon’s exceptional product accessibility, functionality and customer experience all converge to create a strong brand that consumers trust.

“With millions of products, 24/7 access, superior search and browse technology, user reviews and many other sources of in-depth product information, Amazon.com offers a superior purchase experience,” VanAuken says.

He adds that the brand–with its low prices and free shipping on orders over a minimum total–is seen as offering value, while its one-click ordering and quick-shipping options help shoppers save time. Consumers also rely on Amazon to have all the products they’re looking for, thanks to partnerships with other selling channels such as Partner Count merchandise.

While such a vast array of offerings could be perceived as impersonal, VanAuken says Amazon does an exemplary job of fostering relationships with consumers by helping them make decisions through recommendations of items based on past purchases, user reviews and ratings and suggested complementary purchases. Consumers also have many options for forging a personal bond with the brand, including user profiles, reviews and ratings, wish lists and Listmania lists for recommending favorite products.

Coca-Cola

“[Coca-Cola has] a deep and healthy respect for their past and for the people who have gone before them. They never forget why they started and where they came from, which means a lot to consumers.” –Jim Stengel, branding consultant
Photo courtesy of Coca-Cola

2. Sell happiness: Coca-Cola

Ice-cold Sunshine. The Pause That Refreshes. Life Tastes Good. Since its inception, the promise of the world’s largest beverage-maker has been to delight consumers. “Everything they do is inspired by this idea of, How do we promote, develop and create happiness?” author Stengel says. Coca-Cola pushes this message across all points of customer contact, from Facebook to its custom vending machines, which allow consumers to concoct their favorite combinations of flavors. “They take the ideas of spontaneity and delight and infuse [them] into everything,” Stengel says.

Putting aside the ’80s branding debacle that was New Coke, Stengel adds that the company backs up its focus on happiness with a consistently strong corporate identity based on longevity and heritage. “They have a deep and healthy respect for their past and for the people who have gone before them,” he says. “They never forget why they started and where they came from, which means a lot to consumers.”

That trust is evident among respondents to our survey, who did not give Coca-Cola a single negative remark.

FedEx

Photo courtesy of FedEx

3. Live up to your promise: FedEx

With a straightforward passion for the task at hand, FedEx has created a strong corporate identity. Not surprisingly, the company received its strongest ratings in ability, specifically for being able to achieve what it promises and for the efficiency of its operations.

In addition to providing what is seen as a reliable service, the brand has engendered trust through initiatives such as its “We Understand” campaign, says Kari Blanchard, senior director of strategy in the New York office of FutureBrand. “They’ve elevated the brand by recognizing that it’s not just about the logistics of moving packages and boxes,” Blanchard says. “They appreciate that it’s people’s treasures, livelihoods and futures, and that the contents of those packages mean a lot to people.”

To further deliver that message, FedEx engages with consumers through its personalized rewards program and by interacting on social media channels. “When you’ve already nailed attributes like trustworthiness and reliability–things that are essential to the business but don’t exactly make you fall in love with a brand–that’s where thinking of your customer as a person and not just a number becomes crucial,” Blanchard says.

Apple

Apple uses its retail outlets to show, not tell, consumers its brand philosophy.
Photo courtesy of Apple

4. Keep it cool (and fun): Apple

What other company has the public and the press waiting breathlessly for each new product release? The bottom line is whatever that new Apple product is, consumers trust that it will be smart and sleek and that it will improve the way they communicate, work or spend their leisure time. What’s more, they’ll enjoy the experience of making the purchase.

While Apple has always been about creativity and expression, the brand has kicked up the emotional quotient by creating retail stores that foster a sense of collaboration and transparency between customers and sales staff. “They hire empathetic people, and they don’t measure their sales associates on sales,” Stengel says. He calls Apple’s approach to its stores “the best retail endeavor in history. They really want people to come in and be inspired, build confidence and really feel better about themselves from the experience they had in the store.”

Apple uses its retail outlets to show, not tell, consumers its brand philosophy, from the large tables, open spaces and walls of windows to its well-trained associates (Apple’s biggest brand advocates), who are armed with handheld checkout scanners that enable shoppers to make purchases without having to stand in line.

Some sour bits: The brand got lower than average scores for a sense of connection to Apple’s corporate side, as well as for the perception that the company doesn’t value customers’ business or reward them for their loyalty. Those sentiments may simply be the result of Apple focusing on its core functions.

“Steve Jobs just thought about what was right for the brand and the consumer,” Stengel says. “That focus is part of the reason they’ve done such a good job of creating new categories and products that continue to distance themselves from their competitors.”

Target

Photo courtesy of Stephen Allen

5. Design an experience: Target

It’s easy to forget that Target is a discount store. With its sleek, stylish ad campaigns and collaborations with high-end designers who create limited-edition merchandise that sends fashionistas into a frenzy, Target’s public face often belies its mass-merchant status.

Further distinguishing it from its superstore brethren, Target consistently delivers an exceptional retail experience–from store design to merchandise selection to price and customer service.

“Target makes a real effort to provide an enjoyable shopper experience, but you still get quality merchandise at a good price,” says branding consultant Rob Frankel. “As part of their brand persona, they make an effort to be warm and human, and that resonates with people and drives them to embrace it.”

Thanks to easy-to-maneuver layouts and a consistent design, Target’s retail outlets are easy and intuitive places to shop, giving customers confidence they will be able to find what they want, even on a vast selling floor. “It’s not only more pleasant than their competitors; people actually enjoy being there,” Frankel says.

Target customers also appreciate the brand’s ability to design attractive yet affordable merchandise–most notably, an ever-changing array of trendy clothing and home accessories. “Target says [it’s] going to give you a decent alternative that can hold up against more expensive fashion brands,” Frankel says.

Customer service is friendly and consistent, as several survey respondents noted, from the way “cashiers look for people in line and direct them to a less crowded line,” to the perceptions that “they always have enough employees in the store at one time” and that “their customers are considered guests.”

Frankel says businesses should recognize that providing a warm, human experience will foster the kind of trust that lets them command higher margins, drive traffic and enjoy better brand perception than their competitors. “No matter what you sell, if you don’t give people a reason to go, they’re not going to figure it out by themselves, because price alone just doesn’t do it,” he says.

Ford

“Once you have developed a unique and compelling value proposition for your brand, repeat it again and again.”
–Brad VanAuken, The Blake Project
Photo courtesy of Ford

6. Stay consistent: Ford

In an era when the only thing that seems certain is change, Ford’s consistent branding has established the company as a beacon of reliability.

The Blake Project’s VanAuken points out that from its simple, one-syllable name to its iconic logo and emphasis on founding father Henry Ford, the company’s brand identity stands the test of time.

“Everyone knows and admires the Ford story,” he says. “Of the three Detroit-based automakers, Ford has the most consistent brand, product strategy and execution.”

Ford also listens to and acts on its customers’ needs, VanAuken adds, noting that CEO Alan Mulally is actively involved in interacting with customers through social media.

Those attributes forge a strong connection: The brand ranked high for stability and dependability, and respondents gave it the strongest average ratings for concern, specifically for behaving responsibly and caring about the well-being of employees and customers. Several respondents cited Ford’s refusal to take government bailout money as evidence of the company’s integrity.

VanAuken emphasizes that consistency needs to reach all corners of any business. “Changing the logo, tag line and messaging on a frequent basis will ensure that nothing about your brand sticks in your intended customers’ heads,” he says. “Once you have developed a unique and compelling value proposition for your brand, repeat it again and again.”

Nike

Photo courtesy of Nike

7. Can-do attitude: Nike

On its website, Nike declares its mission to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world,” adding, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

It’s that aspirational message and mainstream appeal that connects the athletic apparel company to consumers worldwide, according to branding consultant Kevin Lane Keller, professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “Nike’s always been extremely customer-focused, with a broad access point that makes the brand relevant to elite athletes as well as the everyday person,” Keller says. “It’s about self-empowerment and being your best, and the brand really does invite everyone to ‘Just Do It.'”

Nike’s constant product development, including introducing technologies such as Nike Air cushioning and Dri-Fit fabrics, is one of its biggest strengths, according to Keller, who says that consumers tend to equate innovation with expertise.

“When you’re innovative, consumers are more trusting, because they think you really know what you’re doing,” he says. “Nike’s first product was just the first step on this journey that’s allowed them to completely transcend their roots as a quality running shoe to be everything athletic, all over the world, in all kinds of sports.”

Keller says Nike gains trust points because celebrated co-founder Phil Knight is still involved with operations, a fact noted by one survey respondent who claimed to be “confident that [Knight’s] company would always behave responsibly.”

Notes Keller, “When the founder is still there, people respect the brand in a way that doesn’t happen when the reins have been handed down over and over. Having his voice and persona still associated with the company keeps it closely connected to the consumer.”

Creating connections through coffee: A Washington, D.C., Starbucks.

Creating connections through coffee: A Washington, D.C., Starbucks.
Photo courtesy of Starbucks/Andrew Gammarco

8. Forge connections: Starbucks

After suffering a slump a few years back, the world’s leading specialty coffee retailer has perked up its business and its brand by getting back to its original promise of bringing people together. “Starbucks has gotten much more in touch with the reason they’re here, and that’s to help create connections,” author Stengel says.

From the free Wi-Fi to the in-store music to the large tables with room for groups and meetings, the company’s stores are designed to help customers interact. “Go into any Starbucks, and business is happening and people are sharing, and the company understands that,” Stengel says. “Everything in there is about connection, discovery, inspiration and creation.”

Startups would do well to note the company’s innovative approach, which has enabled it to set the agenda in a category that has been around for centuries. “They carved out this dynamic niche with their brand and became very successful, and there’s still nobody else like them,” Stengel says.

The key, he says, is to thoroughly understand category norms and competitors’ strategies, and determine how to direct those toward your advantage. “If you’re an entrepreneur entering a category, maybe you can’t set the agenda, but if you can redirect that agenda, that’s how you win,” he says. “If you’re going to enter a category and be a ‘me too,’ don’t bother.”

Southwest Airlines

Although its operations and corporate culture are idiosyncratic, those differences support Southwest’s central function.
Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines

9. Serve up the quirky: Southwest Airlines

This low-cost carrier has consistently set its own route in the airline industry, creating a distinct personality through everything from open passenger seating to flight attendants who sing the safety demonstrations.

“Southwest has always been a very independent brand that’s quick to break the norms of the airline industry,” says Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “From the seating assignments to the fact that it doesn’t list in many of the big online reservation systems, it has always prided itself on being very different.”

Calkins says much of Southwest’s brand success comes from the fact that although its operations and corporate culture are idiosyncratic, those differences support the company’s central function.

“Southwest has a fun, energetic corporate culture that’s unique in the airline industry, but at the core they are a very proficient operation that gets travelers from point to point in an efficient, affordable manner,” he says.

While the airline received low ratings for not sharing information on decision-making, those protective measures may be among the reasons it continues to thrive. Several of the big carriers have tried to follow Southwest’s model with low-cost subsidiaries (think Delta’s Song and United’s Ted), but none have been able to maintain them.

“You can see what [Southwest] does–they fly one kind of airplane, they don’t charge for baggage and they have friendly employees–so you’d think someone could replicate that, but they can’t,” Calkins says. “The magic of Southwest is that even though the brand has many unique elements, all of the different pieces work together to serve its customers in a unique way.”

Nordstrom

Photo courtesy of Nordstrom

10. Focus on the customer: Nordstrom

When mythic stories circulate about your company’s awesome customer service, you know you’re doing something right. That’s the hallmark of this upscale department store, which is rumored to have once graciously accepted the return of a set of tires, even though the store has never sold tires.

“Nordstrom is all about the power of delivering exceptional customer service that goes above and beyond a typical service experience,” Northwestern’s Calkins says.

Nordstrom scored strongly among respondents for concern for the customer, as well as for the quality of the products in its nearly 230 stores. Attentive service–which includes a liberal return policy, e-mailing digital photos of new items to regular customers and sending thank-you notes after purchases–frees the Seattle-based retailer from having to focus on competitive pricing, which helps keeps profit margins higher.

“They don’t pretend to have the lowest prices, but they don’t have to,” Calkins says. “When people go there they know they may pay a little more, but the service is so good that it makes it worthwhile.”

Respondents criticized Nordstrom for not providing consumers with much information about its corporate decision-making policies, but Calkins contends that when building a brand identity, it’s OK for your proposition to focus on one principal element, as long as you do it right.

“What makes this brand tick is the service experience, not the approach,” he says. “Nordstrom has never focused on its company or its people; all of that positive energy is directed at the customer and the retail experience, and it’s the secret to their success.”

Cincinnati-based Paula Andruss has written for USA Today, Woman’s Day and numerous marketing publications.

About the survey:The Values Institute, which conducted the study, identified five values that influence trust in a brand: ability (company performance); concern (care for consumers, employees and community); connection (sharing consumers’ values); consistency (dependability of products/services); and sincerity (openness and honesty).

A total of 1,220 U.S. consumers were asked to rate each trust value on a five-point scale, from “very unimportant” to “very important.” Additionally, five consumer perceptions were measured for each value; these included statements such as “They respond to feedback about their products and services,” and “They value my business and reward me for the loyalty.” Each respondent rated two randomly selected brands; those who felt strongly were also asked to provide individual comments. The result is the “Trust Index,” a composite score that indicates the level of trust respondents had with each individual brand in relation to the other studied brands.

26
May

Five Ways to Make Your Brand More Powerful

Sadly, even when brand communications hit all the marks—they’re clear, meaningful and on message—they’re often dull.

That’s an opportunity, though, for companies that are willing to show off their human side and maybe even stick their necks out a little.

Try any of the following five stratagems, and you’ll be on your way to building more powerful brands.

1. Have a personality

Often, businesses (including marketers) think they need to talk about their service, product, or industry in the way everyone else does. They fear that if they don’t, they’ll seem out of the loop.

Frankly, that makes little sense. How many businesses can you name that have made a big impact by following the crowd? And how can you convince people you’re different if you sound just like your competition?

Let your freak flag fly. Or, at least sound like your company is run by humans—people who want to talk to other people. If you don’t sound like the typical whatever, that’s the point: In a crowded marketplace, companies with personality stand out.

To cite two well-known examples, consider how memorable Progressive Insurance and Geico are, even though they’re not all that different from their competitors.

2. Be provocative

If you want to be a thought leader (and why wouldn’t you these days?), the quickest way out of the gate is to be provocative. Challenging received wisdom or jolting people out of complacency can create buzz and show that you really are thinking.

Questioning conventional approaches in your field, prodding people to re-examine assumptions, and pointing out naked emperors are all ways to get noticed as a powerful brand. A classic example is Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign for Cyber Monday.

A few tips on making this approach work:

  • Be sure you can support your claims.
  • Balance the negative with the positive. If you’re only a downer, you’ll turn people off.
  • Focus on the big stuff: Pointing out that the emperor has no clothes is a civic duty; saying his new haircut makes him look 10 years older is just petty.

Provocation for its own sake will seem like a cheap ploy. But if you have strong support for a controversial position or a good reason to blast people out of complacency, go for it.

3. Tell a story

The surefire way to truly engage people and make a lasting impression is to tell a story.

Stories are the oldest form of “mass” communication, and some researchers think we’re hardwired to respond to them. We’re certainly trained to draw messages from them—think Aesop’s fables and classic novels—and that makes them invaluable for brand-building communications.

Stories help people relate to what you do. Compelling stories help you get media attention.

To tell stories effectively…

  • Start with a memorable image or anecdote.
  • Use story structure. Stories have a plot with a beginning, middle and end; crisis (or challenge) and resolution; and characters.
  • Make it personal. Have a central character that people will relate to or be fascinated by.
  • Tap emotions. Don’t just recount the plot—include feelings, intuitions, or drive.
  • Remember the moral. Spell out how the story expresses your company’s mission or value.

4. Aim for a nerve

Marketing gurus often talk about speaking to your audience’s “pain” and showing how you can make it go away. That advice draws on a larger principle: When you hit a nerve, you get attention.

That’s true whether you target pains, desires, or aspirations. There’s a reason sex and lifestyle sell products: Communications that generate an emotional response put people in a frame of mind to listen to your rational case (or bypass it altogether). For example, the pioneering New Resource Bank hits a nerve with the question, “Do you know where your money sleeps at night?” as an entree to telling the story of how its deposits work for good.

The ability to hit a nerve well and consistently requires truly knowing your audience: what motivates them and what drives them crazy; what hems in their choices and what brings them rewards. Be cautious about assuming that you and your colleagues “get” your audience in this way: Even if you are demographic doppelgangers, you’re operating with the tunnel vision of insider knowledge.

And make sure you find out what people do, not just what they say. What people act on is the true sign of what motivates them.

5. Take a stand

Businesses often shy away from taking stand on public issues, choosing to leave advocacy to advocacy organizations. That’s too bad, because a strong, clear position sets you apart from the waffling crowd.

Taking a stand on a social or environmental question or a budding concern in your field can help you create a devoted core of brand advocates as well as gain media attention.

It’s true that you risk alienating some people, but values are part of what attract devoted fans, so as long as the positions you take are consistent with your brand values, the upside of speaking out is likely to be larger than the downside.

There are plenty of ways to do this: The mechanics of taking a stand can range from executive advocacy to marketing campaigns.

Two examples: Sungevity’s co-founder protested at the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline (and got arrested for his trouble), underscoring the company’s environmental values; Costco CEO and President Craig Jelinek came out in support of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, burnishing the company’s reputation as desirable employer.

One caveat: though your CEO doesn’t have to get arrested protesting in front of Congress, you do have to put a real stake in the ground. “We love kittens” won’t earn you any stand-up points, nor will following the crowd.

Taking public positions or making core values part of your marketing may feel risky, but it can be liberating.

And keep in mind a bigger-picture benefit: Business voices can be extremely influential, so you have a real opportunity to move the needle on a public debate.

26
May

How to Earn and Keep a Customer’s Trust

How to Earn and Keep a Customer’s Trust

How to Earn and Keep a Customer's Trust

Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images

The number one reason customers don’t purchase isn’t price — it’s trust.

A survey by Taylor Nelson Sofres found that customers cancel 70 percent of online purchases because of lack of trust. What’s the deal? When shoppers come to your store, their trust isn’t a given. They don’t know you. They don’t know your products.

When you’re shopping in a store, you can see the product before your eyes. You’re not worried that it won’t fit right, because you can try it on. You don’t need to wonder how big it is or what the quality is like, because you can run it through your hands, touch it, and smell it.

In a store, you can understand the product. When it comes to earning customer trust online, it’s not so easy.

In order to succeed for e-commerce brands to succeed at earning customers’ trust, they need to understand how customers make judgments about brands throughout the buyer journey. Factors that influence trust the first time customers land on an e-commerce site aren’t the same as what moves them to checkout.

How to measure customer trust online.

Okay, so you get it. When customers trust you, they’re more likely to buy. But trust is subjective – so how do you measure it? Countless academic studies — like “How Reputation Impacts e-Commerce Stores’ Chance of Success” and “Factors Influencing Customer Trust Online” —  have tried to get to the bottom of what plays a part in perceived customer trust online.

The conclusion?

There are thousands of factors that impact customer trust online, from professional website design and displaying trust seals to customer reviews and product photos.

Just check out the stats from VWO. This graph deals with initial trust — the trust that is formed when customers are first assessing a brand.

Just at first site, visitors are sizing up brands in a variety of ways. The initial assessment stage is important, but what happens during the rest of the buyer journey?

After initial assessment, customers then make even more subconscious judgments about your brand that influence whether they purchase or not. If you do earn their sale, you have even more opportunities to earn their long-term trust and turn them into a loyal returning customer.

Customer retention is enormously profitable. Returning customers spend nearly three times as much as one-time customers — and they’re likely to become brand advocates who can bring you even more customers. But, in order to grow a base of returning shoppers, you’ve got to convince new shoppers to trust you enough to make that first sale.

Here’s a look at how trust is formed throughout the customer journey.

Stage 1: First impressions.

Consider this: 60-80 percent of e-commerce site visitors are first-time visitors. The average conversion rate for these visitors — just 2.5 percent. It takes just 2.6 seconds for visitors to form an opinion of your brand, according to researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. And once you’ve lost those visitors, the chances of getting them back are minimal. So what do customers see when they first land on your site?

When it comes to first impressions, there are three main factors: professional design, good UX, and a quick-loading site. Brands can improve customer trust on their site by improving design, UX, and optimizing their site speed, mobile compatibility and domain authority in Google. As far as design, this means using images, fonts, and layout that looks professional as well as paying attention to color scheme and organization. Demonstrating knowledge of good UX and making customer navigation and checkout easy and intuitive also builds trust in your brand.

When visitors first get to a site, they absorb design. After that, a UX Matters heat map study shows how their eyes move towards parts of the page where trust signals are located.

Showing off coverage in well-known publications, trust marks, and advertising familiar payment methods make customer feel comfortable.

Out of the most popular trust badges, Commerce Sciences identifies which impact visitors most.

Remember, this initial assessment stage is all about first impressions. Think of what customers see when they’re making split second decisions about your brand — do you look like someone they can trust?

Stage 2: Social proof.

This is the most important stage in trust assessment. Plenty of sites can have great design and make stellar first impressions – but are they able to push customers to the next step in assessment?

In this stage, research from Crazy Egg indicates that recommendations are the most important trust factor — and 92 percent of people trust recommendations from people they know, and 70 percent trust consumer opinions posted online. So this is where reviews come in. Shoppers are looking for real customer opinions on third-party sites like Yelp and Facebook or searching on-site to see what other shoppers have to say.

They’re also examining user-generated photos and videos to see if the product matches what is advertised. People are becoming much less trustworthy of brand advertising, and much more trusting of other consumer opinions.

Stage 3: Risk assessment.

After a customer has started to believe a site is trustworthy, they begin the risk assessment process. In this stage, they key issues of trust are how secure their personal information is and how reliable it is for them to make a purchase.

The first step is to reassure them you will protect their personal information and offer purchase security: 23 percent of respondents felt threatened by hackers and 16 percent were concerned about people or firms obtaining and abusing their personal information.

Another way to build trust during this stage is to offer comprehensive, easy-to-find contact information. The last thing a customer wants is to hand over their sensitive information and money and never see their product. Lessen the risk of purchasing by including multiple options to contact you, like live chat, phone number (preferably toll-free) and an email address. Also, include FAQs, return policies and package tracking in a highly visible area.

Make sure you show that you accept well-known payment methods (like major credit cards and PayPal) and while they’re in the checkout stages, continue to show off site testimonials that emphasize your customer service in order to encourage them to trust you enough to purchase.

Stage 4: From customer to repeat shopper.

After you’ve earner a customer’s trust and they’ve purchased from you, the journey isn’t over. In this stage, you want to turn that customer into a brand advocate who can help you earn new shoppers.

The key to this is — of course — providing an excellent first buying experience. Make sure you give service customers will want to rave about and that will bring them back.

Encourage past shoppers to leave reviews and submit photos of them with their product, so you can repurpose these in marketing to attract new shoppers. You can also offer coupons as an added incentive for them to then share these reviews and photos on social. Offering a coupon also brings them back to your store — increasing the chance that they will purchase from you again.

Earning customer trust online isn’t easy, but if you pay attention to how trust forms throughout multiple touch points in the buyer journey, you can encourage more customers to buy — and continue to return — to your e-commerce store.

26
May

5 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

5 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

5 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Image credit: Terry Johnston | Flickr

Do you know someone who doesn’t trust their company, or maybe their boss? Maybe they have good reasons. Perhaps promises were broken, or the company was deceptive or unethical.

“Once bitten, twice shy,” is understandably a good explanation why some employees become skeptical. But the only way for a business relationship to work is if it’s based on a foundation of mutual trust.

Here are five tips I have shared with colleagues and team members who find it difficult to trust others in the workplace.

1. Don’t allow bias to come into play.

Is your lack of trust for your current boss based on something a previous boss did? Leave undeserved negative thoughts behind and allow your new boss to earn your trust from a clean slate.

2. Extend the first ‘olive branch.’

At the beginning of relationships, each person starts at ground zero when it comes to trust. Why not be the one to make the first move? All it takes is shedding your protective guard to move past the neutral stage.

3. Address any issue causing mistrust.

Evaluating how and when trust has been violated goes a long way to restoring it. Handling the issue in a professional, non-confrontational manner means hearing the other person’s story. Calmly listening to both sides often prevents a simple misunderstanding from becoming an intolerable situation.

4. Don’t overreact to the situation.

If it’s the first time you’ve perceived a violation of trust, giving your co-worker the benefit of the doubt may be your best response. Isn’t this how you would like to be treated? If still in doubt, run it past someone outside of the company who can offer a fresh, unbiased perspective. It’s okay — and sometimes smart — to let certain issues blow over.

5. Behave in a way that commands trust from your co-workers.

If you find that mistrust is a consistent theme throughout your career, you may very well be a contributor. A solution: Always be mindful of how others may perceive your words and actions.

26
May

How to Overcome 5 Major Brand Trust Issues

How to Overcome 5 Major Brand Trust Issues

How to Overcome 5 Major Brand Trust Issues

Image credit: Shutterstock

Trust is a pivotal feature of successful brands; when a user trusts your brand, they’ll be more willing to buy from you. For many major established brands, like McDonald’s or Ford, brand trust is tied to history and most people have had interactions with these brands’ products by the time they’re making purchasing decisions of their own. But for most brands, first-time exposure is a critical moment for building initial brand trust — you need site visitors and social media followers to trust you immediately, to some degree, if you want to earn more revenue.

The problem is, most people won’t trust your brand — at least, not before engaging with you. But if they don’t engage with you, they won’t have a chance to build that trust, so it’s kind of a catch-22. How can you overcome this?

The key is to realize the main problems why brand trust issues exist in the first place, then work strategically to overcome them, one by one:

1. Corporate brands are faceless.

First, corporate brands are faceless — that is to say, they aren’t people. Naturally, people are more willing to trust other people than they are massive bureaucratic organizations, for more than one reason. For starters, people are more accessible; when you talk to a person multiple times, you’re always talking to the same person, but when you talk to a corporation, you might speak to a different representative each time. You can restore some brand trust here by leveraging the power of personal branding as a complement to your corporate efforts. Even highlighting your team, showing the faces and personalities of the people who work for you, can help build trust in this area.

2. Advertising is seen as manipulative.

Today’s general public is averse to advertising. The main reason is because advertising is produced for one reason only: to get people to buy products. This is seen as manipulative, and most people distrust advertising immediately because of it. It doesn’t help that advertising has popped up everywhere, emerging in every aspect of our lives until it seems like all we see is a collective white noise of ads. To get around this, you could cut down on advertising and pursue a content marketing strategy to attract buyers to you through positive brand experiences and providing value.

3. Brands have an agenda.

People know that brands exist to better the company in some way. Corporations are seen as greedy, self-preserving entities, so by default, anything they offer and anything they say must be serving an agenda with one end goal in mind: improving profits. Generally, this is true; brands are self-preserving, and they’re always working toward the goal of maximizing profits. But if you want to earn more trust, the best way to do it isn’t to cover that up; it’s to be more straightforward. In your copy and your advertising, be as straightforward as you can about what you’re selling and how it might benefit your customer; being indirect or manipulative will only work against you.

4. Brands offer little in the way of validation.

Consumers are far more likely to trust a brand or organization when someone else has already done so; for example, if a consumer personally knows someone who has purchased this product in the past (and has liked it), he/she will be more likely to make the same purchase. This concept is known as social proof, and there are a number of ways you can offer this. For example, you can include customer reviews and testimonials on your landing pages or showcase images and videos of your products in action with real people.

5. Money is on the line.

You also have to remember that people may be extra skeptical of your brand simply because there’s money on the line. People aren’t willing to part with their money, at least under usual circumstances, unless there’s a demonstrably favorable reason to do so. Accordingly, you need to go out of your way to prove that your offer is worth what you’re asking in exchange. This may include listing the benefits, estimating ROI or even offering a money-back guarantee.

There are many ways to address all of these trust-impacting factors, so you have a ton of flexibility here. Dig into your specific target audience’s psychology — are there certain angles or approaches that would work for them better than others? For example, since social proof is such a powerful concept, can you enhance its power by offering social proof from people within that demographic? In any case, the more you invest in building consumer trust—both for first-time and ongoing customers — the more you’ll stand to reap in new revenue and ongoing patronage.

26
May

7 Ways to Build Credibility, Trust and Character That Will Grow Your Business

7 Ways to Build Credibility, Trust and Character That Will Grow Your Business

7 Ways to Build Credibility, Trust and Character That Will Grow Your Business

Image credit: Shutterstock

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In today’s marketplace, brands and products come and go at supersonic speeds.

An estimated 250,000 products are launched each year. These products have an average 85 to 95 percent failure rate. It’s a sobering statistic, but hardly surprising given our penchant for new and better, and the rapid pace at which business operates today.

While new brands come and go, a few exceptions stand out. Levis, Ford Motors, Apple are  well-known and enduring names that have survived over a number of decades. What’s the secret to some brands’ staying power? Why do some stick around while others fizzle out or go bust?

 For the first time, trust and transparency are just as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services, according to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey on trust and credibility. In fact, in the U.S., these two attributes even rank higher than product quality.

Wary of scams, rip-offs and shady marketing tactics, customers are starting to see the world more in terms of real and fake. More often than not, they’re basing their purchasing decisions on how genuine they perceive an offer to be.

Unfortunately though, many companies don’t practice authenticity. Instead, they try to build their companies around what they think people want to hear.

But listening to customers and simply parroting back what they say isn’t going to build customer loyalty. It’s not about trapping customers with incredible promises. Instead, it’s about boldly proclaiming what you believe, and then stepping back to see who is drawn to the message.

Authentic brands are able to secure a loyal following — a tribe, if you will. Satisfied customers will share their experiences with friends and family, and if the company stays true to its message and continues to provide products that are in line with the customers’ expectations, it’ll be on the way toward developing a brand that will be able to stand the test of time.

If you’re thinking of launching a startup or developing a brand, here’s how being open and credible can help you to lay a solid foundation and build for lasting success.

1. Define your values and mission.

First off, decide what your authenticity lies in. You’ll need to choose which values you are ready to commit to unwaveringly. Is it your commitment to supporting a specific cause? Is it your dedication to building products that will change people’s lives? Whatever it is, it’s important to own it, so choose something that you’re passionate about.

Warning: Don’t half-heartedly commit to a set of values that you’re not fully ready to embrace. This is the best way to kill a brand. Your customers will see through the ruse and it will only damage your reputation.

2. Get to know your personality and the personality of your brand.

Is your personality and your brand’s personality aligned? You are the face of your company, and it’s important to make sure your branding is compatible with who you are.

3. Set your boundaries.

It’s important to be aware of your boundaries and to know the difference between stretching yourself for growth and allowing others to push you past your comfort zone. Draw a line in the sand, and as important issues arise, take a stand. Decide which things you will be unwavering on.

4. Determine how and where you will showcase your authenticity.

Look for opportunities to showcase your authenticity. Whether it’s online with social media or your blog, or in behind-the-scenes interactions with others, get to know your audience and allow them to know you too.

5. Release your authenticity.

How far should you go to demonstrate your authenticity? Determine where you will demonstrate your values and how far you want to go. Then make a plan for your release.

6. Be consistent.

Keep your messages consistent. The messages that you’re sending out through marketing, promotions and social media should be in line with the in-person experience that you provide to customers.

7. Prepare for backlash.

Finally, be prepared for opposition. When you gain a certain level of publicity, you’re going to have haters. Plain and simple. Don’t let this discourage you or distract you from your values and mission. Stay true to your beliefs, and you’ll gain respect from those around you. Your loyal customer base will have your back!

In the end, embracing your startup’s authentic self is about being true to your values and following through on your promises to customers.

Embracing authenticity isn’t for everyone, but those who choose to use this as the basis for establishing a business or a brand will find that building a company on a solid foundation provides tremendous, lasting stability — no matter what changes may be ahead.

Are your core values linked with your branding or business strategy? How do you demonstrate authenticity in your branding? Tell us in the comments section below.

26
May

5 Strategies for How to Make Customers Trust Your Brand

5 Strategies for How to Make Customers Trust Your Brand

Building trust doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You have to remain consistent in your messaging, understand your buyer personas and deliver on your promises over time.
5 Strategies for How to Make Customers Trust Your Brand

Image credit: Shutterstock

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When your prospects and customers trust you, they are more likely to buy from you. When you have their trust, you can also command a higher price and boost the lifetime value of each customer.

But building trust doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You have to remain consistent in your messaging, understand your buyer personas and deliver on your promises over time. Only then will you become the go-to provider in your niche.

There is a tremendous upside to building trust in your brand, but it takes time and specific strategies. Here are those strategies:

1. Be accessible.

Be available to your customers and allow them to interact with you. Customers often have questions, and if there’s nowhere for them to go to get their queries answered, or you don’t respond in a timely manner, you could begin to lose credibility.

James Schramko of SuperFastBusiness has several strategies in place to maintain regular interaction with his prospects and customers. His customer support staff answer questions that come in. His paid membership includes a forum where like-minded entrepreneurs regularly interact; and he also has a yearly event called SuperFastBusiness Live, where business owners can learn how to grow their online ventures.

These are some practical ways you too can use to make yourself available to your customers. Consider how Schramko has provided a point of contact for all inquiries, started an online community and organized an event to bring awareness to his brand. You might try these actions, too.

Also consider setting up a proper customer-support infrastructure, using help-desk software like Desk.com, and attending conferences and events. In these ways, you can answer questions in person, which is a great way to increase your likability and accessibility and provide support to your customers.

2. Have a reliable product.

People tend to buy on emotion, not logic. The challenge your business faces is that when its product arrives on the customer’s doorstep, those customers be impressed with the quality of the product to justify their purchase. Talking a good game and turning around and selling a low-quality product is sure to draw negative reviews, leading to mistrust and decreased credibility in the market.

One simple way to ensure your product’s quality is to put it through a rigorous testing process. You can also put together focus groups and ask your target audience what their needs are and what kind of product would solve their challenges.

Eric Ries popularized the idea of the minimum viable product (MVP) and lean startup methodology. The idea is to speed up the product-development process and get it into the hands of the customer sooner than later. Too many companies spend hundreds and even thousands of hours on research and development, but when they finally launch their product, customers may not even want it.

The MVP approach allows you to go to market sooner, test out the viability of your offering and learn from what your customers liked and didn’t like about it. In this way, you can test your product, improve upon it and then launch it more broadly.

3. Be honest.

Being transparent means recognizing and being open about both your strengths and weaknesses. If your product isn’t right for one of your leads, you should be secure enough to guide that lead in the right direction, even if that act means boosting your competitor’s bottom line.

This is one of the ways the Smart Passive Income blog’s Pat Flynn differentiated himself from his competition. When he was first getting started, he didn’t see many entrepreneurs talking openly and honestly about their journey, especially in the money-making niche. So he decided to be that entrepreneur:

Today, Flynn’s income reports continue to drive traffic to his website month after month and inspire would-be entrepreneurs to take the same transparent approach to online business.

Honesty shows you care about your customers and their needs, and your willingness to help them gets them the results they’re looking to achieve.

4. Bring value to your client.

Do you put your customers first, or do you put revenue first? People know when they’re just a dollar sign to you, and while they may still buy from you if they believe your product solves their challenge, this does not build long-term trust or encourage repeat sales.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich CEO Ramit Sethi relates in a podcast that he doesn’t make some of his products available to customers who are in debt. Is he missing out on revenue opportunities by doing this? Absolutely. But is he also building trust in the process? Unquestionably. He believes it’s important to take a stand on this issue, and it makes sense that he doesn’t want customers who can’t give his resources the attention they deserve.

Delight is in the details. Take the example of Online music story CD Baby. Its legendary CD shipping confirmation email is both humorous and value-adding. It also proves that bringing value to your client need not be complicated.

5. Maintain consistency.

Maintaining consistency ensures that your prospects and customers know what to expect. You can set both internal and external goals to maintain the quality of service.

As Bo Bothe, Will Cunningham, Elizabeth Tindall and Leslie Rainwater of BrandExtract write in a blog post: “A consistent brand helps increase the overall value of your company by reinforcing your position in the marketplace, attracting better-quality customers with higher retention rates and raising the perceived value of your products or services.”

They go on to explain how consistency can help your employees understand what their role is within your organization. The building blocks of a consistent brand include:

  • Your message. Your brand message should be an extension of your actions and behavior. If it isn’t true to who you are, or you can’t deliver on it, you are being inconsistent. Your brand’s overall tone also factors in to your message — in other words, how you position yourself in the market. Do you want to be perceived as dependable, aggressive, helpful or some other characteristic? Stay focused on the image you’re developing.
  • Your design. Creating consistent imagery across your logo, website, social networks and print materials is an easy win that can help you build trust with customers.
  • Your delivery. How will you communicate with your target audience, through what channels and how often? Knowing your prospects makes it easy to answer these questions and deliver the expected brand experience.

Final thoughts

Trust is a byproduct of a commitment to quality and excellence. If you can deliver the right results to the right people over the long haul, they will come to believe and trust in your product and service offerings.

Once you’ve carved out your identity in the marketplace, be vigilant about your communication. Back up who you say you are with tangible actions.