There are two ways to become memorable – repetition and innovation. Consistent branding relies primarily on repetition. The same products, services and communications are repeated day after day for years, sometimes decades. Through this repetition, people become accustomed to a particular offering and certain cues bring it to mind — McDonald’s “golden arches” is a good example of this dynamic.
The other method for creating a memorable brand — innovation — is a way of reaching into the minds of potential customers and establishing a powerful presence very quickly. Innovation can be simple and inexpensive or complex and costly; it’s all about the creativity that’s brought to the effort.
Small business owners have a big advantage here — they can reach people in a way that large companies have never been able to duplicate. When a small business owner speaks directly to a customer, she makes a powerful impression in the mind. You can see an advertisement hundreds of times and never feel strongly about a business, but a powerful personal experience can generate memories and feelings that will last for months or even years. Human connections are the most compelling interactions we ever have with a business and no amount of branding will ever create as much feeling as a one-on-one interaction that creates a strong memory.
Finding ways to connect with people can be a little intimidating, so the first step in building a powerful connection must be caring for the customer. A brand-focused entrepreneur will see through the customers’ eyes and think about what they want and how they feel then find creative ways to meet those needs. Some examples:
- A bakery is just a few doors down from the local Apple store. The owner knows that a new iPhone will be released in a few days and that hundreds of people will be lining up to buy it. It’s July, so he also knows that everyone will be waiting in the heat. He bakes hundreds of cookies in the shape of his logo and hands them out to the folks in line, along with glasses of ice cold lemonade. He also has his staff walk around with portable fans, giving folks a momentary cool breeze to go with their lemonade. How long will those Apple customers remember his generosity? Some of those Apple customers will be coming back to the Apple store when they need to buy accessories and get help; the experience they had waiting in line might just remind them of how good those cookies were, and they may stop in to buy more each time they’re in the area.
- A dress shop owner wants to expand into formal gowns for special occasions. She creates a campaign, “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Formal Fashion,” and offers free classes on makeup, clothing trends and hairstyling to high school and college students. How many of them will come back to her shop when prom rolls around? If they forge strong relationships with the owner, will they return when it’s time to buy a wedding dress? The owner is investing in deeper relationships with potential future customers, and when the time comes to spend money on a fancy dress, those young women will probably feel more comfortable shopping with someone they already know.
Innovative communications are more memorable, which makes them a better use of your marketing dollars. Too often, small businesses focus on the mass media end of the spectrum, which generally carries a higher overall cost than individual communications, which may have no cost at all. A well-trained waiter with a great personality can cost just as much as an inattentive slacker, but one will encourage repeat business while the other can ensure customers never return. (Tip from the Captain: If you’re spending thousands of dollars on ads and direct mail but failing to monitor how well your staff interacts with your customers, you’re wasting money.)
Innovative communications can differentiate you from the competition far more effectively than something that looks and sounds like it could have come from anyone else. A complex marketplace increases the necessity for innovation and differentiation: as the number of choices increases, it’s much harder for potential customers to remember that you exist.