Build A Brand for Small Businesses

Branding is just as important for small businesses as it is for big names. Indeed, many corporate brands try to look more like small firms in order to appeal to consumers that prefer to support independent brands. 

Many small business owners I talk to already understand that branding is essential to their business, but a surprisingly high number of them don’t really know why.

They recognize the link between successful businesses and strong branding and aspire to build a brand that emulates similar success for themselves. And they understand that branding is not just a logo or how their business is perceived externally. But too few realize that successful brands have this branding at the heart of the business. So much so that in many ways you could almost substitute the word brand for business.

marketing-branding-advertising emineo mediaBranding is a way of defining your business to yourself, your team and your external audiences. It could be called the business’ “identity”, but only on the understanding that it embodies the core of what the business is and its values, not just what it looks and sounds like. Customers of all sorts of businesses are so savvy today that they can see through most attempts by companies to gloss, spin or charm their way to sales.

The benefits that a strategically defined brand can bring are the same as when people fall in love with each other. When customers connect emotively — because they share the same values and beliefs of a brand — it leads to higher sales and better brand differentiation. It also leads to loyalty, advocacy and can even protect your price in times when competitors rely on promotional discounts to drive sales. It can also give you the ideal platform from which to extend your offering or range.

Here are ten tips on how to successfully implement branding for your business.

1.   Start by defining your brand.

Review the product or service your business offers, pinpoint the space in the market it occupies and research the emotive and rational needs and concerns of your customers. Your brand character should promote your business, connect with your customer base and differentiate you in the market.

2.   When building your brand, think of it as a person.

Every one of us is an individual whose character is made up of beliefs, values and purposes that define who we are and who we connect with. Our personality determines how we behave in different situations, how we dress and what we say. Of course for people it’s intuitive and it’s rare that you even consider what your own character is, but when you’re building a brand it’s vital to have that understanding.

3.   Consider what is driving your business.

What does it believe in, what is its purpose and who are its brand heroes. These things can help establish your emotive brand positioning and inform the identity and character for brand communications.

4.   Aim to build long-term relationships with your customers.

Don’t dress up your offering and raise expectations that result in broken promises, create trust with honest branding — be clear who your company is and be true to the values that drive it every day.

5.   Speak to your customers with a consistent tone of voice.

It will help reinforce the business’ character and clarify its offering so customers are aware exactly what to expect from the product or service.

6.   Don’t repeat the same message in the same way over and over again. 

Alternatively, aim to make your key messages work together to build a coherent identity. 

7.   Don’t try to mimic the look of chains or big brands.

Try and carve out your own distinctive identity. There is a big consumer trend towards independent establishments, and several chains are in fact trying to mimic an independent feel to capture some of that market. Truly independent operators can leverage their status to attract customers who are looking for something more original and authentic, that aligns with how feel about themselves.

8.   Be innovative, bold and daring – stand for something you believe in.

Big brands are encumbered by large layers of bureaucracy, preventing them from being flexible and reacting to the ever-changing needs of their customers. Those layers of decision-makers can make it hard for them to be daring with their branding.

9.   Always consider your branding when communicating with customers.

Don’t lose your pride or dilute your brand positioning with indiscriminate discounting. Try offering more, rather than slashing prices. Promotions are an opportunity to reinforce your brand mission.

10.  The old way of stamping your logo on everything won’t cut it.

The future of branding is fluid and engaging — respect your customers’ intelligence by not giving everything away up front. Generate some intrigue and allow them to unearth more about your brand for themselves. This is the way to foster ambassadors who revel in telling other people what they have discovered.

Source Marketing Donut


Miami Herald Makeover: AAA Million Auto Parts

Emineo Media Miami Herald SMALL BUSINESS MAKEOVER (2)When most people think about the auto repair industry, they think about men poking around under the hood to diagnose the problem. It’s not a field that typically attracts women. But Margarita Hernández and her daughter aren’t your typical women. A strong connection to Cuba and a passion for classic cars from the 1950s led Hernández and her daughter, Cristina, to becoming owners of a 77-year-old auto repair shop in the heart of Little Havana.

“It all started with my father, José, in 1938,” Hernández said. “He owned a popular chain of car dealerships called Cadena Automovilista in Cuba.”

But that changed in 1961 when Hernández and her family fled Cuba.

“We left everything behind to come to Miami,” Hernández said. “It was a very difficult time for many in Cuba looking to flee a communist regime.”

When Hernández’s family came to Miami in 1961, her father was able to gather enough money to open AAA Million Auto Parts in Little Havana.

“When my dad opened the business here, it was very small and most of our business came in through word-of-mouth,” Hernández said. “He grew the business over the years, and when he passed away 10 years ago, he left it to me and my daughter.”

For Hernández, the prospect of owning an auto repair shop wasn’t daunting.

“I grew up in the auto parts business,” she said. “In fact, when my father passed away my daughter and I had been working for the business for years, so we knew the ins and outs of it.”

What Hernández didn’t know, however, was how to market the business and increase sales.

“We were so used to do business the old-fashioned way,” Hernández said. “But we knew we had to modernize our marketing to grow.”

To find answers, Hernández turned to the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover to help them determine how to incorporate social media, email marketing and take advantage of government contracting opportunities. The Herald, in turn, brought in Miami SCORE, a national nonprofit organization of retired volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs and built thriving businesses. SCORE volunteers use their entrepreneurial skills and offer mentoring services to small business owners free of charge. SCORE identified three counselors to help AAA Million Auto Parts.

The SCORE team included Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media, who has more than 25 years of experience in branding and social media. He has also led training programs for entrepreneurs both in the United States and abroad. Althea Harris is the Assistant District Director for Marketing and Outreach for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Area 1 in Miami. She has more than 20 years of experience and previously worked for the U.S. Department of Commerce. She assists small businesses looking for ways to take advantage of government contracting. Julio Canas is the business development director for Harbor Ithaka Wealth Management. Canas previously worked in banking for Banvalor Banco Comercial in Caracas, Venezuela. He has more than 10 years of experience in banking and business development. Raju Mohandas serves as a senior business consultant for International Services Inc., where he advises companies on how to grow their businesses through strategic planning and financing. He has moer than 30 years of experience in sales and marketing, operations and finance. Mohandas has successfully restructured and helped small businesses obtain capital for their assets and operational needs.

After working with AAA Million Auto Parts for three weeks, the counselors identified several major areas for improvement. First, the company needed to focus on its website and bolstering its online presence, particularly in terms of search engine optimization. Another issue was the company’s need for a business plan. The company also wanted help to understand what opportunities were in available in government contracting through the SBA and how to automate their business operations in an effort to maximize profit.

The counselors agreed that Hernández needed to first concentrate on the company’s website and improving its online presence. The counselors felt that developing a business plan focused on growth and taking advantage of SBA government contracting programs will help the company achieve increased sales. To accomplish these goals, the SCORE team had the following advice to offer:

Revamp the website: “This is key area for the company to focus on,” Espinosa said. “Right now, their website is pretty basic. They need to almost immediately revamp the site, optimize it for mobile devices and for search engine optimization.”

Espinosa recommended rolling out the new website in the next 60 days.

“For the company to achieve their goals and get into government contracting, they need a website that is well-organized and easy to navigate.” Espinosa said. “The company needs to view their website as a sort of digital business card. It’s where potential customers and government entities will go to learn about the company and decide whether to do business with them.”

Create a business plan: “Because the business has been around for so long, having a formal written business plan was not a priority,” Mohandas said. “But in order to grow and move toward modernization, it’s important for the company to create a business map that will be their road map to achieving the goals set forth by the owners.”

Mohandas recommended focusing on the things the company does and realizing what they don’t do.

“You can’t be all things to all people,” Mohandas said. “It’s important for this business to focus on their strengths — unique and antique auto parts for classic cars. That’s what makes them different.”

But Hernández disagrees.

“We do focus on the antique auto parts, but we also repair modern cars every day,” Hernandez said. “So we want to continue focusing on that and making sure our services are affordable.”

Mohandas also recommended looking for potential customers outside of the immediate area of the business.

“I suggest looking for new clients outside of the shop,” Mohandas said. “Research online for antique car dealers, collectors and others looking for parts. They don’t have to only sell to the public, they can also sell to the trade. The key focus is to increase their sales margins.”

Explore government contracting: Harris worked with the company to help them understand how government contracting works and the opportunities offered by the SBA. Harris recommended that the company register as a woman-owned business in the SBA contracting program and to get their 8a certification. Harris is also working with the company to determine whether they are eligible for the Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program, which helps small businesses in urban communities gain preferred access to federal procurement opportunities.

“These certifications will give the business several advantages in the $500 billion federal marketplace,” Harris said. “It will also make them attractive to large government suppliers who are required to subcontract to small business.”

Harris recommended that the company ask for introductions and referrals to federal buyers looking for auto parts or other related commodities.

Consider automating business processes: Canas recommended that the company look at areas where they can automate business processes.

“The company is using Quickbooks software for their accounting,” Canas said. “But they need to take a hard look at the business and see what other functions lend themselves to automation such as inventory and orders.

Canas also suggested reviewing their pricing model to ensure competitiveness.

“The way I see it,” said Canas. “Big competitors like Advanced Auto Parts and Auto Zone have made this business a commodity. When this happens, the only dimension of competition is price.”

With an annual revenue of $250K to $500K, Canas pointed out that the company does well for a small business, but there is room for growth.

Hernandez was grateful for the advice of the SCORE counselors.

“We always knew that we had to move toward modern times and increase our marketing,” Hernández said. “Thanks to the counselors at SCORE, we are well on our way.

The makeover

The business: AAA Million Auto Parts has been in business for 77 years. The company was established in Cuba in 1938 by José R. Hernández. In 2005, Hernández passed away and his daughter, Margarita Hernández, and granddaughter, Cristina, took over the business, which provides auto repair services. The firm also offers a selection of rare parts for classic cars from the 1950s and ’60s.

The challenge: Modernizing the company’s marketing efforts to increase business sales

The experts: SCORE Miami-Dade counselor Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media, has more than 25 years of experience in branding and social media. Althea Harris is the Assistant District Director for Marketing and Outreach for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Area 1 in Miami. She is an expert in government contracting and has worked in the industry since 1993. Julio Canas is the business development director for Harbor Ithaka Wealth Management. He has worked in wealth and asset management for more than 10 years.

The makeover: In just under three weeks, the SCORE team developed a solid marketing strategy for AAA Million Auto Parks. They walked the owner and her daughter through strategies for improving their social media presence, automating their business processes and updating their website.

Read more here: Miami Herald

5 Ways to Find the Right Niche

One of the first steps in the business planning process is determining who your target market is and why they would want to buy from you.

emineo media nicheIt sounds simple, but do you really know what you are selling and to whom? Is the market you serve the best one for your product or service? Are the benefits of dealing with your business clear and are they aligned with those or your target customers?

If you aren’t sure about the answers to any of these questions then you need to step back and revisit the foundation of your business plan.

The following tips can help you be clear about what your business has to offer, identify the right target market for it and build a niche for yourself there.

Be Clear about What you Have to Offer

Sounds obvious, but more than just a product or service, what are you really selling? Think about it.  Your town probably has several restaurants all selling one fundamental product—food. But I’ll bet one sells drive-thru fast food, perhaps another sells pizza in a rustic Italian kitchen, and maybe there’s also a fine dining seafood restaurant that specializes in wood-grilled fare. All these restaurants sell meals, but they sell them to targeted clientele that is looking for the unique benefits each has to offer. What they are really selling is a combination of product, value, ambiance (or not), and brand experience.

So, if you are starting a business, be sure you understand why anyone would buy from you. What needs does it fulfill? What benefits and differentiators will you bring to the table that will help you stand out from the crowd?

Don’t Become a Jack of All Trades, use Strategy to Focus

One of the pitfalls of not defining what you have to offer is that you can quickly become a jack of all trades and master of none and this can have a negative impact on business growth.

Think about it from the perspective of a consumer. How often do you see marketing flyers promoting the service of a local handy man who claims to be an expert in everything from drywall installation to plumbing repairs, and so on? Now, this handyman may get some business out of his efforts, but he’d win a lot more if he specialized in doing one or two things well, building a reputation for himself, and fine tuning his marketing message.  This is why you need a strategy: it will focus you.

Identify Your Niche

The flip side of being a jack of all trades is finding your niche and playing to your strengths within that niche.  Creating a niche for your business is essential to success. For example, say you want to quit your day job and become a freelance writer. You know there’s a need in the market for a trustworthy, reliable, and consistently good technical writer – and clients are willing to pay a certain price point for that quality and value.

Now you could simply advertise your services on an online freelance marketplace, as many do, and hope to pick up any business from any customer anywhere on the map. But by identifying your niche and choosing to attract customers who will value your services, you will quickly build on that niche and be on the path towards business success.

Source SBA