Building a brand is one of the hardest things a company can do. You know what “I’m lovin’ it” means. You know what a bright red cross means — but how those companies are able to go about creating their brands takes some ingenuity. It doesn’t need to be all flashy slogans and Super Bowl commercials, although those are helpful.
Branding comes down to one simple thing: reputation. Whatever your reputation is, your brand will reflect it. Wall Street had the reputation of being smart, driven and innovative, and we all saw how that went downhill in a hurry. Now, regardless of what particular business someone refers to, the “Wall Street brand” is a slimy, greedy corporation. On the flip side, anything labeled “organic” brings to mind images of kind farmers hand-raising their chickens, regardless of what the reality is.
The best place to start building your reputation and, by extension, your brand, is in your hometown. Small businesses can benefit from establishing a solid base in their community, and one of the best ways to do that is by giving back.
If you think about it, your brand isn’t really about your business so much as it is about you. It should reflect who you are — your values, beliefs, ethics and talents. No place on Earth is better suited to develop those areas than where you live.
On top of that, it’s reasonable to assume that whatever product or service you offer will start in your hometown. It’s smart to work with someone who’s close by, so any issues can be sorted out quickly. But the question remains: How exactly does community service help you?
How you are perceived is synonymous with how your business will be perceived. For example, a large, well-established business might make anonymous donations in order to keep the focus on the issue. Small businesses don’t necessarily need to do that, though.
Simply being a business will actually help to spread awareness of whatever issue you choose to work with. It gives you a bigger voice to promote your cause, while also creating what people see as a halo effect — meaning you did something good, so you must always be good.
Of course, the halo effect isn’t actually real, and it certainly won’t make up for a crappy business model, but it is a great way to get noticed and start to build a brand. By becoming a voice for a good cause, you’re essentially saying that your business cares about and wants to help others. In other words, when you take time to volunteer your company, you build trust within your community. That’s a big hurdle to jump over when starting out!
Driven to Success
Since you’ve started to build trust by demonstrating good intentions, the next thing you have to do is follow through. One of the hardest things to find in people is someone who does what they say they’re going to do. Did you volunteer to host an event dinner at one of your locations? Follow through with it. That says something about you — and about how you handle your business. It creates a sense of security and lets people know you’re hardworking and dependable, also making them think of you as a success. It doesn’t matter if you’ve achieved your personal level of achievement. If other people think you’re successful, you will be.
A Strong Team
Another part of branding is how you create your company culture. It’s an easy aspect to overlook, which is unfortunate. A high turnover rate can be the result of a poorly formed company culture and a lack of commitment from employees. By asking your team to volunteer together, teammates can get a chance to bond outside of work.
There are a few things to keep in mind with this, though. It’s rude to demand that they help, since volunteer work is, by definition, voluntary. However, you can turn it into a kind of contest, where the winner or winning team gets a prize, like a new gadget or a company-paid lunch.
By fostering the bonds between co-workers, you give them a chance to connect with each other, feel like their work is important and, most importantly, create an opportunity for them to expand their knowledge base. All of these things help build loyalty, but it also helps your employees to actually enjoy their jobs.
Add to Your Company Resume
Your company may be small, but working with a larger, non-profit organization can give you clues about how to run a business. Non-profits have to be especially careful about their budgets, so keep your eyes peeled to see how they make the most of everything they have.
These organizations have to be business savvy, going about their occupation in a way where they can be at the right place and time to do the most good. Just like for-profit companies, they have to strategically position themselves. Even missionaries have to be placed where they can expand their base and reach the maximum amount of people, which is something all businesses need to be good at.
In addition to learning from the company itself, you can also learn things that directly benefit your business. You can network, volunteer for projects that may impact your business and get a chance to talk directly with some of your target market. Offer to organize the annual banquet to get experience hosting a black-tie event, or attend as many potlucks as you can to learn from another business owner in your industry.
Like a good salad, community activism combines all these things into an excellent base for getting your brand together. While working in your community can’t create your brand for you, it can give it the reputation you need for your brand to work.