“We want to create value for you by sharing marketing tips and timesavers” – O’C&K.
Why SME owners need to manage their personal digital brand.
Managing your digital brand is as much a part of building a competitive positioning for your business as anything else. You may have the best business on the planet, but if it is not online and differentiated somehow, from others in your niche, you will find it hard to attract new clients.
Our own company (O’C&K), is still in its infancy, being 18 months old, and quite often my business partner and I have long, meandering conversations about what defines it (us). Our conversations revolve around the fact that with our experience, in the area of marketing communications, we really can be all things to all people. More and more however, we are realising how important it is to position the type of business we are, carefully.
I mean, if you can’t describe your business then, why would you expect customers or prospects to engage with it? What we have learnt, in O’C&K’s relatively short existence however, is that whilst you do need to be definitive, so that your business will be understood, you also need some flexibility.
I suppose our tagline (if we had one) would be, your marketing outsourced in a smarter way. The ‘smarter way’ element allows us the flexibility needed to evolve with the demands and expectations of clients. So, I guess Aidan and myself have arrived at the conclusion that the art of brand positioning is a balancing act and one that does need to be re-visited from time to time.
What stands out will make you successful.
There are only two of us in O’C&K and we operate a hub and spoke business model. When required, we employ (from our community of contacts), the expertise needed to address client’s needs. Because of this we are conscious of managing our personal brands because, when you think about it, this is what can really set us apart from competitors. You might say that ‘we’ are the USP that makes us stand out in a sea of marketing sameness and we believe that what makes you stand out, will make you successful.
There are many benefits of personal branding in a small business like ours. We like to think that the main ones are:
a) competitors cannot duplicate the relationships we have built up over the years because they are personal and therefore unique,
b) whilst providing outsourced marketing services is not unique, our personal attributes, skills and experience are,
c) we can build on our reputation as we aspire to be thought leaders in our industry, and this makes O’C&K visible and relevant.
Build authority by knowing who you are and where you are going.
Fulfilling the aspiration of becoming a thought leader means building reputation and authority over time, across all touch points, including your digital brand, social media activity and offline channels. The rationale is that a thought leader is a trusted advisor who builds their credibility through authenticity and affinity. As they engage people either offline or online, those values accrue to the brand.
As alluded to above however, the first step is knowing who you are and where you are going. Questions like – why does your company matter or what your values are, need to be answered. Two initial questions we ask potential clients are, how are they unique and why should their customers care. Interestingly, the majority of requests we have received over the last number of months have been from businesses seeking to build an online presence / community.
For the rest of this post we are going to address how you might go about building your digital brand within an online community, by providing something of value. That way, you should attract the type of people that you are targeting. So I guess, asking yourself what type of community you want to build is the first question.
The answer may appear to be simple – to build a community people who are interested in what you are doing / saying / selling. The secret here is to remember that you want to build relationships with people that have something in common – it is not a numbers game.
Think about the groups who you, personally, like to connect with. Surely they comprise people who listen to each other and share information or at least provide entertainment i.e. real people. In our opinion, good communities are made up of people who want to be there not just a massive group of ‘followers’ that you have amassed by whatever means.
In O’C&K our values are Personable, Adaptive, Conscientious and Transparent. That’s our P.A.C.T (sorry – ed). Although we cannot hand pick our online community, we do follow people / brands that are aligned to these values. This overflows into part of our mission, which is to deliver a customer experience that creates a sense of community to our clients.
From an online point of view – we focus on quality rather than quantity as we strive to build a community that will help each other grow. For instance, we recently became a member of the Irish Business in Action Group’s (BAG) online community. We hope to grow with this community of small businesses that reflect who we are and what we believe in, as a company.
I am going to outline two important steps to follow when kickstarting your digital brand and then I will outline some tips on how you might go about building authority amongst that community.
The first step is not a repeat of what we mentioned above, although it is related. Have clear business goals. Yes, you should have goals for your digital activity but they should come from your overall business objectives. Too many small businesses think that social media is a strategy – it’s not, it is only one of many tools available. There are others that may be more appropriate for your business, such as, email marketing, PPC, SEO, content marketing or any mix of them. Whatever helps achieve the business goals, dictates what online community should be pursued.
So once you’ve agreed who you are, what you do and where you want to go – you can start on the second step which is identifying your community. If you are an existing business, with a client base, then you will know what type of community you should be involved with – more of the same. If you are working with a client, then here are some questions you could ask:
- Who is their audience and target markets therein?
- What is their specific niche and who are their competitors?
- Are they already part of a community (Chambers, SFA, IBEC etc.)?
- What existing influencers do they know (bloggers, social media, and offline networks)?
Answering these questions will give you a kick-start. For instance on Twitter, check out whom your competitors follow or include on lists – and you follow them. Join groups on LinkedIn and follow relevant brands on Facebook or Google plus.
Tips and Timesavers.
Earlier in this post we mentioned building your authority using a digital brand. Whether they are undertaken by you or a colleague, here are some practices that you can start immediately:
- Provide relevant written content. A blog, for instance, should give value to your audience that they might not get (or would have to pay for) elsewhere. Caveat – it must be constantly updated.
- Write blog content as a guest. Piggyback on an a respected blog in your industry.
- Host a webinar. Some people prefer to have the opportunity to talk through an issue with an expert.
- Join a conversation. Look for forums (Boards.ie), groups (e.g. LinkedIn) and communities (Google+).
- Research trends, news and issues. Share your thoughts and insights and answer questions (e.g. Quora).
- Write or co-author a book. Use it as a promotional tool rather than a revenue generator (e.g. eBooks).
- Create a podcast. Not everybody has time to read your excellent articles (e.g. free app Spreaker).
- Create a Slideshare or write a white paper. Offer insights and guidance to a specific audience relevant to your business (e.g slideshare).
- Public speaking. Present on a topic for local associations or be a keynote speaker e.g. conference.
- Conduct research. A simple way of sharing relevant knowledge with industry peers.
- Have a consistent profile. Use the same pic, the same bio and link everything to your website.
- Be a conduit. Be the liaison between suppliers and users within your niche / community.
Don’t forget to use offline activity in a way that reinforces what you are doing online. Use product launches, sponsorship, fundraisers and community workshops to convey your message also.
The essence of authenticity.
Most business owners will agree that there is absolutely no benefit in trying to be something online that you are not in the ‘offline world’. Not only is it a waste of time but it will not build a sustainable business either. Figure out who you are, what you do best, and be real. People like dealing with real people and real brands.
Be true to your own brand by having integrity. Find things to do and others to hang out with that ensure positivity, surrounds you. Don’t hide your flaws, nobody is perfect and are not expected to be. Live up to your (brand) promise and have fun while doing it – life’s too short.
Authentic people are exciting and refreshing and society nowadays is hungry for authenticity.
If you have any other tips or timesavers please leave a reply below. If you’d like to receive similar content, just subscribe by clicking through the pink button, on this page. Of course, if you want to get in touch, leave your details and perhaps we might meet for a chat, cheers. Jim – O’C&K