Identify Yourself!

The main thing that drives customers into your shop isn’t something they can see or hear or hold. What brings customers in—and keeps them coming back—is your brand. A strong brand conveys your passion, purpose, beliefs, and skills. Defining your identity, modeling it, and enlisting your staff to support it will not only distinguish you from the competition, it will separate you from mediocrity and help contribute to your overall success.

Chapter 1: Branding is Everything

An Introduction to Branding

To set up a cycle shop, there are certain things you do: stock the sales floor with bikes, line shelves with products, create a repair area. While these actions demonstrate what your business does… they don’t announce what your business is. How do you get your customers to buy in to what you and your shop are passionate about?

That’s where branding comes in to play.

But just what do we mean by the term “brand”? The word can mean different things to different people, but we’re (no surprise) partial to how Ryan Johnson, Director of Marketing at QBP, defines it:

A brand is a collection of experiences that lives inside the mind of the consumer.

When you think of a brand like Nike or Apple or Trader Joe’s, you get a feeling. You know what that brand stands for, why it’s essential. Brand paints a picture, tells a story, captures the imagination. All of the different ways that a consumer experiences brand – from online advertising to in-store displays – help create lasting impressions that lead to connections on intellectual, emotional, even subconscious levels.

By developing your brand, you create value and build customer loyalty. This is achieved in four different ways:

  • Your business’ message and how it carries itself
  • The consistency of the shopping experience you create
  • The products you select and include for sale
  • How your customers feel about the value they get for dollars spent

What makes customers prefer one business over another, even if both of them can provide similar goods? What is that chosen business doing right? More often than not, you win your customers’ money and loyalty because of how your brand connects with them. In short, great branding creates attachment.

The Advantages of Strongly Defining Your Brand

A strongly defined brand gives your staff (and yourself) a clear mission and purpose. It sends a message to customers about what kind of experience they can expect from your shop. From selection of products to level of professionalism to choice of uniform (or not), branding becomes your roadmap. Here’s what you gain when you define your identity:

  1. You gain focus.
    Some may feel that branding is too restrictive, that it puts limits on what your shop can accomplish. But here’s the thing: limitations help you focus. As they say, a narrow path only leads in one direction.
  2. You gain strategic smarts.
    Branding helps you develop strategy. When opportunities arise or forks in the road appear, branding gives you a better idea of which options fit and which ones could throw you off course. Branding helps you say YES to the right things and NO to the wrong ones.
  3. You gain shelf space.
    The next time a charming sales rep swings by to suggest you stock a trendy new product, you can consult your brand imprint to help you make the right decision. It’s a win-win-win: your store benefits by saving shelf space for a product that will actually sell. You benefit by not incurring a hopeless expense. Your customers benefit by knowing the products you select are on point. Heck, even the sales rep benefits by having a better understanding of the products that are right for your needs!

The Perils of NOT Defining Your Brand

As the old adage goes: If you don’t define yourself, others will do it for you. (And they will not get it right.) When your brand goes undefined, you may end up losing in three different ways.

  1. You may lose control.
    -You let others determine your fate by allowing them to define you, rather than you boldly and clearly stating what you hold dear.
    -You leave your staff to their own devices, allowing them to communicate with customers in any way they see fit rather than how you, as the owner, would like them to conduct business.
  2. You may lose money.
    -You make purchasing decisions that may leave you with products you can't sell.
    -You give monetary support or sponsorships to groups or causes that may not align with your brand’s message, beliefs, or customer base.
  3. You may lose customers.
    -You confuse or alienate customers who simply can’t figure out what you stand for or why your shop matters.
    -You please no one by trying to please everyone

A shop without a brand identity is like a ship without a rudder. Define yourself and you’ll steer your own future.

Brand Does Not Mean PIGEONHOLING

Don’t worry that establishing your brand means you’re stuck with it. Yes, a brand is a firmly defined entity, but it’s important to remember, too, that this same brand is a living entity. You can tweak it. Refine it. Companies often revisit their brands to adjust to the business climate, adjust to new goals or greater visions.

Building Your Brand Requires Action

It’s not enough just to define your brand well, you have to spread the good word about it, too. To help your brand reach a broader public — and its maximum potential — there are three stages of actions to take.

  1. Define your brand – Figure out what your brand is, because when you know what it is, you can articulate it. After all, when you’re unclear about a topic, it’s difficult to talk about.
  2. Execute your brand – After defining your brand, put it into practice. The great thing about creating a brand is that it provides you boundaries and limitations. When you refer to your brand imprint, you set standards for the best, most effective way to get your brand across – across all platforms. The only way you can do that is by living it and modeling it.
  3. Teach your brand – Surround yourself with a staff that gets your brand identity and knows how to support it. To make sure that you are all on the same page, educate your staff so there’s no room for confusion or misalignment.

Chapter 2: Steps to Building Your Brand

The Brand Imprint Defined

A brand imprint is a simple, useful, visual document that perfectly describes your brand identity. It is the first step in a larger, longer plan toward declaring your brand in the marketplace and differentiating yourself from all the other brands out there.

Whether or not you’ve given it much thought or even knew there was a word for it, you do have a brand. Trouble is, people might not know about it, or might not be clear on it — and that includes yourself. That’s why creating a brand imprint is so important.

A brand imprint not only helps you define your vision for your business, it outlines your truth. It helps you delineate your shop’s philosophy, mission, values, and more. It is a living, breathing document that you can return to over and over again as a reminder of what your shop stands for and why it matters.

How To Make Your Brand Imprint

So how would you talk about your store to someone who’s never been there? How would you impress upon them what your store believes in, what it hopes to accomplish, how it strives to make a difference? Take an honest step back now, and describe what you want a consumer to see and feel when they visit.

A brand imprint helps you define your story. Here’s how to get there, in six easy steps.

Step 1: Define your unique value proposition.

Using precise words, how do you capture exactly what your brand is about? Think of your brand’s worth, what it has to offer, what qualities it stands for. When it comes to defining your brand value, you’re looking for four or five words that you want consumers to feel, to connect to, when they think of your shop.

For example, say I’m opening a shop called BIKESHOP (yes, in all caps). I want BIKESHOP to be a friendly place where locals can come to for quality bikes and gear, expert advice, and comprehensive repairs. I also want it to be a place that builds our cycling community and offers educational seminars/workshops for riders who are new to biking or seasoned cyclists looking to improve their biking experience.

Some words I might select for BIKESHOP’s brand value could be: Integrity, Community, Friendliness, Professionalism, Education.

Step 2: Define your brand philosophy.

Your philosophy defines how your brand thinks. In one or two sentences, it describes your brand’s way of life, how it attracts like minds (or even helps shape them.) Brand philosophy is the CORE BELIEF that guides your business decisions.

BIKESHOP brand philosophy example: BIKESHOP believes that every rider, from new to seasoned, deserves the best biking experience possible. By offering top products, hands-on support, and educational workshops, we’ll do everything we can to help every local biker feel like they’re world class.

Step 3: Define your brand mission.

What is the PURPOSE of your brand? A mission lets others know why your brand exists, why you chose to create it. Brand Mission is a bold expression and a simple statement of how your philosophy drives your actions in the world.

BIKESHOP brand mission example: To create a place of connection and point of contact for both new and seasoned riders alike.

Step 4: Define your brand personality.

Brand personality is all about style and approach. In the marketplace, how does your brand distinguish itself from others? We’re talking three or four words that describe how your brand speaks (its VOICE) and how it looks (its IMAGE). Brand personality establishes an intimate relationship between you and your customers, suppliers, and the industry as a whole.

BIKESHOP Image example: Warm, Happy, Active, Engaged
BIKESHOP Voice example: Playful, Informative, Personal, Smart

Step 5: Define your brand mantra.

Take your brand values, philosophy, mission and personality and roll it into one. Your Brand Mantra should be three to five words that explain the brand’ss competitive advantage in the marketplace. It’s a motto that contains the very spirit of your brand, distilled into a short, digestible, and deeply significant phrase.

BIKESHOP example: Learn the world on a bike.

Step 6: Define your brand customers.

Generally speaking, who are the customers you serve? See if you can lock it down into three or four types. When you define your brand successfully, your customers reflect back to you what your brand is. They see themselves in you, and you see yourself in them. Be precise in describing the customer… and think creatively about how to describe them.

BIKESHOP Customer Profile example: Local Newbie, Mid-40s Seasoned Rider, Late-30s Cycling Perfectionist.

Brand Stewardship

Once you’ve created your brand, you must continually practice it. It’s not enough just to have defined your brand, you must become fluent in speaking its language. Be your brand’s ambassador, steward, champion.

Perhaps the most exciting part of creating a brand is knowing that you’ve made a commitment. You spend so much time asking yourself questions, defining your identity, coming to a deeper understanding of what you hold dear… and now you’ve got to follow through on every level. From products you stock to how your employees interact with customers, branding is not just a declaration of self, it’s a commitment to your future.

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