The most successful businesses in the world aren’t necessarily the largest or “the best” ones. They’re the ones that a large enough segment of the public associates with a specific idea. That idea is related to their product, service, or area of competence. They way they accomplish that is by concentrating on one thing.
It’s All about Standing Out
No matter the size or scope of your business, you likely have competitors. Find a way to stand out in a sea of competition, and you have a better chance of growing your business, enjoying success and perhaps even leading your industry.
So, to accomplish this, do you think it would be better to offer your customers a greater range of products or services or to narrow down what you offer? Though it will probably seem counterintuitive to many, the latter is the approach that works.
In their book, 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al and Laura Reis wrote “Good things happen when you narrow the focus” and gave numerous illustrations of how great success stories were created by business owners who narrowed their offering. One example is Toys ‘R Us. The world’s leading toy retailer started life as a single store called Children’s Supermart, which sold children’s furniture and toys. You would think that to expand such a business, you would add to it: bicycles, baby items, kid’s clothing. But owner Charles Lazarus did just the opposite: He dumped the furniture and filled the empty space with more toys. They became Toys ‘R Us and that was all they did for decades.
The Power of Simplicity
In a world where we are bombarded with hundreds of marketing messages daily, the faster and more effectively you can get your point across, the better: Simplicity. Using the above example, how much more simple can you get than a giant store that specializes in toys? That’s much simpler to grasp and remember than “a store that specializes in toys, children’s furniture and clothes, etc.”
Another example courtesy of Reis and Reis: Two of the nation’s most successful pizza chains both started out with much more varied menus: Papa John’s (pizza, cheesesteaks, sub sandwiches, salads, onion rings and fried zucchini) and Little Caesar’s (pizza, friend shrimp, fish ‘n chips and roasted chicken for the latter) didn’t really hit the big time until they narrowed down their offerings. It’s in their respective message messages: “Better ingredients. Better Pizza.” and “Pizza, pizza.”
Does your business have an offering and message that is as focused?
Go Narrow to Get Fat
The trend in business for a long time was to become “full-service” in an effort to reach a larger audience. So, it might seem like narrowing down your offer would also narrow down your income but the opposite is true: When your target public can associate you or your company with a specific idea, it strengthens your identity in their minds. People come to know you as “the _____ guy” or “the _____ company” and eventually, the traffic for that product or service will come your way. That’s real power. Contrast this with a company whose offering is all over the map. The target public can’t get a firm idea of what they do. The broadness causes a mental dispersal. It’s the opposite of power.
Specialists vs. Generalists
Given the opportunity, most people would choose a specialist over a generalist:
- When your sink is backed up, you call a plumber, not a handyman.
- When you have transmission troubles, you take it to Aamco, not a general auto repair shop.
- When you want awesome barbecue, you go to a barbecue joint, not a coffee shop.
The benefit of being a specialist is that you can command a higher fee. Specialists have specialized knowledge that their target audience can’t easily acquire on their own. That’s what makes a specialist worth a higher price—one that people generally expect to pay and are often glad to.
Further, if it’s not already clear, narrowing down your offering can eventually put you in a position of authority—an expert and/or a valued consultant, truly trusted by your public.
(Remember though that this is only possible if you’ve chosen a niche that you’re truly competent [or gifted] in.)
How to Start Narrowing
You’ve probably heard the saying (paraphrased here) that it’s much better to do one thing well than to do many things poorly. Narrowing is the process of identifying the one thing—one product or product line; one service or group of services; etc.—you do well and then communicating that to your target audience.
If you have a website, company brochure, or other collateral that tells your company’s story or gives a mission statement, start there. Does your statement accurately communicate your niche—your key area of competence, skill, authority or experience? Focus on the area in which you or your company are expert and strengthen that. That will be the niche you fill. It will be that product or service that you become associated with: “Oh, they’re the _______ people” or “She’s the _______ expert.”
It’s possible that you already have a fairly narrow offer but your marketing doesn’t communicate it effectively enough. In that case, you would want to review your website and other materials and tweak your message (or completely revamp it, if necessary) to more effectively communicate your niche.
This action is something you can do no matter what business you’re in, no matter if you’ve been around a while or are just getting started. In fact, this might be even more crucial for new businesses than for existing ones. Why? Because even if their offerings are overly broad, existing businesses, if they’re still around, are doing something right. But a new business needs every advantage just to get off the ground. So, establishing a narrow niche at the start gives new businesses a much better chance of surviving and staying in business.
LinkedIn currently has around 414 million users: 78% of them say they use the platform to keep abreast with industry news, and 73% use it to discover new ideas in their profession. Once a central market for recruiters and job seekers, the platform has now evolved to become the epicenter for content consumption and sharing.
LinkedIn launched its long-form publishing platform in 2014 that opened up a stage for users to express themselves and tell their story to their professional networks. Marketers saw this as an opportunity to connect with audiences in a personal way, and companies started building deeper relationships with their customers by telling their brand story.
A brand story is not just what a company writes on its website. It’s a mixture of facts, thoughts, interpretations and feelings formed by their brand. A good brand story can help a business attract more followers, drive traffic and grow its reach.
To make that happen, below are a few tips on how you can use LinkedIn to tell a compelling brand story that will make your business stand out from other companies on the platform.
1. Distribute Relevant Content
What the world needs is not more content, it’s more relevant content. People want information they can relate to and learn something from. According to LinkedIn, the most in-demand content is industry news. Around 60% of users are interested in industry insights while only 43% are concerned with new products and services.
Writing fact-rich content can help your audience be more attuned with your brand. If you are in the food industry, write articles about the increase in food prices, salaries in food service or new laws and regulations that affect consumers and businesses in your niche. Research thoroughly and write from an expert point of view, citing case studies, statistics and leading food or health organizations to be a reliable source of information.
It’s best not to overload your page with unnecessary promotions because that could turn off your audience. In a LinkedIn survey, 44% of respondents said they were likely to end a relationship with a brand due to irrelevant promotions and 22% said they are sure to leave a brand for the same reason.
2. Establish Your Brand’s Voice
Your brand has a voice. Or, at least, it should have one. Your audience should be able to identify your content even when your logo or company name does not appear on it. Think of your brand as a person: What is its personality?
Once you have identified the characteristics of your brand, always apply it to the content you create. Content Marketing Institute gives a good example of how to map your brand’s voice for your content creation by building a voice chart. You can access it by clicking here.
Based on the sample table, the company considers itself passionate, quirky and authentic. It also indicates secondary characteristics that supplement the main one. For instance, “irreverent” is added to further explain how the brand’s content can be quirky. Also, it defines why the brand has those qualities, how the qualities are communicated through their content, and what not to do when communicating the brand’s message.
Constructing a straightforward diagram will help you whittle down your brand’s characteristics to create a truly distinct voice and tell your audience who you are as a business, what to expect from you and how to interact with you.
3. Use Visuals
People can process pictures 60,000 times faster than text. Images are also attractive to the eye, which could elicit emotions from users to help them relate to the brand.
MDG Advertising found out that any content containing captivating images attract 94% more total views across all social media platforms. Also, 67% of consumers consider clear, detailed images as more important than descriptions and product information, and adding them to posts or updates results to more engagement and higher click-through rates.
The advertising company also revealed that long, text-only content can be daunting to users, reducing audience interaction significantly. To keep your reader interested in your LinkedIn updates, it’s best to use infographics, charts, graphs, etc. Add stimulating pictures to illustrate and enhance your brand’s story.
A Claremont Graduate University study reports that images also boost credibility by 75%. Maximizing the use of illustrations to become a reliable company will make users want to follow and interact with your brand.
4. Be a Thoughtful Leader
Thought leaders are considered experts in their industry. They drive opinions and inspire others with their innovative ideas. Becoming one of the thought leaders in your industry will make it is easy for people to follow you and, ultimately, build their trust in your product or service.
According to Mention, 77% of social media conversations starts from people looking for advice, information or help. Offering expert advice positions you not only as a retailer to consumers, but also a valuable pool of knowledge.
Microsoft, which was ranked the most influential company in LinkedIn for 2015, is an excellent example of how a company can place itself as an industry thought leader. Through their LinkedIn page, where it says they “aim to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more,” set themselves up as a caring company helping people build their future.
They share innovative content on sustainability, innovation, world development, economies and various other topics that not only provide helpful insights to readers but also start conversations and stimulate thinking.
Storytelling is an important and powerful technique in building relationships with your audience. When telling your brand story on LinkedIn, remember your audience—professionals who hardly have time for fluff—and create content that is relevant and thought-provoking with a strong voice and interesting visuals to drive more people to your page.
If you’re a solopreneur, then you are your business. Customers aren’t just buying the services you provide; they’re buying what you represent, based on their response to, or relationship with, your personal brand. That means, building and maintaining a favorable brand is essential for solopreneurs.
Think of it this way: your personal brand is a shiny red sports car. Under the hood is the engine, your most prized and functional value. It’s the heart of what you do. Everything else—from the plush, hand-stitched leather seats to the gently sloping curves and racing stripes—is your personality and trust factor.
So, your functional value powers you through the turns, getting things done, while your trust factor looks good doing it, leaving people with a joyful thrill as you streak past in an exhilarating red blur. The two were meant to go hand in hand.
To help get your brand up to speed, here are five tips every solopreneur should leverage:
1. Positioning Defines Your Business
Positioning sets the course for what a business should do to market its product or service to customers. For service providers, such as consultants, writers, photographers, graphic designers and others, positioning is all about defining your niche or area of specialization.
As a rule, specialists get paid more than generalists. It’s also easier to market your services to a niche audience than trying to be all things to all prospects.
So, choose a niche and stick with it. Instead of saying you’re a freelance photographer, for example, you could position yourself as a photographer who specializes in commercial real estate shoots. Or, instead of being a generic publicist, you could specialize in doing publicity work for technology companies whose goal is to be acquired within the next 18 to 24 months.
To settle on a niche, you’ll need to figure out what real-world problem you can solve for a specific type of customer or client. Is there something about your approach to the problem that sets you apart from your competitors? If so, you now have a proprietary system to incorporate as part of your brand. Better get the word out.
2. Messaging Spells out Your Value
Once you’ve identified a niche, you’ll want to start communicating with prospects and customers right away. Just be sure that any messages you craft are clear and compelling. Imagine you’re the customer. You’d expect any messages from your business to support its positioning claims, right?
Also, you’d probably expect your business to offer some idea of whatever’s driving the need for your services. Your brand’s messaging is where you’ll lay out all the great reasons why prospects should buy from you.
Heads Up: Your messaging will resonate better and be remembered longer if you weave it into a compelling story.
3. Strategize for More Effective Branding
With your functional value and trust factors firmly in place, it’s time to hone your brand strategy. Begin branding your business by acknowledging what’s nearest and dearest to your heart: your core values and passions. Add your personality, strengths and image until you arrive at your brand promise, which is what customers or clients expect to get whenever they interact with your business (you).
Although you may be tempted to gloss over this exercise, building your brand outward based on your core values is the best way to ensure the authenticity of your brand. Customers and clients place their trust in authentic brands; if yours is found to be lacking, they’ll take their business elsewhere. So, the time you spend getting this right will directly affect your profitability.
4. Cultivate Your Circle of Influence
As a child, you may have learned that people judge you by the company you keep. In business, customers and clients judge brands by the influencers who reflect favorably upon them.
For example, if you’re a marketing consultant to dental practice owners, there are trade organizations, media outlets and social media groups that specifically address the interests of dentists. If you ask your top clients and vendors who the key influencers are among dental practice owners, you’ll soon have a short list of key contacts whom you can educate regarding your positioning and brand.
As you cultivate these relationships, you’ll be in a great position to ask for introductions and endorsements—and customers and clients will seek you out because your proximity to a key influencer reflects favorably upon you.
5. Make a Plan and Implement It
Think of your brand as a living thing. You can nurture and grow it but for optimal results, you’ll want to have a brand improvement plan in place to guide its growth. And you’ll need a brand communication plan as well. This plan should reference how you represent and message your brand, so there’s consistency across all written, verbal and visual communications.
As you develop your action plans, think about all the ways you can help your customers or clients find you—both offline and online. For example, they may find you offline because of positive word of mouth, or they saw you give a talk at a local event.
Of course, there are many ways they could find you online: search engines, social media sites, review sites—its all about connecting with your community and engaging people through your brand.
Building and growing a strong personal brand takes commitment and consistent effort, but it’s an essential undertaking for solopreneurs.
The good news is that, with the right mix of positioning, messaging and influencers, you can build a brand that will differentiate you from your competitors while bringing business and new opportunities to your door. Branding is well worth the effort.
A Must-Read for Every Growing Company
Thinking about successful companies, you might wonder: What did they do, and how did they do it?
Rebranding can be risky, but at some point, you just have to look at the facts. Maybe your branding has fallen flat—not getting the attention it once had? So now what do you do?
The five companies listed below refused to lay by the wayside and did something that not too many others could—they rebranded.
Only one word for this brand: Iconic. And that’s for all the right and wrong reasons. The brand has had its ups and downs since its emergence in 1903. Founder William S. Harley along with brothers, Arthur and Walter Davidson, his co-founders, introduced V-twin, air-cooled motorcycle engines as a result of their experiments with bicycles as childhood friends.
Yes, it all began with a fascination for bicycles and how to improve them. Not many people know, or remember, this part of the company’s history because of the unfavorable reputation and mixed signals sent by the organization over the years.
The four friends formed the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, working out of a shed in the Davidson brothers’ backyard. By the year 1909, they owned their own factory, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Regardless of their tarnished reputation, the motor company remains a staple icon in the motorcycle industry despite having almost gone bankrupt twice. In the end, it wasn’t their reputation pulling them down, it was the product.
What started out as high-end became nothing more than a dollar-store company. Harley-Davidson wasn’t producing a quality product, so they began the rebuilding process. They beat the odds and are now at the top of the game, boasting a worth of over $1 billion. Their standing logo of the bar and shield forever remains an American symbol since its inception in 1910.
The next struggle in Harley-Davidson’s future is a possible rebranding to attract a broader customer base, which now stands at white males of over 50. If history tells us anything, they will find a solution to explode industry standards and bring modern, younger customers to the table.
When the concept for the company was conceived, the goal was to appeal to the higher end of the market and cater to the sophisticated shopper, like Neiman Marcus or Macy’s, but within a reasonable budget. However, as the brand evolved, it actually turned into a bargain-hunter type of shopping experience that they were initially trying to avoid.
The company’s mission statement was a contradiction regarding what it was attempting to achieve. However, what could have been a disaster that would then lead to failure was, in fact, a ‘happy accident.’ Target is a statement to entrepreneurial evolution like nothing before. They became successful despite falling short on their initial goal. For them, rebranding was a necessity, not a choice. Yet, it led to Target being one of the most successful retailers in the world.
Established in Dublin in the 1930s, Massey Bros. are the top funeral directors in the country, in terms of offering solutions none of their competition does. In an industry with high emotional attachment, the company has overcome stigma and obstacles over the years. One of their struggles was to outplay competition with six companies operating under the same name as them, Massey, which is, undoubtedly, not an easy task.
Massey Bros. aspired to be a five-star funeral service, catering to the elite in times of need and sorrow. However, the brand had trouble standing apart and lacked tone or a clear voice. Thus, an important rebranding strategy was set into motion and this was to do a brand overhaul which aims to create a higher profile distinction and increase market shares.
They accomplished the goal, not only setting higher industry standards but were also able to establish the brand reputation with staff custodians, earning accolades above the rest of the marketplace.
Hybrid Technology Partners (formerly: HybridIT)
This organization is a perfect example of rookie mistakes and a flawed startup strategy. However, their story has a happy ending because the founders were able to catch up on issues quickly. The main issue is having the IT in the brand name. Hybrid was lost to the target audience the company was trying to reach—it came across as just another IT service.
From its inception, the company was strangling itself. Their tone of voice and brand mission were never clearly defined enough to help it grow. The good news is; it was turned around by reinventing themselves. What could have been disaster, since it was caught early on, became a success story. This should be a lesson for every entrepreneur venturing a startup.
As a brand with a 125-year history, Narragansett Beer went through countless growing pains. At one point, the company plunged low after Falstaff Brewing Corp bought it in 1965. What led to its fall from the market is when Mark Hellendrung acquired it about a decade ago totally losing its flavor. Hellendrung then thought about re-establishing the company’s New England roots and reconstructing their brand strategy.
Millennials became the target of Narragansett’s successful rebranding. They know the potential driving force of this age group and relaunch their product to appeal to a greater customer base. Their key to a successful rebrand was the changes they made in packaging and brand representation.
Re-launching your brand might be a scary venture. But when you’re facing the fact that you might have to call it quits for good, is there really any other option? When you’re not seeing the projected returns you anticipated, it’s time to go back to the branding drawing board.
When approached from the right angle, rebranding shouldn’t be a painful experience. With the right people doing the right efforts, you can rebuild your brand on a path to success. Your customers will appreciate you for it and respect the fact that you were willing to take action and relaunch a better business.