It’s a real conundrum. Startups need brand recognition to fuel growth yet they’re short on what it takes to get the job done. So entrepreneurs pour all of their resources into running the business, thinking that just creating a great product will help them to stand out.
Being lean isn’t an excuse for ignoring your brand. Even if you’re a one-man shop running on a shoestring budget, there are a lot of no- or low-cost ways to raise visibility, and you don’t have to break a sweat doing it. Start with these:
Don’t have a six-figure marketing budget? Don’t let that stop you. Content is the great equalizer, allowing brands to connect and engage with their audiences for a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing. Start by putting together a plan to guide your activities. Focus on quality and variety, creating different types of content like blog posts, emails and videos to correspond to where your customers are in their buyer’s journey.
Keep it current.
There’s nothing worse than visiting a website or blog and coming across material that is hopelessly out of date. If it’s a sweltering 90 degrees outside and your last blog post references a nor’easter, you’re in trouble. Keep a close eye on all the touchpoints where you engage with your stakeholders, including your website (especially the news page), blog, and social media channels. Use your best judgement but keep it consistent. If you decide to write one blog post a week, hold firm to that number. You want your audience to see you as trustworthy, a brand that they can consistently rely on for the latest news and information.
You don’t have to be a professional graphic designer to have an eye-catching brand. To start, create a basic style guide. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The goal is to ensure that your brand identifiers, like logo and color palette, are accurately represented in all communications. And consider the intangibles: How you want people to think and feel about your brand—the emotion—which will inform elements like imagery and iconography.
Follow the news.
If you’re an untested brand, getting media to cover you is no easy feat. But if you can find a news hook or timely trend, your chances will rise exponentially. Is there an upcoming holiday or big event that relates to what you do? When pitching, it’s a good idea to help reporters round out their story, offering related businesses, customers or third-party experts along with your own spokespeople. The more you can make the story come to life, the better your chance of scoring a media hit. And remember: Relationship-building doesn’t happen overnight. You have to put in the time.
Invest as you grow.
Building a brand is a process. Businesses that want to successfully sell their products and services will invest in their communications like they do the infrastructure of their companies. The Small Business Administration recommends spending 7 to 8% of revenues on marketing. If your margins are below 10 to 12% or you’re in an especially competitive industry, you should spend even more. In the end, you have to know when to call in the cavalry—PR and marketing pros—if you want to take your brand to the next level and avoid becoming another small business casualty.