small business branding

Creating an online business can be as simple as creating a website and using Paypal to sell your merchandise. However, while setting up a business is easy, going bankrupt can be just as easy as well. If you do not promote yourself, you will not earn enough revenue to continue operating. The Internet is a cruel mistress. You are now competing in the global market and, if you are like most business operators, your products and services are not unique. Therefore, in order to beat out the competition, you need to promote yourself and personalize your brand online.

Here are seven great ways to promote your business online.

Embrace the Local (or International) Culture

If your online business is socially or politically active, or your customers at least think it is, you should assert your business’s position within its culture. Not doing so can seem like fence-sitting and no one likes neutral parties. Case in point: Switzerland.

If your customers are politically active towards one bloc or another, not taking their side can negatively affect sales. For instance, if you supply Texas college republicans with barbeque meat, you could make more of an impact and increase your sales revenue if you advertise that fact proudly.

Of course, doing so would impact your sales from democrats but, like taking a side in anything, you need to consider the fact that someone will always criticize your opinion and disagree with you. In England, companies affiliated with the conservative Tory party benefited from their connections once the Tories came into power. You do not need to take a side if you do not want to. There are costs and benefits of both decisions, which you must decide when branding your business.

If you sell leather saddles, you are going to piss off PETA. If you sell meat, you are going to piss off vegans. If you sell DVDs, you are going to piss off people who only purchase Blu-Ray. You need to decide which local or international cultural aspect your company stands for, and then fully embrace it. As Tyrion from Game of Thrones states, “Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.”

Build Relationships with Your Clients

A Gartner survey purports that, “89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% [in 2012].” When thinking of your online business and the products and services you offer, this statistic seems realistic. Unless you offer a truly innovative product that very few can replicate, combined with a strong brand and customer base behind you, you will constantly be fighting for brand awareness with your competitors.

Customers will judge your business’s quality and performance by their perception of the service you offer. If they feel they can get a better offer elsewhere or another company treats them better, they will leave. By building meaningful and loyal relationships with your clients, you can retain a large swath of your customer base.

One way to do this, without burdening the bottom line, is to offer loyalty discounts and service perks. If a client signs with your company and orders your products exclusively for a period of at least a year, for instance, you can offer then a slight reduction on price or quicker shipping of your products. Creating multiple tiers of membership can help clients retain better deals and keep your online business afloat long after your competitors declare bankruptcy.

Have a Personality and Show it Proudly

Having a personality is essential to cultivating brand awareness and setting yourself apart from your competition. However, your personality does not need to be conformist. Take Apple for example. Their slogan is “Think Different.” They were successful in tapping into a demographic of America that did not want to conform to societal expectations and that wanted to be different, just like everyone else.

At the time, introducing a personal computer that was aesthetically pleasing was a revolutionary idea. Computers were not “supposed” to be sexy, they were meant to be blocky and bulky. They were work objects, not personal possessions. With Apple’s new vision of what a computer could be, everything changed.

The same applies to the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the iWatch. All these technologies revolutionized the computing industry, changing the way people perceived personal technology and communication, and all because of Apple’s personality.

Cultivate a personality for your online business and brand and stand behind it. Not everyone may agree with you, but that does not matter, as long as some do.

Create and Use Your Social Networks

Customers and clients need to feel connected to you in order for them to feel like you care about them and their business. As an online business, you already have a website so they can visit you, as well as contact you for further assistance. However, you also need to reach out to them.

Using social media can be a great way to connect with customers. Some of the more popular social media platforms include Google+, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit. The most popular social media platforms will change in time and their audiences will shift. However, being active on social media is key to cultivating brand awareness and customer loyalty. Do not worry so much as to the specific platform or platforms you use. Instead, work on cultivating positive relationships with your online customers and visitors. It will pay of in the end.

You can also offer your customers and clients an email subscription service, in order for them to receive up-to-the-date information concerning new products and improved services your business offers. This is a great way to keep them informed, and to show how serious you are about your business. If you show your seriousness and pride in your business, you will be treated as such.

MailChimp is a popular email subscription service that many businesses use to reach out to their customers. The Direct Marketing Association reports that email has an ROI (return on investment) of 4,300%. Offer email subscription service to your customers today and keep them in the loop!

Email may seem like one more thing you have to do to promote yourself, on top of the already thousands of things you need to do to keep your business open and the lights on but it is worth it. Send out an email every week detailing the latest sales, promotions and discounts. It does not need to be anything fancy. It could just be text. That is ok. What matters is that your customers and visitors feel you care about them and want their business. Keeping them regularly informed about the latest news regarding your online store is a great way to do that.

Choose Your Words Carefully

As an online business owner, even online, your image is everything. It is the metric by which you and your business will be judged, by old and new customers alike. A shift in tone or perception could drastically affect your business’s performance. Therefore, you need to be careful when promoting yourself online.

Accidents can happen, like when pizza maker DiGiorno promoted themselves on Twitter. DiGiorno decided to promote their pizza online while using a hashtag devoted to survivors of domestic violence sharing their story. Other users across platforms and the Internet as a whole became outraged and DiGiorno apologized profusely for their mistake.

To the customer, and society as a whole, no amount of apologizing can change the past. DiGiorno may lose business from those who have experienced domestic violence or who know people who have. However, they probably will not because it was an honest mistake and everyone makes them eventually. That being stated, you should be careful when using social media. Try to avoid getting yourself into this unfortunate situation in the first place.

Speak Directly to Your Clientele

Customers rank customer service as a high priority when it comes to business relationships. Zen Desk reports “88% [of customers] have been influenced by an online customer service review when making a buying decision.” In addition, the 2013 Contact Center Survey from Deloitte states “62% of organizations view customer experience provided through contact centers as a competitive differentiator.”

Responding to your clientele is very important because every interaction you have with them can influence others to either continue using your online business, or to go to one of your competitors. When contacted by a customer who requests your help, respond efficiently and quickly, making sure to help them with their request if it is feasible to do so.

Know that others will see your contact with every customer you communicate with, which means the customer service you provide can affect an exponential amount of people around the world, which can go a long way to helping you grow your online business.

Stay Up-to-Date with Technology (Especially Your Website)

SessionM reports “85 percent of respondents said their mobile-commerce buying was steady or had increased versus a year ago.” Customers are constantly keeping up-to-date with new technology and you should as well. Newer and more responsive mobile technology assures customers that you are using the latest and most securitized technology possible, which keeps them at ease.

With the rampant fears of phishing and other scams, customers like to know that you are keeping their information safe.

Software like Apple Pay, Moonclerk, and Stripe are popular eCommerce tools to use for your business. Using the latest technology is just a smart course of action when ensuring your customers that your business is safe and reliable. Customers like to feel safe and reliable, especially when they are loyal to your business and the goods and services you offer.