As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest challenges you will face will be building your brand. The ultimate goal is to set your company and your brand apart from the crowd. If you form a strategy without doing the research, your brand will barely float--and at the speed industries move at today, brands sink fast.
It helps to look at branding as a challenge that entrepreneurs spend years perfecting. Don't be scared to try new things, but remember to hold on to the vision of your company and the initial successes that defined your brand.
To brand HootSuite as the premier social media management tool for small businesses and multi-national enterprises, our focus was on four specific high-level areas--pillars that, over the past several years, have helped us build HootSuite from a startup name to a successful international company.
Having a solid product offering is vital to the success of your brand. If your product amazes your customers, and is revolutionary and bulletproof, they will evangelize for you. If your product offering is still in its early stages, customers will be the ones to help you innovate and grow as they offer you the feedback that is necessary. Social media is a great forum for gathering unbiased feedback. There are tools that allow you to monitor every brand mention, message, blog post, or even misspellings of your brand name.
Not all feedback will be positive, so take the negative feedback and use it to your advantage. You'll learn more from what people don't like about your product than from what they do like about it. Setting up an online support system that gives your consumers a place to vent can be an incubation center for ideas and future product tweaks.
You're part of a community, whether you realize it or not. It's your job as an entrepreneur to embrace your community and to thoughtfully engage within it as a strong community leader. By creating insightful content people want to read or speaking at social engagements, you can mold your persona within your community.
It helps if you think of your online community like a garden--you need to constantly monitor to it to make sure it's growing. Give it some food to digest and keep it healthy. Keep it tidy and remember to trim the weeds from time to time.
In the early stages of developing your company, your team is often your biggest recruiting source for top talent and will represent your brand within your community. They effectively become the foundation your company is built upon.
However, establishing a team that represents both you and your brand doesn't happen overnight. You want to create an environment where people work toward a common goal, and become friends in the process. This helps cultivate a tight, connected company culture that attracts like-minded talent. Within the industry, it also shows that your business is capable of having its own social system and recruiting strategies.
An easy way to project your company culture is by publishing pictures, videos, interviews, blogs or any other media outlet that shows off your company's attitude. In the past, it was common to see heavily staged professional photos, or meet fellow employees at annual company picnics. But times have changed, and so should your branding strategy. Try using Twitter to send out some company love to the world, start a Pinterest board of inspiration, mock up a Facebook page--anything that shows you're more than just business. As a result, your company's fan base will be given the opportunity to actively engage with your company and further fall in love with your brand.
No matter what industry you're in, you need to portray your ideas and your business as a thought leader. This isn't an easy task, and it just doesn't happen by tweeting out something witty from time to time. It's important to stay current in your industry through networking and research. Developing white papers, case studies, and speaking at conferences turns the conversation towards you and can make you an influencer and a source of rich information.
Building your brand is one of the greatest challenges for an entrepreneur. It's a never-ending race to rise to the top, but if you stay diligent in your efforts, and settle for nothing short of perfection, your brand will reflect exactly that.
HootSuite's CEO Ryan Holmes founded Invoke Media, the agency that created the highly successful social media dashboard. He has been active in all aspects of HootSuite's operations, focusing on strategy, business, product development, as well as technical and social networking trends.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization composed of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.
[Image: Flickr user Uqbar]