shutterstock_105363872In today’s globally connected world, it’s more important than ever for companies to build their brand identities. While in the past, a brand could present a solid identity via television and print advertisements, today brands are dynamic and ever-changing. Their identities are influenced by interactions with present customers and future prospects; every interaction changes how the audience perceives the brand. Today, your customers build your brand; not your ads.

The best way to attract customers in the 21st century is via brand storytelling. This strategy uses social media to tell stories about what the brand does for customers. This attracts people’s attention and gives the brand a solid, positive reputation on which to build.

Start Small

Most people think of branding as a company’s verbal and visual identity paired with mission statements and values. These things are important, but fewer and fewer new companies prioritize branding over sales and product development. Today, your customer experience defines your brand. In the past, you used to be able to push branded content and ads everywhere, and anyone that found your content was interacting with your brand on your terms because you controlled and owned the content. Today, your customers are talking to other customers – and potential customers –, your employees are tweeting about their jobs and their ideas, and your social marketing team interacts directly with everyone talking about your brand online. All of this builds your brand in ways that you can’t control. So what can you do to set forth a consistent identity that puts your company in a positive light with potential customers?

Start small. Focus on the little details that contribute to your brand as a whole. When customers tweet positive comments or add their approval of your brand on Facebook, keep track. Your customers are the protagonists in the story of your brand. What they have to say, as users of your products and services, says something about you, and how you interact with those customers tells your audience a lot about your brand. Your employees also tell a part of your brand story. Who are they? What makes them happy? Why do you keep them around?
Content marketing has exploded as the hottest marketing trend these days because it allows marketers to tell brand stories, not just small chapters in the form of campaigns. Each piece of content that your brand creates or that someone else creates about your brand enriches the story. If you focus on promoting flashy campaigns that demonstrate your brand values and reinforce your brand vision and voice, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Customers are no longer fooled by content designed to build brands; they’re enchanted by content designed to enrich a conversation.

Create Personal Connections

While all the small pieces comprise the parts of your story, personal connections pull the pieces together. The practice of marketing content is successful because it opens up conversation to the masses. The more conversations in which you can have a say, the more people you’ll engage. Every conversation invites new connections into your network, and social networks allow us to maintain relationships with strangers that share our interests. When we talk about the issues that our customers face, for instance, everyone that has a say about those issues wants to step in and say their part. When those others step in, connect with them personally. The next time you want to attract potential customers with a conversation about that topic, you can turn to your network and enlist their help in growing reach.

A couple ways to encourage as many people to connect with you as possible include:
  • Write regular blogs. Be transparent in your blogs without dwelling too much on your personal challenges; you want to share with your customers that you have gone through similar struggles so that they will trust you without making it sound like you are still struggling.
  • Create videos where you talk directly to potential customers as if they are right there with you.
  • Interact with customers on social media sites.

Align Your Content to Your Buyers’ Needs

We’d wager that most marketers believe their content fits their customers’ and prospects’ needs, but not all marketers have figured out how to align content to each phase of the buying cycle. “We want to create one white paper this month,” a VP of Marketing will say. That’s the wrong way to look at content marketing. Buyers at each phase of the sales cycle are interested in different types of content. At the front end, for instance, a target who’s never heard of your brand hardly needs  a detailed how-to product guide. And, coincidentally, a customer that’s been with your company for eight years hardly wants to view a generic video that explains your product from the highest level possible. Market content that takes your prospects step-by-step from one point to another. How-to guides and blog series are good examples of sequential content that tells a story about your brand. Your direct marketing materials should also tell the story of customers like the ones reading the material who moved from frustrated to satisfied as the result of using your products.

The concept of branding is going to be completely overturned in the next decade, and if you’re not on board, your competitors will attract the market. So start small, and decide which conversations you want to lead, which ones in which you want to participate, and which ones with which you don’t want to bother.