Following nearly three decades in the retail and medical administrative fields, Debbie Finney has brought her experience back to her native Albany as area coordinator for the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center.
On December 9 she spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County about the importance of branding and marketing amidst the prevalence of social media in today’s world.
Twitter and Facebook are two of the most popular social mediums. Both have hundreds of millions of users around the world and can provide personal communication instantly.
Twitter, described Finney, “is kind of like a megaphone. It’s a new method of sending out messages and listening to what consumers are saying, and responding to it. One message can be shared with many, many people.” It’s kind of like a chamber networking event, just with a cellphone, she added.
Facebook has 900 million active users (“active” meaning at least once a month) and 500 million use it on mobile media like cellphones.
Small businesses need to develop a positive brand, and to do that they first need to understand who their customers or clients are and what they want. The “brand” can be either good or bad, according to the customer’s perception of it.
To her, she said, branding is not marketing; marketing is part of branding. “It’s not just a logo. It’s also not public relations, it’s not expenses, and it’s not a quick fix or something that just happens overnight.” She referred to a quote from Rodger Roeser, president of Cincinnati-based Eisen Management Group: “Your product or service is not your company’s brand and neither is your logo or your business card. Your brand is the genuine ‘personality’ of your company. It’s what your customers think of you and say about you when they’ve left your company.”
“If you think about it,” said Finney, “that’s where marketing needs to start. If you don’t know who you are, it’s hard to spell out a message, particularly today when we have so many different types of mediums. Our message needs to be consistent. We have so many messages today there are too many to absorb, so we pick and choose what we want to listen to.”
Finney described what she considers to be three aspects of branding: visual, verbal, and experience.
Visual, for instance, is “what does the storefront look like. What does the signage look like. What does the packaging look like. Displays and the way people dress, things like that, are also important to the visual experience.”
Verbal is a challenge because people receive so many marketing messages, “so many messages that when we advertise and market our businesses, they (messages) need to be quick and concise.” Verbal branding is recognizable, clearly communicated, differentiates from competition, an creates an image.
Providing a great experience for the customer also needs to be considered. “If people have a great experience, they’ll be back again,” Finney said. On the other hand, “If we have a bad experience, we’re not going back again. And what else are we going to do? We’re going to share that bad experience at lots of different levels (through) our friends, Facebook,” and other social media.
Added value is important for enabling small businesses to compete in today’s climate. “Oftentimes it just great customer service,” said Finney. Prompt service, a friendly staff, call-backs, expectations met, service or product knowledge; these are all facets of added value.
“You have to think about what people are saying about your organization,” said Finney. “It’s relevant to any organization to know what your brand is and what your message is, and how is that translated to marketing. If you know what your message is, you say it over and over and over again and you can say it in the newspaper, you say it on Facebook, and you can live it, and people come to expect that.”
The Albany UGA Small Business Development Center covers 27 counties, said Finney, and each consultant there serves an average of 100 businesses a year, including both new and repeat clients.