Branding Lessons from Apple
From top to bottom, the story of the Apple brand is one of inspiration. Your small business may never achieve billion-dollar revenues – and you may not even want it to – but you do want your brand to be as trusted and vital to your customers as Apple is to practically the whole world. Fortunately, many of the brand-building lessons you can draw from Apple’s 40-year rise are as relevant to your small business as they are to a huge, multi-national corporation.
The benefits of branding for small businesses
Your small business brand should be approached the same way as Apple’s; encompassing everything about your company, from product to delivery. Your logo design and website design and an imperative aspect in your brand identity, as is any signage, uniform, and social media channel design. These cumulative pieces of your company build your brand, block by block.
Good branding yields countless benefits. It helps you win new customers and solidify your identity with current ones, supports your advertising and marketing goals, inspires your employees, increases your corporate recognition and builds financial value. Identifying those successful branding qualities in Apple is easy. Small businesses can borrow many of Apple’s tactics to build their powerful brand identity.
Here are 10 lessons from Apple you can use for your small business branding:
Leverage emotion to build brand identity.
Steve Jobs once said that “The chance to make a memory is the essence of brand marketing.” Good branding engages emotions, not just reason, and builds on that connection to create a memorable identity. Branding succeeds when it sparks a positive emotional resonance within consumers. Customers are far more likely to remember – and purchase – products and services that make them feel good.
Know who you are.
It’s difficult to establish a brand identity if you’re unsure what yours should be. What is your company’s mission? You must first define for yourself what your company wants to be, and then find ways to clearly and consistently communicate that identity to consumers. Define your story and use reliable marketing tools to share your story with consumers.
Consistency is key.
Changing your “look” or your approach too often undermines consumers’ understanding of who you are as a company. In contrast, Apple consistently places a lower case “i” on new digital products – the iPhone, iPad, iPod, iWatch. This consistent application of a key branding component ensures that consumers can easily identify a new product as coming from Apple, even if they’ve not heard of it at all.
Differentiate yourself with real differences.
As a small business, you may be tempted to set yourself apart by undercutting your competitors’ prices. But that approach is not sustainable in the long term, nor does it do anything positive to improve your brand identity. Instead, differentiate yourself as Apple did, through innovation, superior customer service, and marketing and advertising campaigns that engage consumers’ emotions. Apple’s success illustrates that people will pay a premium for products and services that offer substantive differences. Good branding means you ask a fair price for your product and services, and that you communicate to consumers the value suppositions that prove you deserve to get that price.
Find your niche and then take command of it.
Everyone is looking for that sweet spot where an unfilled need or desire leaves consumers primed to buy as soon as a good option presents itself. But identifying your niche isn’t enough. You must also take steps to ensure you emerge in consumers’ minds as the leading choice in your specialized area. Today, virtually no one would describe Apple as a “niche” company. Indeed, its products now permeate nearly every aspect of American life.
Walk in the customer’s shoes.
One of Apple’s strengths has always been its ability to design its own new products, but it has also successfully improved concepts taken from others, turning them into something superior and more relevant to consumers than the original concept. Jobs did this by envisioning what his product needed to solve for consumers and then asking himself what he would find useful, helpful or just plain cool if he were in the consumer’s shoes.
Surround yourself with talent and quality.
Who would turn down a job with Apple? Not many people. The company’s reputation as a top employer allows it to attract quality people, and the excellence of its staff translates into better products, services, and customer experiences. The people you employ speak directly to the quality of your brand. Surround yourself with talented people who are committed to quality and are passionate about their jobs. Their professional image should feed and build your positive brand identity.
Lead, don’t just follow.
It’s natural for small businesses to compete with each other. But if you’re constantly following what someone else is doing, you’ll never get the chance to lead. That’s not to say you should ignore what the competition is up to. Apple never does. Of course, you’ll always need to be aware of what competitors are doing, but the bulk of your energy and branding efforts should be focused on using your differentiating strengths to break new ground in your industry.
Build relationships with customers.
If there’s one thing small businesses will always be able to do better than big corporations, it’s to build relationships with customers. It’s far easier to get to know each other and create a lasting connection when you’re in direct contact – when a customer walks into your store, calls your office, comments on your company blog, gives feedback on your new website design, or responds to an email offer.
Don’t fear failure, fear losing that hunger.
Never forget your brand’s objective, and be willing to take calculated risks that can move you toward your goals. Rather than focusing your branding efforts on avoiding failure, emphasize the quest for success. Jobs advocated listening to your gut. It worked for him repeatedly; when the iPad first came out, consumers and critics were skeptical – until they actually used one. The iPad quickly became the fastest-growing Apple product in the company’s history.
Although your small business will never match Apple’s marketing budget, these tactics mean you don’t have to. They cost little to implement. As Jobs said: “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R & D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R & D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”