social brand differentiation It's not news people are hopping online by the millions in hopes of a personal economic recovery.  Budgets are tight.  People are grasping for straws. They may be the best air conditioning expert, insurance sales person or event planner this side of Texas but that doesn't mean they know how to build a brand or truly survive in social media.

We teach them to follow, to listen.  We teach them to learn from those on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn who have been around the block.  We teach them to read blogs, comment and engage. However, I think in all the social media craziness, many are missing basic marketing 101 skills.

One key word getting lost is differentiation!

We talk about plans, objectives, content and blogs.  We talk little about unique value, market segmentation, product differentiation, and standing out from the crowd.  These words are exchanged for crowd sourcing, sharing and giving. Given this you can see why many newbies get confused.

Since they spend so much time “following” they forget who they are. Or worse, given the pressures of life and survival in a hurting economy they never develop their own brand to begin with.

Regardless of if it was on purpose or from a lack of knowledge there are far too many websites and businesses who look, smell and taste the same.  We need to do more than assume the blog next door already did the proper research.

Several businesses I recently consulted with shared that they are being confused with one or two other local brands.  Why is this? It is primarily due to the fact that their core messages are not their own.  They initially thought “why reinvent the wheel when my competitor already has it figured out?”  They have copied their ideas, ads, website layout and more.  This is good news for their competitor as they now have a new kid on the block promoting their messages!

What newbies to marketing don't realize is when you build your content and your brand based on somebody else, in reality you are helping the business you are copying build their brand.  Instead of building and differentiating a new brand for yourself you are reinforcing the brand messages for the guy or gal who was first on the block and has more brand awareness.  Chances are the reason they have the higher brand awareness is because they created a real brand, not a copycat brand.  They created a brand focused on their clients and the unique value they could offer them with relevant and compelling messages to support such.

This alone is reason enough to spend the time on differentiating yourself! Don't reinforce the brand of someone else.   It will catch up to you in the form of lack of brand presence and differention.  Or worse it will be a potential client that calls your bluff.

When you plagiarize ideas, content, brand messages and even positioning you are treading troubled waters.  It goes deeper than the color or the logos.  It means you are not walking the walk as it's not your talk you're talking.  So when push comes to shove and if your audiences ever start to listen to you, once they hear the words come out of your mouth they will be confused when they don't line up with what you've blown out of proportion on your website or blog.

So, if this describes you, please don't throw in the towel.  You simply need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for your message, your content, your brand and your business!

Dare to be different. Dare to stand out from the crowd. Dare to be you.  Not the neighbor next door.

Brand Differentiation Test:

brand differentiation test1.  Is the content on your website, social platforms and marketing material yours? How much of it is “borrowed” from someone else? Be honest with yourself.  Think of the “ideas” you built your messages on. Are they yours? Are the photos your ideas? Or did you look at a competitor or partner site and do a search on a photo stock site for the words that described what you saw in their photos?

2. How did you select your colors? Did you select them because they are your favorite colors? Are they the same as others in your market? If yes, is there a reason they need to be? Do the colors resonate with your audience? Just because your favorite colors are pink, yellow and light blue doesn't mean those are the colors that will best describe your unique value or resonate with your audience.

3. Do the family living room test. If you invited your competitor over for a walk-thru and a sit down dinner on your website how would they feel? If they would feel like they were at home, in familiar surroundings then you are not differentiated my friends. Sorry.

4. Do you have any messages or language in your marketing vocabulary that are unique? Is there anything you are saying that has not already been said one million times before?  Do something different. Your audience wants to be inspired and going with the flow isn't going to help you survive in the inspiration age.

5.  Are your campaigns and product offerings proactive or a follow of others serving your same market? Are you launching and updating products and marketing materials based on your own go to market and product calendar or based on your competitors? The advice here is obvious. If it's not your own go back to the drawing board.

6. Generic searches for photos on Google does not equal differentiation.  Not only is grabbing photos from a Google search uncool, it can also land you with copyright infringement. Just because you find it on Google doesn't mean you should copy and paste to your own blog.  I about spit out my morning diet coke when I heard a local designer announce Google image searches was how she helped clients find cheap photos as she presented at a networking meeting a few weeks ago. #fail

Brand Reminders:

1. Build your own brand. If you lack skills in this area then hire an agency or consultant to help you. Pick up a book or two.  Your brand should be the foundation for which you build your marketing and social platform.  Do not skip or skimp this step.  It is critical to success short and long term. I am launching a module on how to Zoom Your Brand in the next 30 days that I am confident will help you if you are stuck. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates.

2. A logo does not equal a brand. Many small business leaders think  they are done with brand when they receive the logo and business card set from the local print shop designer. They think they've went all out if they have a website with two or three selected colors.  Sorry folks, this is not brand. My first question to you will be why did you choose such colors? What do the colors say about you? What does your logo mean? Not just what does it look like.

3. Brand development doesn't happen in a day. If any agency tells you they can develop your brand in a couple days and after a one hour session with you, run the other direction.  You get what you pay for.  A good brand consultant or agency will want to spend time with you to understand your business.  They will want to know what it is you do and why. What markets do you serve? How are you different? Why are you different? Do your customers think you're different? How do you want to make anyone who comes into contact with your brand feel? The list goes on but you get the point.

4. You are your brand! Your brand is the DNA of everything that encompasses your business.    It is who you are, what you are, what you believe.  It is how you answer the phone, what you say, how you dress at events, what your biz cards say and the list goes on.  Define your brand. Develop your brand. Live your brand.

5.  Be relevant. Don't just brand to brand.  Brand with a focus on connection.  Focus on standing out because you want your core values and offer to be remembered by your audience.  By focusing on being relevant and compelling it will be easier to stay focused on your audience and not just yourself. The more you can focus externally the more relevant your brand will be.

10 Quick Tips to Differentiate:

If you have the guts to admit you need to clean up your brand act here are a few quick ways you can differentiate starting today.  You can do some of these for the interim while you put your broader brand strategy together.

social media differentiation success1. Select the top 10 words that describe you, your business and your unique value. Focus on how you want people to feel when they visit your site? What words do you want them to remember.  What would you want them to tell a friend when talking about you.

2. Do the mama test. Based on the words above take a good hard look at your brand and identity. Would you be proud to show it to your mama? How about your favorite business mentor?  Do your colors and logo align with the top words? Why or why not? Does your logo align with your core messages, values, and products or services? Does your website help people feel welcome? Is your overall brand experience something you are proud of? Your brand is your opportunity to exude to the market who you are and what you are.  You should be proud to scream it from a mountain top.  If not, make is so.

3. Create a quick message house. The longer term goal is to obviously create a comprehensive message house in coordination with your broader brand and identity development.  However, for now at minimum create a one to two page document which at minimum includes your vision, mission, elevator pitch, description, value proposition, benefits, features and unique differentiators.  This document will also be very useful if you hire a consultant or agency.  It will provide them with something to start with and a better understanding of where your heart and head is in regard to your brand and identity.

4. Make it your own. If you know you are using deas and content that isn't your own, change this immediately.  You are only supporting the brand of those you have copied.  Tweak and make unique and invest in the ROI of your own business!  Remove pages if you have to while you update.  Go thru every single page starting at the top. Remove content and ideas not your own.  If you are stuggling for ideas use your top 10 word list to search for photos on a photo site.

5. Focus on being YOU! If you know what you is but don't know how to get it from your head to paper, website and social platform, then hire someone to help.  It will be the best money you spend as you are investing in yourself and your business. I see many business leaders who copy others only because they don't have technical or writing skills to put pen to paper with their thoughts in their head. Keeping the thoughts in your head will do nothing to monetize and differentiate what could be making the greatest difference in your business!

6.  Select interim colors. Use the top 10 words you selected in #1 above as a foundation. If your business is about trust then don't build a red and yellow website.  If it's about people then please don't only include photos of bits and bytes.  Connect with your audience via  color and imagery!

7.  Get photo savvy. Add a unique flair with photos.  Stock photos are an easy way to differentiate while adding color and depth to your site.  You don't need a designer to add photos.

8.  Focus on layout of your blog or website. If you copied block for block another key market player's website, change it.  Add some video.  Add more graphics.  Do something different. If they have all photos, add text.  If they have all text, add imagery.  You don't have to keep it this way forever.

9.  Spice up your email newsletter. If you have a regular email newsletter then change it up a little bit.  Test out some colors or new graphics.  Do a poll and ask readers if they notice what is different?  Ask them what they like, what they would like to see more of.

10. Get social savvy. If you haven't already, customize your social media profiles.  Add a custom Twitter or YouTube background.  Add a custom Facebook fan page.  Facebook offers numerous ways to customize your fan page.  You can add a custom welcome tab, add an opt-in for your email list, add video, contests and  more.  Find some apps your competitors are not using.

11. Set goals to be followed vs being only a follower.  A good goal would be that in a year others are wanting to follow you.  This may sound crazy if your website right now consists of copy paste ideas, colors and content from numerous sites.  However, you started your business hopefully for a reason.  My guess is if this is the case you have ideas in your head or you wouldn't be an entrepreneur to begin with.  Get focused. Hire the help you need.  Set a goal to be the standard others follow.

Your Turn
What is your brand saying about you? Is it saying something unique? Something that is relevant to your market? Or do you sound like the broken record at the local Chamber of Commerce networking event?  Do you have the guts to stand out from the noise?

Upcoming Events: We have several upcoming free training opportunities to help you with brand development.  Check out one of our upcoming Zoominars here!

See this article syndicated on Social Media Today!