Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with M. Shannon Hernandez @WritingWhisper Through her private and group coaching sessions, you can ﬁnd her diligently delving into the written word and inspiring others to do the same. If you struggle with making the time to write and keeping consistent with your writing goals and routines Shannon is an excellent resource to get you on the right track. Her coaching sessions provide the motivation, focus, and feedback needed for you to become that writer you have always wanted to be. For more information, visit thewritingwhisperer.com
SmallBizLady: What role does words and branding play in a small business?
M. Shannon Hernandez: The words people use in their businesses speak volumes on so many aspects, several of which we will touch on below. Think about all the words needed for business owners to convey their message on a weekly basis:
- blog posts
- articles for outside sources
- social media updates
- client inquiries
- customer service
- email communication
- website copy
- special offers
- classes, teleseminars, other online programs
- printed materials
I could go on and on, but I think it is very clear – the words business owners use on a daily basis add up. And if a company is not clear on their values, persona, spirit, method of engagement, and culture, the messages to their clients and leads get very messy and convoluted.
SmallBizLady: How can a business owner become crystal clear with their brand messaging?
M. Shannon Hernandez: There are many exercises which help business owners get super clear on the top 5-7 words they should be using on a consistent basis. One of the exercises I take my clients through is called Branding WordWork. As we work through the exercise, we narrow a small business’ brand words down to a total of 5-7 words. This means we get very specific in how we want the company to be seen by the outside world.
SmallBizLady: So the business now has 5-7 brand words. Now what?
M. Shannon Hernandez: Now the real fun begins! Depending on the product or core service the company is offering, and whom the company wants to serve, we get a plan in action to distinguish, define, and differentiate what the company is all about. And how do we do that? It all goes back to question number one and the many aspects of writing needed to convey messages in business.
SmallBizLady: How do words and branding build trust with one’s audience?
M. Shannon Hernandez: I am a person who does what I say I am going to do. That is my brand. It is one of the best things I am known for among my audience. And if for some reason, I can’t keep a commitment I made, I am honest about it, and I make alternative plans.
Another company’s brand is no different. It’s all about keeping your word to others, being consistent with your messages, becoming an expert in your field, and uplifting people along the way. If businesses are doing this on a frequent basis, and the words they use are authentic to the services, products, and personality of the company, trust will be built.
SmallBizLady: How do business owners stay authentic in their brand messages?
M. Shannon Hernandez: I believe this is a process which all business owners must face. In reality, one first must know what her company stands for and the type of culture she is trying to create, both within the company and with the target audience. This goes back to knowing the core values and overall image a business wishes to convey with every single tweet, newsletter, article, and correspondence that leaves the office. I believe that when one knows, at a gut level, every single aspect of what the company stands for, and why, the messages will be authentic and true to the brand.
It is the unsure cloudiness when the company’s values and mission are not clear, and in the murky waters of impersonation, that companies fall into the trap of not being authentic and unique.
SmallBizLady: Why do you believe that blogging can impact your brand so strongly?
M. Shannon Hernandez: To me blogging is a no brainer – but only if the content is well written, unique, and of great value.
What better way to:
1) brand yourself as an expert
2) inspire your target audience with quality content
3) drive traffic back to your website, and
4) bring voice, visibility and vibrance to your brand and message than through blogging?
SmallBizLady: Where does digital storytelling play a role in crafting a brand message?
M. Shannon Hernandez: I love a good story, don’t you? Story telling is part of the human culture. We love a good saga, whether it is in writing, a phenomenal TV series, or the oral tradition of scary tales told around the campfire. I teach my clients how to use the power of digital storytelling to relate to their target audiences. This can be achieved in numerous ways: case studies, personal inspiration, struggle, and success stories, and the “About” page.
SmallBizLady: You are on a mission to ensure every client you work with utilizes the power of a digital story on the “About” page of her website. Why?
M. Shannon Hernandez: The very first page I visit on a website, after the one I landed on from a link I clicked, is the “About” page. It is one of the most important places to show off a company’s brand, highlight its expertise, and tell its audience the story of how they morphed into who they are today. It is where I can see a picture of the owner and make a personal connection. I believe the “About” page is a secret weapon for many businesses, but it is being completely underutilized, and often appears bland and stale.
SmallBizLady: How do brands fall short when it comes to their website copy?
M. Shannon Hernandez: Your website is only as good as the words on it. I really mean this, even thought it sounds harsh. Businesses spend so much time and energy picking colors, and logos, fonts, and website designs, and while these are all very important to a brand’s image, it won’t carry the numerous written messages needed to convey products, services, happy clients, or core values.
It is imperative that businesses spend just as much time, if not more, on their website copy. This means that they hire a professional to work with them to write quality copy. It also means that before they have any copy written, they are very clear on the company’s mission, goals, vision, and core brand words.
SmallBizLady: How can a company portray its brand message through social media?
M. Shannon Hernandez: Social media, in my opinion, is a great way to network, reach perspective clients, amplify a company’s message, and be genuine, thus making meaningful connections. All of this can be achieved by developing a strategic social media plan.
This plan should be balanced and offer one’s audience content of great value both from the company itself, but also from thought leaders whom the business respects and admires. For social media to work, a brand must be social and engaging, starting conversations, following up with those who have connected, and inspiring people to be their best.
SmallBizLady: How can a brand’s image be squelched in an instant?
M. Shannon Hernandez: This is a common reality in today’s digital and social world. I can best illustrate this point by telling a story.
My company brand stands for bringing people together through words – which is what The Writing Whisperer is all about. On the morning following the decision of the Trayvon Martin case, I woke up to the news of the trial results. I, like much of the nation, sat stunned at what I had just learned.
Literally, for about 45 minutes, I thought about posting my thoughts and feelings to social media. (Because I am social!) But, in the end, I decided against voicing my opinion in specific detail. Why? Well, when I logged onto Twitter and Facebook, my entire feed was afire with opinions and insults and rants and some great words of support, too. I didn’t feel I needed to weigh in, nor become involved in such a hostile environment.
Instead, I simply posted this message: “This world has much work to do in fighting for equal rights of all people. It starts with the words you think and use. Choose them wisely.”
Do you know how much engagement I received from that uplifting thought, which aligned with my company values? Tons!
SmallBizLady: Where is the line between personal branding and business branding?
M. Shannon Hernandez: This is a tricky question! If a business, like mine, sustains itself with one member/owner, then I feel like my personal brand is my company brand. But, if a business is made up of more than one member/owner, then it is important that this question is hashed out among everyone who is involved and an agreement as to what is acceptable to discuss in a public space, even from a personal perspective, is decided upon.
I had a friend who once worked for a major soda bottling company. It was mandatory that this person NEVER be seen with the opposing soda brand in his hands. It didn’t matter if my friend was at work, on vacation, or out at a club, he had to obey the company rules. He even switched his preferred brand of soda, so he wouldn’t get fired by accident!
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Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is America’s #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works and the ebook: How To Become A Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.