Branding for the 21st Century: The Rise of the Expert Class
Having a robust online brand is no longer an option for businesses—it's a necessity. In fact, building an online presence can be the price of entry into today's business marketplace.
But with so much competition in the online arena, it's not enough to have a decent website, a basic LinkedIn profile and average search engine optimization (SEO) results. Today's buyers go online to find service providers, compare their offerings and winnow the options to a few finalists. That's a new paradigm, one that every firm needs to master.
How to Think About Your Brand
The extent to which people pay attention to what you have to say (much less notice you) depends on the strength of your brand. And you can measure the strength of your brand with this simple formula:
Your Reputation x Your Visibility
To build a strong brand, you need sufficient expertise to impress people (your reputation) and enough awareness (visibility) to achieve your regional, national or international ambitions.
In many ways, a firm's brand is an extension of its people—especially its experts. And in this new economy, expertise takes on a new importance.
The Growing Importance of Experts
It is hard to overestimate the amount of information available on the internet. The world produces trillions of bytes of data daily. We are so awash in information that it's impossible to process even the relatively small amounts of data that are relevant to us.
So how do we make sense of all this information? We turn to experts. We rely upon specialists, who have dug deeply into a subject area, to tell us what's important and how we should use it. Many businesses, especially in the professional services, can leverage their existing expertise to build formidable online reputations and establish a compelling competitive advantage.
To be known as an expert in a particular field or market is a valuable asset that can be used to help drive the growth of your business. If you have true expertise in your niche—and you can't fake expertise, at least not for long—there are five things you can do to promote your reputation and make the most of your intellectual assets:
1. Make your expertise relevant. Promoting your products or services may not be enough. You need to understand the challenges your target audiences face and communicate, in a non-promotional way, how good you are at overcoming them. Only then will a potential client become interested in what you have to offer.
2. Conduct research on your target client group to address your blind spots. The things we think we know about our target markets and potential clients are often wrong. Research can expose misguided assumptions and provide the hard data you need to make better decisions and address the challenges that are most important to prospective clients.
3. Be a teacher, not a salesperson. Where do people turn first when they need to solve a sticky problem? More and more, they turn to the internet. A quick search can serve up a wealth of useful information, from broad overviews of a topic to detailed instructions to fix a specific problem. Savvy firms understand this behavior. They position themselves as teachers, freely giving away knowledge and making themselves visible across multiple channels—in online search, social media, conferences, books and more. What they don't do in these places is sell. That will take care of itself because prospects are inclined to trust and buy from someone who has educated them. Someone who can explain complex subjects in simple, easy-to-understand terms.
4. Make your expertise visible. Having all the expertise in the world is meaningless unless people know about it. Your job is to make it easy for people to find you so they can sample and appreciate your knowledge. Today's busy professionals access information through a variety of channels, so you'll want to deliver your thinking in a variety of ways, such as educational blog posts, case studies, e-books, articles, videos, webinars, speaking engagements and slide decks. People may not only find you more often, they can learn what you know and how you can help them.
5. Fall in love with SEO. SEO has become a formidable marketing tool that gives you a measure of control over how searchers find you online. Modern search algorithms have become sophisticated enough to assess a web page's relevance and value for a given search term. Black-hat techniques that fool search engines are a thing of the past. Good riddance! By using SEO best practices you can promote content that people want to read that keeps them coming back for more.
Today, building your brand is largely an exercise in promoting your expertise to a large but targeted audience. If you can turn the experts in your business into capable, highly visible teachers, you can be well-positioned to grow faster and generate higher profits. This is a template that many high-growth businesses have used with extraordinary success. And you can, too.