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How to Make Your Brand Stand Out

Mailchimp's in‑house expert explains what you need to set your small business apart.

Person ice skating while balancing owl on hand.

Building your brand doesn't happen overnight. Especially, if you're a small business or startup looking to set yourself apart from the competition and grow your audience. Where do you start? How do you develop the look and feel? Do you really need a Twitter account? Perfect logo? A mascot?

Fortunately, we know a guy who can clear this up.

Michael Mitchell, Mailchimp's Director of Global Brand Marketing, has an extensive background in helping businesses—large and small—develop their brands. Let's just say he's been fortunate enough to peek behind the curtains of a lot of iconic marketing campaigns. "For every everything that goes live and looks perfect, you don't know how many iterations and drafts came before," he says.

Whether you're a coffee shop or an app for connecting families with babysitters, Michael discusses ideas to keep in mind when trying to stand out.

OK, you've got your business idea. How do you go about turning that into a brand?

When I'm thinking about brand, I think of three things: authenticity, relevance, and differentiation. For authenticity, define who you are as an organization—what made you start your business, your sock company, your law firm? Stay true to that—and then zero in on what about your specific offering is relevant to an audience. Finally, differentiation is about standing out from the competition. Chances are your offering isn't the first of its kind, right? So audit the competitive landscape, and define what sets you apart. When you figure all that out—then you can begin to build your brand.

In the early stages, how can you tell what's resonating with your audience?

Involve some sort of feedback loop with your audience. If you're an e-commerce brand, maybe there's a mini-survey in your receipt emails. Even if a small percentage actually respond, it’s a way to learn more about what you're doing and how it’s being received.

One of the places you get instant feedback is social media. Would you recommend starting there?

It's a free place for you to build an organic following. Trouble is, you’re at the whims of the algorithm—so things could change. Owning a channel like your email newsletter is actually quite useful because you know that it’s getting into people's inboxes. So that's a real opportunity for you to see who's opening things. See if you can vary the content inside. You can test what people click on and don't. Any information is good information.

Person seeing four points with one eye.

OK, so once you have some customer insights, what's the next step?

Articulate the promise that you're making to your audience, some larger idea and purpose for your organization. And then continue to tell that story in of all the things that you communicate. Nike for example, their external tagline is “Just Do It.” But internally their reason for being is, “if you have a body, you're an athlete.” So it empowers everyone, whether you're fit or you're not, whether you're young or old, everyone's an athlete. All Nike products and services ladder up to that. Find the thing your brand ladders up to.

Well, what if you're just the local rib shack seeking modest success?

We've all seen the statistics about the percentage of small businesses that succeed and entrepreneurs whose success wasn't with their first small business. You need to have that unwavering belief, that vision, and lean into it. No matter the size of your business, speak about it and think about it as if it's already hit the big time. As long as that resonates with your audience and feels authentic to what you're endeavoring to do in the first place, it will separate you from your competition.

And what about brand voice? How does one grow and perfect that?

Just imagine you're having a conversation with your end user. That goes a long way in guiding how you write and communicate. If you're in a jargon-heavy industry, some of that will begin to fall away. If you're in a real technical field, it might be different. It goes back to knowing who your audience is and finding out what that conversation would sound like.

Penguin tightening his tie on his suit.

Say you have a new sparkling water you're trying to launch, but a professional designer or copywriter aren't in your budget? How do you still make it look and sound professional?

It comes back down to authenticity. If it feels authentic to your brand and your vision for your bottle to look as professional as possible—then you find ways to invest in that. If it feels more authentic wrap it in a recycled paper label that looks homemade—drawing each one at home and then sticking them on yourself—that's a whole different story that you can tell. So there are different ways to bring your story to life. The idea of what looks "professional" is changing all the time.

Every business suffers from imposter syndrome at some point. How do you suggest overcoming it?

The secret is that no one knows what they're doing. We're all figuring this out as we go along. There's a skillset to it, but everyone is learning and trying. You will continue to learn more and more as you continue to work on it and try new things.

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