A network of entrepreneurs or small businesses working from home is nothing new. In Malaysia, sundry shops, restaurants & bars, workshops, clinics, pawnshops even real estate agents & lawyers have operated out of the front of their premises while living at the back or upstairs for 200 years.
What’s changed though since the first shophouses of the early nineteenth century is technology. Where once those businesses served the surrounding area, work from home entrepreneurs can now, theoretically at least, sell to the world. It’s now easier than ever to start a business, all you need is a product, laptop, modem and kitchen table.
Many entrepreneurs start by selling biscuits, cakes, hijabs, telekungs, bags, jewelry, cosmetics, photography services and more on Instagram or other social media platforms. Some of them do very well but for every APOM, Harmini Asokumar or Vivy Yusof, it’s estimated that 90% of online businesses fail in the first 3 months.
Of those that survive, the majority struggle to establish themselves outside of social media and soon get tired of trying to scale up the business on tiny margins built on a price driven model.
Even those businesses that do grow by migrating to an ecommerce site and/or third party marketplace, inevitably find the competition from China, Indonesia, Thailand and even Europe and the USA too intense and are soon overcome.
The single biggest contributor to the failure of so many Instagram offerings is that the social media model of mass reach to make new sales to new people is not that dissimilar to the mass economy approach (circa 1950s – 1990s) that used mass media to try and build ongoing sales to new customers. However the current landscape is very different, for three primary reasons
1) In the mass media economy there was limited competition and limited conduits to consumers
2) It’s as easy to start an Instagram business for others as it was for you
3) Consumers are a lot more fickle, unforgiving and with so much choice & no real value offering other than price, have less loyalty to social offerings.
Too many of these social offerings assume that the internet, with it’s global reach and hypothetical marketplace of 4 – 5 billion consumers will supply a willing queue of eager new buyers forever. Obviously, with such a high failure rate, that’s not the case.
It’s at this stage of their evolution, that entrepreneurs get in touch with the small business unit at Fusionbrand. But even then many of them start from the wrong place, believing that all they need is a visually compelling identity and with that, they’ll instantly scale up their business, get repeat sales and start raking in huge profits. If only it were that easy!
To accelerate the leap from Instant Instagram offering to real business requires an investment in both creating a brand and branding. You cannot have one without the other but there’s a big difference between the two. And while this requires an initial investment, it is the bedrock on which any business is built. Successful companies that have made the transition from Instagram to the real world, such as DUCK and Naelofar invested both in their brands and branding.
The brand gives them the chance to start the process of building relationships with their customers. The irony here is that their initial success was often based on their ability to provide a personalised service to customers. With not many customers, a personal touch was doable. But as the customer base grew, relationships suffer. When there’s no relationship and price is the only differentiator, there’s often no reason to stay.
What’s the difference between a brand and branding?
A brand is the visual and cultural assets of the business that determine how that business will deliver economic, experiential and emotional value to consumers. Unfortunately a lot of companies focus all their efforts on the visual elements of their brand. Sure it’s nice to have to cool logo and all that but it isn’t going to make a huge amount of difference in the success of your company.
After all the largest tech company in the world has an apple as a logo. Apple on the other hand has invested a huge amount on their culture. Visit an Apple store in any of the world’s major capitals and see in sync the teams are.
The priority for any new business should be on the culture to ensure the three values above are delivered at every touch point, every time. As we always say, it’s not about the company, it’s about the customer.
Delivering this value is really important because it is the first step in the process of building a sustainable relationship with consumers. The brand identity is important but it’s not going to build a relationship with anyone. The culture on the other hand is what resonates.
So the first part of your brand building process requires you to focus on your brand’s culture and build it around delivering value to customers, on their terms. This means hiring people who understand the importance not of selling your stuff but of building meaningful relationships with prospects and customers.
This customer centric culture is what the great brands are built on. While you may not be able or need to build an ecosystem like the one Apple has created, you will still find business easier if you have relationships with your customers rather than seeing them as just another purchase.
Develop a brand strategy
Once you’ve created your brand, you can focus on Branding. Branding is the strategy that not only brings the brand to life, but also builds the relationship with customers. And the best way to do this successfully from the outset is with a brand plan.
If you don’t have a plan, everything you do risks being campaign driven and reactive. There is no place in a social media world for campaigns. Successful businesses are always on, using social media to build relationships, not broadcast corporate messages. Granted there are times when you need to react to events around you, and the most nimble brands do this but these are tactical shifts while the overall strategy continues.
Way too many small businesses think that simply by existing, they become a brand. But think about it, if it were that simple, we’d all be like Coca Cola, Apple or Google in our field! Making the leap from Instagram offering to business requires you to invest in a brand and branding.
Think of it like building a house. You can build a house without foundations but it can fall down at any stage. Build solid foundations and it will survive hurricanes, disasters and potentially last hundreds of years. Branding are the foundations on which your business is built.
It may not be as exciting or as sexy as putting up a billboard on the federal highway and having your friends tell you they saw it. But it’ll definately make you more money in the long run.
For more information on how to take your Instagram offering to the nation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.