Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
In the past few months, we’ve seen small business owners change the way they operate – whether a restaurant pivoting to a delivery-only model or a bridal boutique offering at-home try-ons.
But even though the world has changed, who *you* are shouldn’t. In a time when everything is uncertain, you should make an effort to be more authentic (and honest) than ever.
Here, we talk to Olivia Christian, Brand Strategist, Workshop Lead, and Vistaprint Brand Partner. She answers some questions about brand strategy and authenticity for small business owners in the current climate (and beyond).
So, who is Olivia?
Olivia pivoted her career to brand strategy after years of working in her community. “The majority of my career has been working with nonprofits, helping them find resources and opportunities, and teaching them how to differentiate themselves from other organizations.”
“Eventually, I started working with some entrepreneurs and start-ups who were in the same position – needing to differentiate themselves, learn how to tell their story, grow their reach and brand awareness.”
Now, Olivia runs a personal brand workshop called ‘Own Your Story.’ Here, she helps people craft their own authentic personal brand story.
“I’ve learned that everybody wants to be heard…and they want to be able to communicate their value to their teams, bosses, managers. I’m passionate about creating an environment for people to find these resources within themselves, to remind themselves of their value, expertise, accomplishments, and use that to tell their story in a way that genuinely connects with their target audience.”
Why should I tell my story?
As a small business owner, your story is what makes you stand out. “In a time when people are feeling uncertain and tense, who they want to be and what they want to achieve hasn’t changed.”
Olivia says you should tell your story because it’s the YOU that differentiates you from your competitors. Your story can include your specific professional journey, your inspiration behind starting a business, and what you want to achieve for your clients. All of this gives potential customers the chance to get to know the person (and the passion) behind the brand.
“Connecting with clients and customers on a human and not transactional level creates an opportunity for fuller engagement and brand loyalty. These details shouldn’t change because we’re in uncertain times. If anything they should be amplified and reinforced so your people can find and stay with you.”
If your small business has added new services, resources, or products, think about incorporating this into your personal brand story. Show how your soap company has added a line of specialty self-care products, or started offering virtual skincare consultations. Demonstrating this adaptability shows potential customers that you’re here to stay.
Where should I tell my story?
Over the past few months, small business owners haven’t had the usual in-person opportunities to connect with customers. From shuttered storefronts to postponed networking events, the COVID-19 climate has pushed everything online. Luckily, you can still tell your story in the digital space.
Small business owners should hone in on the platforms that are most important to them, Olivia says. “We don’t all need Twitter or Instagram. Know where your customers are – and find where you can break through the noise.”
Whether you do a Q&A in your Instagram stories or send a thank-you note with mail orders, Olivia encourages small business owners to engage on a personal level.
“Why you do what you do stays the same. The way you communicate sometimes needs to change.”
Is this the right time to tell my brand’s story?
Olivia says that the right time is now. “There’s an opportunity for you to talk about what’s happening in the world in a way that’s authentic to who you are. Share books and resources with your community so they can understand where you’re at on a human level.”
If your business has been affected by COVID-19 or social changes, be honest about that with your customers. “Admit what you’ve gone through, and talk through your strategy for next steps. When people understand you and your brand as an actual human being, they can be more attached and connected to you on a human level.”
“You’re not an expert, you don’t have all the answers. But admitting that you or your customers, could be experiencing a lot of turmoil and presenting yourself as someone who understands that and is willing to learn and grow…that presents you as a human being. Feelings and all.”
Own the fact that you’re still learning and don’t know everything. Engage with your followers to ask them questions and learn from them, too. Ultimately, this kind of authenticity and transparency will let you foster deeper connections with customers and build brand loyalty.
What should I be posting on social media right now?
There isn’t a hard and fast rule of what’s inappropriate to post, Olivia says. “I encourage people to be honest about the conversation, but not insert themselves in a way that’s advantageous.” Instead, speak to the moment if it makes sense for you as a brand and an individual.
There’s a lot happening in the world right now…but you should remain steadfast in your brand’s values and mission. “Stay true to who you are, what you provide – but don’t ignore what’s happening around you. This is a moment where we can’t really ignore what’s happening in the world. Honor the conversation in a genuine way, and speak to the moment if it makes sense.”
For example, if you’re a bakery and want to donate a portion of proceeds to the #BLM movement, “Share that!” Be proud that you’re demonstrating your values through what you invest in, emotionally and financially. “I hope people understand that times will change – the most important thing is to be grounded in your values.”
How much content should I post?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many small business owners took their efforts online. But just because people are spending more time on the internet, they don’t necessarily want to be inundated with photos of new products.
“I’d encourage people to take a step back and take a real assessment of how they’re communicating,” says Olivia. “People don’t want to be overwhelmed by too much content.”
If you put out too much information, you’re no longer measuring how effective it is – this is a surefire way to lose authenticity. Don’t put out content for the sake of content…each piece should have a purpose, whether it’s boosting engagement or gaining new customers.