When people talk about your company what do you want them to say? If you can summarize in one word the single most outstanding quality of your company, and have customers remember you by it, you will have struck gold.
There are numerous well-known examples of a successful brand built on a single product idea or recognized quality.
Engineering: Mercedes built its reputation around one key thought: “Great Engineering”. The key word is engineering. Mercedes wants you to know that its technological know-how is the best in the business, making its cars the most expertly crafted. Just look at how many Mercedes are on the road for 20 years or more!
Safety: Volvo, by contrast to Mercedes, has built its reputation around a different idea: “Safety.” Before and after the disasters of the Pinto and the warnings of Unsafe at Any Speed, Volvo was making cars that had high standards and reputations for safety. This made the clunker Volvo the perfect choice for the teen driver, and the newest models for the brand-loyal family.
Durability: Maytag Appliances built a reputation based on never needing to be repaired, or “Durability”. The company had the older fella in his repairman’s uniform with nothing ever to do because Maytag appliances never break down.
Sustainability: A lot of companies claim sustainable this and that, but you might be surprised to look at the top 100 sustainably focused companies of 2014. None of them come to mind when I think of sustainability, because I don’t see them branding themselves as such. A sustainable business reflects special added value in terms of environmental and social benefits to its customers. Small businesses are usually inefficient and do not have the funding to do this on a large scale, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a public mission to add value to your product.
Social Enterprise: Companies like Toms and Warby Parker are catching headlines for their success in “Buy one; give one campaigns.” Their customers get added value when they buy from these companies, as a pair of glasses or shoes are donated for every pair purchased from the company. I would be very impressed with your overhead if you could match this model, but alternatives include donating a dollar for each sale or other charitable contributions.
The above ideas are about providing value for your money, but they approach the issue from completely different angles.
What’s Your (Business’) Reputation?
What people say and remember about your company should derive from your core purpose. It’s also embodied in your mission statement. However, it needs to be advertised and reflected in how you actually do business.
Let’s say you decide to stress that your company does the little things that big companies won’t do. For example, you’re the mowing company that picks weeds from flowerbeds for no extra charge. To maintain your credibility, this must be done on each and every job. I would leave a postcard behind with a Sharpie (a big black marker) and a small box that your worker is asked to check off when the flowerbed work is done. This has great visual effect. It shows to your customer how important this “extra” is. It also makes sure that your employee does the work.
The bottom line: you and your company will have a reputation whether you want one or not. Decide before you launch your business what you want your reputation to be. Advertise and conduct your operations to develop that reputation.