Lean into what makes you different – How to build a brand and market your business
This article was written for our Strive community, where Be the Business is empowering ethnic minority business owners from micro and small businesses around the country.
Differentiate your brand
In today’s market, savvy consumers don’t just want to pay for a product or service. They want you to make them feel good. They want to know that as a brand you care about the same things they care about, and that your business is interested in more than just making profits.
More than ever, they want to peek behind the scenes and learn about your values.
These are some of the elements that make up your brand. In the lifespan of your business, you’ll need to continue refining it in order to maintain a connection with your customers.
When I first started my business, I felt like a small fish in a big pond. I thought that following big brands was the way to fit into the market, but I was losing my voice before I even got started.
Arlene Adunni, founder and CEO, Eweko Tea
In 2021, a year-long study highlighted the untapped potential among ethnic minority-led businesses (EMBs).
Backlight, The Good Side, Channel 4 and Clear Channel surveyed 517 entrepreneurs (242 from ethnic-minority backgrounds and 275 white entrepreneurs) and found that 36 per cent of EMBs were unsure of the role being from an ethnic background should play in marketing.
As the owner of an EMB, the degree to which you incorporate your ethnicity into your brand depends on your offering, your target consumer and industry.
But what does this look like in real life?
Calendly is a scheduling automation platform worth over one billion dollars that is used by both corporations and freelancers to eliminate the back and forth of arranging meetings. What many of them may not know is that its founder is a Nigerian-born entrepreneur called Tope Awotona. Although this information is no secret, it’s certainly not the first thing the company shouts about.
You may choose this approach. However, if you’re looking for ways to stand out from the crowd, leaning into your ethnicity could be the unique edge your brand needs. It can even inform your USP or the causes that mean the most to you.
Wakuda is a marketplace that helps buyers discover cultural gifts and lifestyle products from black-owned businesses.
The company was set up by two childhood friends after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
Growing up as childhood friends, we struggled to find products that represented us and our cultures. From trying to buy a last-minute Father’s Day card to a doll for my daughter that actually resembled her, it was frustrating.
Taken from Wakuda’s “About us” web page
There are other ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, eBay and Not On The High Street. However, Wakuda is unique as its founders have chosen to push their ethnicity to the fore.
The earlier study also found that both ethnic-minority and white consumers are positive about celebrating EMBs. As such, you shouldn’t fear that being forthright about your ethnicity will alienate potential customers. In fact, it can boost your business.
In 2020, supermarkets sold a range of sausages featuring the faces of Mary Seacole and other black heroes during Black History Month. The sausages were a product of the farm of Wilfred Emmanuel Jones, who is believed to be the UK’s only black farmer.
According to Wilfred: “It’s not black people buying [my products]. Some of them do, but it’s mainstream Britain. Why are they buying into this brand? They’re buying into me and what I stand for as a maverick – in your face and a bit different.”
You may have a brand that appeals to the mainstream. Or you may have a specialist product which attracts a niche audience. That’s okay too and doesn’t have to mean diluting your brand. However, you'll need to conduct market research to find who your audience is and where they are.
Amplifying what makes you different
Digital marketing, also known as online marketing, is a component of marketing that occurs on the internet. It can take the form of:
- Paid adverts
- Email marketing
- Social media posts or campaigns
- Blog posts
Digital marketing is essential, especially for startups and small businesses. It’s an effective way to reach and connect with a large audience, without having to spend lots of money on traditional advertising.
Social media is also a must, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be a whizz at it. There are individuals and other companies (including small businesses just like yours) that will be more than happy to help you.
How else can you market your business?
- Collaborate with other businesses on social campaigns
- Find out where your target audience are and pay for advertising space
- Share your values with your audience
- Invest in content marketing (blogs, videos, social media posts)
- Celebrate heritage months on social media