Effective branding can build your reputation, push you ahead of your competitors, and allow you to set standards for your market, i.e. premium pricing. Name recognition gains consumer trust, and in turn, more loyalty. Before this can happen, though, a few things about this whole small business branding concept needs to be cleared up. Here are some of the biggest myths people have on the topic and some important principles to take home with you.
1. A brand is a logo and a visual identity.
You may have heard this one before. Sure, in certain contexts, you can call a logo a brand, but that’s missing the big picture here. We’re not talking about branding cattle or wine bottle crates, We’re talking about everything your company stands for and does about it. A brand is much more than the materials you produce. Your logo is just the signature that represents your company, and your visual identity is the “look and feel” of it. Your brand is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with consumers.
2. Marketing and small business branding are the same thing.
This is a very common myth believed by small and large companies alike. Understanding the difference can save your company’s life and drive it ahead of your competition. The biggest difference here is that small business branding depends on the public in order to exist, and marketing does not.
Small business branding is a two-way street. It’s a combination of what your company stands for (brand values) and the gut feelings people get when your company pops into their heads (brand image). It is the opinions people have about the complete customer experience you offer, from your product demos to your sales calls to your returns policy. Good branding happens when consumers see that a company has trustworthy behaviour and consistently delivers what it promises.
Marketing is a goal oriented activity. It is the methods used to achieve your desired business outcomes, namely, to get more customers and get more dollars from those customers. Marketing shows the public what your company does and turns their heads in your direction. It includes advertising, promotions, events, and social media engagement, as well as less direct methods like guerilla marketing (e.g. commissioned graffiti), content marketing (e.g. websites and blogs) and new media communications.
3. I’m just starting my business, so I don’t need to do any branding yet.
Huge! Just huge!! The reality is, you don’t have a choice in the matter. Whether it’s a strong brand or a weak brand, you’ve already got one.
In business, like many things in life, you will always know where you’re headed if you start with the end in mind. Knowing what your goals are allows you to move forward with less confusion and indecisiveness. Since you already have a brand, then you might as well start working on it right away by influencing how you want people to see it. Don’t wait! Consumers’ perceptions certainly don’t wait for you, and your competition probably isn’t waiting either. What image do you want to project? How do you want to be perceived by the public? What attributes do you want people to associate with you?
4. I have a great product, so I don’t need to focus on branding so much.
Lack of branding is one sure-fire way to make sure your product fails. Good small business branding cannot make a poor product sell, and poor branding cannot make a good product sell. Look at how we’ve adapted the name Kleenex for tissues and Q-tips for those little cotton swab stick-thingys. These are two prime examples of how a good product with good small business branding can become the household name and rule the market. If you cultivate enough name recognition and move toward becoming the standard in your niche, then you’ll start to see the “bandwagon effect,” where as more and more people believe in something, the rest eventually will too. We jump on that bandwagon because, as humans, we prefer to conform, and we trust the opinions of our friend and family.
Packaging is another essential point why products need small business branding. Even if your company offers the best freaking multi-functional super widgets anyone has ever seen (with two cup holders), it will always be the packaging that sells the consumer standing in the aisle—not the features, nor the benefits. What catches the eye are the colours, contrast, clarity, imagery, and typography. Put them all together in certain ways and you incite desired emotions. In the retail environment, the packaging itself is the branding of the product. Companies who don’t understand this never see their super widgets leave the shelves.
5. The company controls the brand.
This may have held a tiny bit of truth until the 50s and 60s, but nowadays, especially with the internet, it couldn’t be further from the truth. On web forums, blogs, and social networking sites, consumers are discussing brands with the fellow consumers they trust: their online friends and followers. News travels far and fast.
For as long as you’re in business, people are going to say good things and bad things about your company. Can you control how people think? Of course not. You can, however, influence how people view your company (mainly) by the actions you take and (to a lesser degree) the things you say. Does your company live up to its promises? Does your service meet or exceed your customers’ expectations? If you do unique or innovative things, then people will remember you. If you offer a consistent and trustworthy customer experience, then people will like you and recommend you. If your company does something questionable, then they will pick at it, criticize it, and tell the world about what you did.
6. small business branding is expensive.
Small business branding can be accomplished with almost any budget. Once you’ve positioned yourself against your competitors and crafted your clear message, just start communicating with people. Be yourself (unless you’re a jerk) and offer value to your audience. Send them resources and information they find useful, ask them questions, and don’t try to sell them anything. Find out what social websites they are using the most, and talk to them there.
What’s more, there are so many easy ways to fine-tune your brand’s image, such as thoughtful customer service, personalized telephone talk, consistent email signatures, and sending out holiday cards to customers. More often that not, people appreciate the little things the most, and don’t care about how big your billboard is. It’s not about how much you spend on promoting your business, it’s about making sure your visual identity and verbal message are clear and aligned with what your company stands for.
After your plan has been laid out, I do recommend that you invest some money into your logo and visual identity. It is the signature of your brand. An experienced designer should be able to take your company’s vision, values, target market, and positioning, and turn them into a meaningful and attractive visual representation of your company. Sure, you could get your best friend’s cousin’s niece’s monkey to do it for free, but that’s like writing and X in place of your signature.
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