Small business branding is one of the most misunderstood terms in marketing. Many people believe that if they have a consistent look to their marketing materials or if they put their logo on everything they send out, they are building their brand. Unfortunately, those actions alone will not build you a brand.
Small business brands must stand for something. There must be a core message or idea that is relevant to your target audience. It must be recognizable, easy to remember, and meaningful to a specific group of people. Simply designing all your mailings a certain way is not enough.
What is a Small Business Brand?
When asked to name common brands, people tend to name companies like Microsoft, Nike, or Coca Cola. Yet, whenever you think of each brand, you think of all the experiences you’ve had that relate to it.
Take Microsoft for example. My last interaction with the company involved trying to activate Microsoft Reader online to read an ebook I purchased. I failed miserably in this task, and wasted about 45 minutes, before I finally got an error message stating that the “activation server is offline” and I should try again later. Because of my recent frustration, I currently have a negative view of the company. Yet last night, I was happily using One Note and was strongly considering buying a Tablet PC.
Microsoft’s “brand” is all my perceptions about the company. These come from what Microsoft tells me about itself, what others tell me about it, and my own experiences with its products, services, and customer support. This is so much more than if Microsoft’s last mailing was consistent with its Office Small Business packaging. It’s about how I, as the customer, perceive what “Microsoft” stands for.
Personal Branding – People Are Brands
That same definition of “Microsoft” as a brand can be applied to people. Think of famous people – Oprah, George Bush, Bill Gates, or Brad Pitt – and how you perceive them. You probably don’t know them personally, but you have some idea of what they’re like from what you’ve heard about them. Maybe you’ve even seen them speak or met them briefly. You form an opinion from them not only from what they tell you about themselves and their ideas, but what you’ve seen on tv, heard speakers mention, or read about in magazines and newspapers. Many times, your opinion comes from whether you agree with certain stances they take and the information they provide to back up their position.
For instance, George Bush pushes a conservative agenda – his marketing message – to Americans. This message is tailored to Evangelical Christians, right leaning thinkers, and people that consider themselves Republicans. While he’d like more Democrats to support his policies, he knows that no matter what he does, there will always be people that don’t agree with him. So he picks a core group of people and creates a marketing message that is likely to resonate with them – like homeland security or Christian values – and stays focused on promoting that message.
Those in the business realm build their personal brands in much the same way. Look at some of the famous gurus in your field – how did they become famous? Most likely, it was because they championed an idea and repeated that core message over and over to a group of enthusiastic supporters. As the ideas caught on, they wrote articles and books. Spoke at events. Became consultants. And now, they continue to provide information to educate prospects about their ideas, products and services.
For instance, within the realm of “marketing” these might be Seth Godin for “purple cows,” “free prizes” and storytelling marketing, Neil Rackham for SPIN selling, Bob Bly for copywriting, and Jay Conrad Levinson for guerrilla marketing. These gurus are known for those ideas. They sell the ideas and become experts championing those ideas.
They did not get where they were because they created a cool brochure that told people how great they were and hoped the materials would make them look “friendly” and “approachable” so they could start “building relationships.”
How to Create a Small Business Brand
Strong brands are built around a core message, which should answer 3 questions all prospects ask:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why should I care?
In addition, your brand is how you treat your prospects and customers. It’s what you wear and how professional you act. It’s how well you exemplify that core message you are promoting. And most importantly, it’s doing what you promised.
Don’t think for a moment that because you’ve created a logo or all your marketing materials look similar, you’ve created a small business brand – you haven’t. You have a long way to go! When prospects know who you are, what you stand for, and why you are different then you’ve created a brand. It takes time, effort, resources, and dedication to do so.