The following article was originally published in the Logoworks Small Business Newsletter a little over two years ago.
For the past ten years, branding has been a hot topic. Experts have written thousands of books and articles, and presented hundreds of workshops that detail what it is and how to do it. Want to create an iconic brand? There are several books that can help. Want a legendary brand? There are books for that too. How about a guerilla brand, a techno-brand, a digital brand, an emotional brand, a simple brand, a primal brand, a luxury brand, or a successful brand? The list is almost endless and there’s a book or seminar telling you how to create all these and more.
If you’re like most small business owners, you simply don’t have the time (or desire) to sort through it all. So if you’re not a branding expert, is branding something you should even worry about?
But probably not in the ways you might expect. In order to explain what that means, let’s answer a few of the most common questions business owners ask branding.
1. What is branding?
You’ve probably heard the Indian folk tale about the five blind men who were asked to describe an elephant. One man took hold of the tail and said the elephant was like a rope, frayed at the end. The second man held the elephant’s ear and described it as a thin, leathery fan. The third felt the thick, rough skin of the elephant’s leg and said it was like the trunk of a tree. The men holding the trunk and tusk offered different descriptions of what an elephant was. Of course, they were all right—and all wrong.
Branding experts have offered different descriptions of branding and the best ways to do it. Often they, like the men touching the elephant, are describing the different parts of branding. Designers talk about branding as it relates to the logo and trade dress (the look of the packaging and store). Most advertisers think about branding as it relates to television and radio commercials. An Operations Director, Technology Manager, Customer Service Agent, and Salesperson will all have different opinions of what branding is. So how do you bring all these parts together into one whole?
Simply put, your business is your brand.
Said another way, your brand includes all of the elements that make up your business. It starts with your product or service, but also includes your logo, your store front, your delivery vehicles, the person who answers your phones, your return policies, your service guarantee, your advertising, your partners… you get the picture.
2. I have a logo. Isn’t this my brand?
Your logo is the most recognizable element of your brand. Because of this, many people use the two terms (logo and brand) interchangeably. There is no doubt that a great logo helps customers remember and recognize your product or service more easily. But your logo is simply a graphic representation of all the other parts of your brand—it’s visual short-hand for all the great things your business does. The logo is important, critical even. But it isn’t your brand.
3. Does branding require a big marketing budget?
While money definitely makes it easier, great branding doesn’t require deep pockets. But it does take thought, a bit of creativity, and a willingness to try different things. When Geek Squad founder, Robert Stephens, started his business, he needed a way to stand out from all the other guys providing a similar service. So he bought a unique car and wore a short-sleeve, white shirt and skinny, clip-on tie. And he focused on delivering one-of-the kind service (including little details like returning calls within a few minutes and taking off his shoes as he entered a home). There were dozens of other consultants offering similar services, but Stephens stood out. His customers remembered the service, the unique uniform, the black and white car, and—this is the important part—they called him again when they needed him. Today Geek Squad is a big business, but it wasn’t too long ago that Robert Stephens was a small business owner with no budget and a creative idea for making his business stand out from the crowd.
4. How do I get people talking about my brand?
There are as many answers to this question as there are business ideas. Again, it takes creativity and a little work, but there are literally thousands of ways to do it. The very best way? Have a great product. This is exactly how Bear Naked Granola grew their tiny business—by using all natural ingredients, they created a terrific tasting product (my mouth waters just thinking about it). As more people tried and loved their product, they told their friends and family, who bought a bag. When these new customers tried it, they loved it too, and told even more friends. Starbucks did something similar by creating a unique experience around a cup of coffee (yes, Starbucks is big business with big budgets today, but it wasn’t too long ago that it was a four-store chain with a new idea about how coffee should be served).
Of course, you can try things like contests, special offers, and PR events, but gimmicks don’t last long. If your product isn’t better than your competitor’s, or if you don’t offer a service or experience that is different in some way, you will always struggle to get people talking about your brand.
5. What are the most important things to remember about my brand? Always remember you are constantly building your brand, whether you do it consciously or not. The decision to hire (or not) a customer service person with bad grammar is more than a service decision, it’s a branding decision. Choosing to raise or lower prices isn’t just a question about margins, but about branding. How you keep your store, how you treat your customers, the products and services you offer—these are both business and branding decisions. You are always building your brand.
Now back to the question we asked at the beginning of our discussion: Is branding something you should worry about? Again, the answer is, “absolutely.” But it doesn’t require stacks of books or attending branding workshops. Instead, it takes thought, a little creativity, and consistency over time. By thinking about your business decisions as branding decisions, you take a more active approach to your brand. And that will help you attract new customers and stand out from your competition—which ultimately may mean finding real business success.