Why Branding Is a Luxury for Small Businesses

So many of my company’s clients want to brand themselves–to be known in a sea of competitors as the best. And while this is certainly possible, it takes deep pockets and lots of time — something most small businesses don’t have.

And so I say that branding is a luxury.

What I mean by this is that there are many other things that will bring in sales more quickly than branding. I define branding as anything done to make your company stand out in a sea of non-differentiated brands, and that includes everything from your logo to sponsoring events locally and nationally.

So Coca-Cola stands out as superior because its name is affiliated with the Olympics. Petco stands out because its name is on a stadium in San Diego. But people don’t see these brands’ names and go out to buy their products. There’s not a direct correlation between branding and sales. (Feel free to argue with me on this point; I know some of you will!)

business branding

The actions you should be taking before you get to branding include:

  • Making sure your product fits the market you intend it for
  • Sales efforts directed at your target audience
  • Promotions that reflect what your customers want
  • Advertising in targeted publications
  • Public relations: getting coverage in local and national media, as well as blogs
  • Social media, supporting the above efforts

Many small businesses tend to try to mimic the branding efforts of large corporations, and it’s simply not possible. There are different blueprints for each. Small businesses should focus on intimately knowing their target audience and communicating with them in a meaningful way. They should draw customers in with sales and promotions, then work to build loyal customers through trust and communication.

Branding is the icing on the cake; it’s what comes after you’ve successfully mastered the product and sales formula, and want to move forward to further establish recognition of your brand’s name.

So if you’re a small business, work on reaching more of your target audience through the channels above. Then laser in on them and build trust. Branding can wait.


Susan Payton Susan Payton is the Communications Manager for the Small Business Trends Awards programs. She is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in content marketing, social media management and press releases. She is also the Founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners who want to generate their own PR.

58 Reactions
  1. Susan,

    Great post. We see lots of small businesses getting tied up in the details of “branding” when they should really be focusing on sales, marketing, customer service, product development, etc.

    It doesn’t matter what your brand stands for, what your website looks like, or “if all the colors match” – if you don’t have any customers 🙂



  2. @Mike–
    Thanks. I feel like I’m onto something with this! Now I just have to convince everyone else of it!

  3. I do understand what you say as true. However I think you failed to understand that what you say in your writeup largely entails ‘below the belt branding’ if I can put it to you that way. Branding, in simple language, is the art and science of presenting your product/service to an identified target audience.What you say about small and big company branding in comparative analysis is just like fishihing with a net and a hook. With a net, it takes more effort and with a hook less effort(resources). While the results are different(the hook only catches one fish per time) the intent is thesame;that is to catch fish (customers).

    So please permit me to conclude that your views are truthful on one aspect but myopic on a broader spectrum. Your solutions are still both direct and indirect branding exercises…and advertising of any sort is still more expensive than branding.

    Branding(introducing your product to a customer and making a viable realationship with the customer) can be expensive or cheap…one just has to have proper business acumen or consultant.
    I deal with small businesses a lot and I have proof.
    I rest my case.

  4. While a brand won’t build itself, if you’re getting sales, customer service and the product right you’ll find your brand will start to grow organically.

  5. @Chuck–
    You’re certainly welcome to argue. I encourage it! Every business will have a different approach and results.

    Well worded!

  6. This article reinforces the fact that there is a lot of confusion in regards to what “branding” really is. Branding is not “making sure that all colors match”. Some of your recommendations are in fact “branding”: making sure your product fits the market you intend it for,knowing your target audience and communicating with them in a meaningful way.
    Branding is choosing your niche market, choose a brand positioning that will differentiate yourself from competition and communicate that differentiation. Advertising, promotion and PR without the right strategy and message is a waste of money.

  7. Interesting article Susan. If you look at the sponsorship examples you gave I am not sure they would see that as branding as they would be looking for a return and the naming would only be part of the sponsorship exercise. I do agree about small business not trying to mimic larger companies.

    That said I do believe small business should have a brand identity which a logo is only a part. The reason for this is your brand identity comes from your positioning which is essential for any business as it is the basis for your communication.

  8. Thanks, Susan.

    I never really knew too much about branding until I became a small business owner. In my case, my own “brand” was created with one sentence, and it wasn’t even from my own head!

    The sentence was this;

    “Hey! It’s The Franchise King!”

    See, sometimes the most famous brands (kidding) get created by accident.

    Brands are really important in small business, and the internet has leveled the playing field and allowed some of the smaller brands to compete with the larger ones.

    That’s really cool.

    The Franchise King®

  9. Small businesses have long made the mistake of emulating what works for huge corporations without giving sufficient thought about whether they will work for their small business. That is frequently a huge mistake.

    I made this exact argument against buying pay per click advertising for branding, insisting that small businesses must focus on clicks that generate sales and not simply visibility.

    Yes, whatever you do also raises awareness, but don’t spend money you don’t have to do that. Make what you’re doing that drives conversions do double work and use IT for branding. Leave anything that doesn’t convert for those with deeper pockets!

    Before small businesses focus on the priorities you listed they should make sure they have optimized and maximized their local search directory listings. Think of them as the one thing that works indefinitely without any recurring charges.

  10. Hello Susan,

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing it sparked a really good discussion.

    I agree that companies shouldn’t just throw money at branding with hopes that it will result in customers as unlike large companies, they probably don’t have as much leeway for bad or inefficient decisions. However, branding is important for any company.

    I think you’re undervaluing branding by viewing it as simply making things pretty or matching colors. Any good brand design should be built on an underlying foundation of logic and strategy. Branding is basically doing your research to understand the needs/values of your customers and then using that information to position your company in a manner that would be most appealing to that customer. Most of your bullet points would be related to if not built on branding strategy.

    I find it interesting that you’d recommend advertising for small businesses before branding. Once a brand is created it can last for years especially if people feel really connected and become evangelists. Excluding a sale or special offer, a company won’t see much of a long-term return from one traditional ad as multiple exposures would probably be needed to get customers’ attention. That method can become very expensive which is why it’s remained dominated by big companies.

  11. Dale Dillon Lips

    Chuks and Michael are right on! Branding is so much more than the colors or the look. It is also the target market, product differentiation, customer needs, etc. etc. I believe that branding is important no matter how small the business.

    But I think I understand your point. It’s a waste to overfocus on the look at the expense of intrinsic value.

  12. @Susan…this really isn’t an arguement.This article simply indicates that a lot of indiduals and company owners do not really understanding what branding is. Like Micheal pointed out all your solutions are either branding or tools for propagating a brand exercise. In truth, branding makes sure that the last two solutions are not a waste of money.If you do your research properly, you will discover that implementing your solutions ‘head-on’ without a proper brand strategy will lead to a huge waste of these small company funds-the very funds they have so little of.

  13. Susan,

    You were right that many would argue. I think they miss the point that without sales a small business will die. Simplistic? Yes, but it is a cold hard fact. Most have a small bank account, so cash flow is vital. Some of the “branders” missed the point that you never said never brand. Just that small businesses need to concentrate on cash flow tactics first.

    I believe if a small business focuses on your points then sales (cash) will come first and branding will follow. Branding is important but cash flow tactics have to be first for small businesses to survive. I love your article for stirring the “branders” up. 🙂

  14. Susan, I just wrote about this topic for another small-business publication, and I take the complete opposite view. Clearly, we have different definitions of branding. You define it more as superficial promotions and advertising activity. I define a Brand as the character of a company. And if you don’t specify that early in your company’s days, then use that as your consistent promotion, you’ll exist simply sale to sale with no long-term structure for success. Of course, a Brand can mean different things to different people as they experience it. But I would argue that most people who buy Coca-Cola do so because of the Brand – whether they admit it or not.

    Branding is everything.

  15. I have to completely disagree with your position in this article. In fact, it is a complete contradiction of words. On the one hand, you say that a company shouldn’t spend money on branding but then contradict yourself by saying they should instead spend their dollars on PR and advertising and sales promotions.
    Exactly how do you expect a company to develop those advertising and PR campaigns with out a strong brand platform? Determining your brand and personality is the FIRST thing you should do prior to developing any type of communication! “Branding” isn’t just about a logo…it’s about creating one, singular voice in the marketplace.

  16. Susan,

    I agree that sales and marketing products drive the ship, but, branding is identity. You can’t identify and reach your target market unless you know who you are as a company, what your company represents and how your company differs from the competition. Getting customers, or your target market, to buy into the brand gives them more perceived “value” instead of just products and services. Customers buy “you”, which is your brand.

  17. I am in complete agreement with Glenn. Branding for small businesses is even more important than large. Every touchpoint a customer has with your company is an opportunity for branding…not throwing up a logo, but the essence of what your business is about and why you are unique. Yes, you need sales right away. But how are you going to get sales if you have no unique features to tell customers about, or if they can’t find you or see your business anywhere? Branding is the compilation of all your companie’s values and how you communicate them to your customers.

    While I would NEVER tell a small business to spend money on mass media with TV, radio, sponsoring large events or even newspaper in most cases, that does not mean you should just throw branding out completely.

    All the “tactics” Susan mentioned are all branding…how is directing sales at a targeted group of customers not? That is essentially determining what your brand is about and who it is for and then communicating it to them…is it not?

  18. @Michael–
    It’s nebulous, but I like your definition of branding!

    Brand identity is key. What falls into the category can be argued.

    Lucky you! Letting your customers brand you is smart!

    The role models small biz sees is big biz, but you’re right; it’s not the same blueprint.

    Thanks. You misunderstand: I’m saying branding isn’t JUST your logo and design. It’s becoming known in your industry. That’s not something you can buy, so if you’re looking for exposure and sales, start with ads and build upon that.

    It’s just not tangible, this branding, is it? 🙂

    Good points. Mine is that most businesses want SALES and PROMOTIONS, not branding. Branding doesn’t necessarily directly tie to ROI.

    Ahhh. Someone gets my point. Yes. You need money to brand, and to get money you need promotions.

    You misunderstand me as well. Promotions and ads are the opposite of branding. They’re what small biz should focus on initially to build revenue, then work over the long term to become known as a brand. When people hire my company, they talk about branding, but what they want is sales. They’re not a direct corrolary for small biz budgets, and branding won’t happen overnight.

  19. Susan- You almost had me, but when you say one should not be “sponsoring events locally and nationally” you lost me big time. How many small businesses have done well sponsoring a little league team or a local event? One client of mine sponsored a local event at a college and received over 17k column inches of press as a result The success stories from sponsoring appropriate local events far outweigh the failures. Further, while I agree that a small business should not spend too much time on a logo, one should make sure it is appropriate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cringed as I saw a font that made a logo illegible or easily misread. I’m sure the good folks over at the now defunct Pen Island.com could tell you all about that in great detail.

  20. Valerie Kusler - Ketner Group

    I agree that small businesses should not throw all their money at fancy branding campaigns done by high-priced agencies before they even have the backbone to support it. However, some of the recommendations here, without some emphasis put on branding first, seem like putting the cart before the horse. Do you really want to be engaging heavily in PR and social media if you’re not comfortable or solid with your branding yet?

    I like Glenn’s definition of branding as the character of the company, and you’re right — that doesn’t happen overnight. But until you are confident in that brand, should you really be throwing down money on ad campaigns and building a fan base on social media, only to have it not stick because people didn’t “get” your brand the way you hoped they would?

    There’s no absolute right or wrong answer, because it’s a bit like the chicken or the egg — which is why I can see your point, but have a hard time buying into the decisiveness of your argument.

    Thanks for getting our wheels turning on this!

  21. Most people think that Branding is a one time, costly event. It’s not. Branding is a continuous “daily” process of delivering on your promise and forever touching base on the needs and satisfaction of your clients. Why? because needs and trends are forever changing. If fact, “Change Is The Only Thing That We Can Count On 100%”.

    Branding is being crystal clear on these 3 key factors :
    1. Who you are (your distinctive core truths)
    2. What problems you solve (how is your business or product making life better?)
    3. Who you are helping and why? (your ideal client)

    The question that we get the most is:
    Can you help us “spread the word”? and our answer is:
    “Absolutely. So, what is the word?”

    Most entrepreneurs and business leaders can’t answer that question with complete conviction and relevance. In fact, only 2 out of 10 entrepreneurs can answer it and answer it well.

    Marketing and advertising cost a lot of money and will not be effective without branding first.

    So investing in your branding upfront will not be cheap, but will save you money and make you more money in the long run!

  22. Thanks for clarifying that a bit. But branding is neither expensive nor optional. Your brand is being built while you work, and if you don’t make sure it’s well managed, your brand will be mis-represented while you count inventory in the back room. You can easily manage your brand by defining it, making sure your employees represent you within that theme, and listen to your customers to ensure the brand is being delivered and received in that same regard. That can and must happen simultaneously with sales activity.

    Thanks for starting this discussion.

  23. @Isabelle–
    Well put!

    It’s not optional, but if you want to “brand” and make millions, it probably won’t happen like that.

  24. @Susan….try telling apple that? Or even try changing changing a small business identity like logo or just the name every 6 months and see what happens with your sales(and customers)

  25. @Mike–
    Note I don’t say “don’t sponsor events.” But if you’re looking for ROI, you won’t get it directly from a sponsored event. If you want cash, sponsorship and branding won’t bring them magically overnight.

    What I’m realizing is we all define branding differently!

    Exactly my point. Apple can brand. It’s huge. The barber shop around the corner doesn’t have the cash or leverage to follow that plan.

  26. Susan- Nothing brings in business magically overnight. And while you don’t specifically say “don’t sponsor events” your article advises against spending time branding and part of your definition of branding is sponsoring events. So by saying don’t spend time branding you are saying don’t spend time sponsoring events.

    Also, if we are really talking about the barber shop around the corner, I doubt if they are attempting to sponsor a national event, but again, sponsoring a local event is, in my decades of experience, worthwhile as long as it is an appropriate event.

  27. Susan thanks for putting out such a thought provoking article. As a finance person (albeit a *legally* creative one), my definition of Branding might not be the traditional one.

    I believe every time someone interacts with you, your website, gets an email, even snail mail, they are building a perception of your Brand (aka identity). If you don’t have a coordinated marketing plan you won’t have a consistent brand. How will your potential customers know if you are for them? Or perhaps for a contact of theirs?

    I’m going to ride Joel “The Franchise King” Libava’s coattails for a minute. I’ve branded myself as The Numbers Whisperer, however that was really driven by my existing clients. It’s catchy, fun and easy to remember. Just what a brand should be.

  28. Branding at it’s highest value is trust. Everytime you open a can of Dole pineapples or sit down at your local family-run pizza parlor you have certain expectations. You trust that the product or service will be as stated or anticipated.

    There are dozens of brand-building things (touch points) that even a small business can do that cost little or no money. How do you answer the phone? / How do you handle customer complaints? / How organized is your store or your website? /Does your pricing meet your value proposition? / Do you have an effective tagline? / Have you clearly and simpily defined what makes you distinctive in your marketplace? (i.e. why should do business with you instead of your competition.) and do your products/services work as promised.

    It is important to remember your brand is NOT your logo, your brand is NOT your marketing efforts. They are just “brand elements” (or assets) in the brand equity that you build every single time you interact with a customer, employee, prospect or vendor.

    I have worked with dozens of small companies to build their brands. Small businesses tend to put branding in the “do it later” category because many do not fully understand or appreciate the value of a solid brand – or the business has not taken the time to do the internal audit necessary to create an awesome brand-building plan.

    Great branding is a continual process that every size business should be engaged in from the very beginning. As all healthy companies grow – a brand needs to develop to along with it. It should not sit on the shelf and become stale.

    The single most important reason to build the strongest brand possible is that if you do not effectively define yourself – then your competition and your clients/prospects will!

  29. “Thanks. You misunderstand: I’m saying branding isn’t JUST your logo and design. It’s becoming known in your industry. That’s not something you can buy, so if you’re looking for exposure and sales, start with ads and build upon that.”

    You’re right branding isn’t just something that can be bought. Branding (though it will take time) is essentially building your reputation in the market. Your company’s story, what it does/stands for, and the way it connects with its (potential) customers is its brand and should be built into every instance of contact. The manner in which companies choose to brand themselves will vary (as it should) but how could the building a solid reputation be viewed as a luxury?

    “They should draw customers in with sales and promotions, then work to build loyal customers through trust and communication.”

    If a company doesn’t have a budget to build their brand how cost effective is it for them to offer sales, promotions, and/or advertise? Especially if they are a small company in a competitive market or an industry dominated by large companies? You can have a sale and maybe convince a customer to come into your store but how likely are they to buy if the ad’s promise doesn’t match the experience they have in the store. How likely are they to buy again if you oversell and convince them that your widget is the Rolls Royce of widgets but when they get it home it works like a jalopy?

    It should work the other way around, draw customers in with trust and communication and then convince them to buy. If done properly, you shouldn’t need promotions or sales because they’ll already need/want your product.

  30. Isabelle Mercier gets it!…Susan Payton doesn’t. The first hint is when the concept of a Brand is described/discussed as a verb(Branding)instead of a noun (Brand). The former confuses the process of creating logos and fonts and taglines as your brand when these are parts of brand communication not brand strategy. A cohesive brand strategy can generate these symbolic attributes of its brand architecture when guided by the brand strategy (derived from Isabelle’s 3 points) and every business, irrespective of its size,if it is to succeed must have a strategy which is where the brand resides.

  31. @Mike–
    I wasn’t suggesting the barbershop sponsor a national event, but rather a local one. And they should, if it helps build what Holly says is most important: trust.

    You’re right; it does encompass everything you. That’s your brand. Branding also covers getting people to know you by name and trust you.

    Well put. All marketing activities can fall under branding, but branding doesn’t necessarily attach to sales directly. I 100% agree with you on the trust bit!

    I say it’s a luxury because the first thing a small business needs is customers. So that might be through sales or promotions. It’s up to them to drive the customers back, and yes, part of that is branding and customer experience. I have a pyramid where the base is sales and promotions as well as ads and PR. Branding is at the top. It’s inclusive of all, but if you’re hiring a marketing firm to work on your branding and want to see the ROI, you probably won’t.

  32. @Susan…you still don’t get it. The principls of branding are thesame both for big and small companies!
    All your recommendations are aspects/vehicles of branding!
    The budgets should be according to intelligently crafted brand marketing strategies. An intelligent one should maximize your company’ resources whether they be small or big!…pls try to understand this basic matter.

  33. Wow! As I said in my first reply I knew the branders would come out swinging, but…

    I am not sure why this is such a tough subject for branders to understand. Susan never says a small business cannot brand. She is saying dollars have to come in first. Have none of the branders managed a small business or consulted for one? There is an old phrase in business – “cash is king!” For a small business with these financials:

    Monthly Revenue = $25,000
    Expenses = $22,000
    Cash on-hand = $2,000
    Promotional Tactic = ?
    Branding Tactic = ?

    How much would you allocate for promotions and branding? What happens to the small business if an unexpected $3,000 expense pops up? Life of a small business can be tough for quite some time.

    Like it or not cash-is-king for the survival of a small business. Sales have to come first before there is enough money for branding tactics that many are suggesting. There have been many well-branded small business who close because they ran out of money.

    No one is saying branding is not important – cash just has to come first.

  34. Wow, I am amazed every time how badly jargon,lexicon and preconceived opinions truly get in the way of this discussion.

    Let’s take the word “brand” and substitute “heart and soul”. I think everyone who has posted here would agree that Heart and Soul are an absolute requirement for small businesses. In fact, I would be willing to wager that most would agree that Heart and Soul are one of the key concepts separating big business from small business… or at least agree that this is one of the decision points they use in choosing companies to give their business to.

    If small businesses concentrate on making decisions that reflect their Heart and Soul, hire employees that reflect the same perspectives, choose strategic partners who parallel their beliefs, implement promotions that make sense and support their Heart and Soul, immediately correct issues, problems or decisions that are in opposition to their beliefs and work to ensure that their Heart and Soul remains the reason for their business, then customers will follow, the industry will notice, the press will listen, they will be seen as thought leaders, and they will be successful.

    The Big !dea here is that brand, or to use one responders nomenclature “Brand” with a capital B, is a philosophical concept that has concrete application in today’s business world. Check out our Big !dea book if you want to delve deeper blackdogstrategy.com/blog/the-big-idea/

    Sorry for the unabashed self promotion, but this is a topic near and dear to us and we are always working to reduce the noise and confusion (and get a glimpse beyond this illusion… apologies to Kansas)

  35. @chuks–
    Agree to disagree, or we’ll be here the rest of our lives.

    You’re wonderful. Thanks for understanding me so well and defending my point.

    I like how you take the loaded factor of “brand/branding” away with “heart and soul.” It works.

    It’s been a great discussion, everyone. Thanks for weighing in on either side!

  36. What we do as a Contractor in the roofing industry is different than the well known products we sell like Owens Corning, Certainteed, GAFELK or any of the others. Our products are well known by their logos and their name- the pink panther for instance. They have branded their name and it’s an established name. Small businesses like ours who are in a very, very competitive field can’t rely on the products we sell to get customers. A Contractor who boasts of being a “Certified Professional Installer” for these manufacturers in their advertising means nothing when this is given out to the Contractor like candy to kids on Halloween night. There’s no advantage. What Contractors in our city need to learn is that they’re branding themselves by not knowing their daily cost of doing business and their job costs. Obviously, they don’t have a clue when there’s less than 10% profit, which they should spread over their ten year labor warranty period, if they make it that long – most don’t. Our company was established in 1977. Good management pays off.

  37. After reading Mr. Tierney’s comments again, may I share the following thoughts: As entrepreneurs and business leaders in our communities, it’s important to know that we’re in the people business first, the product business second. We duplicate ourselves by training our employees, many of which may be our competition later. We’re very proud of the numbers of employees who have come in and out of our company – some of whom are businessmen today. As a past-President of our local trade association, I tried to publish the names of the outstanding ones who are actively giving back to their communities outside their businesses, churches and families. I’m amazed at how many do. Absolutely true – community service is an excellent way to brand your name. There are thousands of local charities where our time, talent and resources will bring rich returns to those who are willing to share. You’re right – heart & soul. Put your yourself out there and share your blessings with others.

  38. I like this definition of “brand” from Seth Godin:

    “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”

    You are “branding” your company with each customer interaction – how their initial contact with your company is handled starts the development of the feelings, perceptions, reactions, etc., that will become your brand.

    Truth is, you are branding your company whether you know it or not.

  39. What a discussion ! As with most thing in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Thank you for the list of activities which should precede formal branding activities. We’re just starting out, and that is sage advice.

  40. Chuks Ogene hit the nail on the head. Yes, in a limited sense this article is good advice, but it ignores as Chuks puts it “…what you say in your writeup largely entails ‘below the belt branding’ … Branding, in simple language, is the art and science of presenting your product/service to an identified target audience. … So please permit me to conclude that your views are truthful on one aspect but myopic on a broader spectrum.”

    To expand a bit, branding – for the small business especially – is a summation of the VALUES you stand for, how you conduct business, and so forth, all of which is a direct relationship to the kind of customers you want to cultivate. Forgetting that is how businesses (i.e., people) lose their way.

    It’s a bit like when people say “philosophy is meaningless, just start doing stuff.” Well, sure, except for the important reality that philosophy, as a superset of religious philosophy/belief systems, is, regardless of how formally embraced and applied, how we choose to live, and therefore our personal philosophies – like any business’ branding – is inextricably linked with our choices and outlook, even if we explicitly seek to ignore philosophy.

  41. There are some big words here, many I don’t quite understand, but the heart and soul idea is one which resonates with me along with the big idea. (BTW – love the ‘we don’t brand bull*$!*’ strapline.

    And that’s my point really, if you’ve got something that’s fundamentaly bad, no matter how much money you throw at it, or how pretty it looks, it will all end in tears. But if what you have is brilliant from top to bottom, then dressing it up in it’s best clobber is only going to make your offer stronger.

    As they say – ‘What’s the point of putting lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig’ (no offense to pig lovers:))

    Secondly – Trying to rebrand (colours and creative) after the fact, is a nightmare you don’t want to have, so produce a simple, professional look and feel from the beginning, a logo is important from day 1 as it is the symbol people will recognise over time.

  42. Wow. Branding is a luxury? Nothing could be further from the truth. Branding is trust. If you want people to come to you because you offer that little bit more than the next guy, then branding is vital to steering those wandering customers to your door. Even the corner store needs branding to get by. That said, TV advertising does both direct response/sales very well, and branding is a great bonus to that process. Branding isn’t about dressing up a badly conceived idea – it’s about setting the deserving business apart from a sea of poseurs.

  43. Hi Susan and thanks to everyone who has participated.

    My view of this discussion, which I found very stimulating, is based upon my thinking about:

    “Personality” – a key (and hopefully unique) attribute of each company, which must address and well-match characteristics of the target market(s) for the vendor to realise long-term success…
    Many comments have discussed Personality in a very positive manner and it is where the discussion could start as it does relate to choice of products to promote, level and method of providing support services, and many more critical factors.

    “Image” – is the translation by our market-place of “personality” into perception, and whilst perception may be different for different customers and prospects, in each person’s brain their Image is reality. Hence for any particular (unique) personality, there are likely to be a series of images in the marketplace.

    “Branding” – in my approach, is the attempt to form a consistent series of messages that will address those factors that are important to our customers, prospects, alliance partners and staff in areas that include (not an exhaustive list be any means):
    Product & Service suitability-for-purpose and consistency,
    Price (which is better expressed as value-for-money),
    Resilience in today’s up-and-down economy, and
    some combinbation of Visual/Sound/Taste/Smell/Touch identity that relates directly to our relevant physical senses.

    Logo is an important brand-design characteristic that must exist for, and ideally characterise, each unique Personality. It will exist from day-one, either as a name or a device, or some combination as that is a key aspect for ‘recall’ by our brain. Creative thought, testing and on-going consistency need to be considered when producing the Logo as it is a key element in “Brand”, “brand-awareness” and “branding” however it is but one element.

    The decision on where to focus investment in Promotion will vary from company to company, and from market to market, and should be determined based upon research, or a good instinct developed through experience. The intended outcome will often be to drive sales that satisfy the company’s identified revenue and profit goals. The highest finacial “return on investment” is a useful determinant as to the best area for focus, however the relevance of achiving identified revenue and profit goals may be offset by (say) the need to address some other business driver that may not have profit and revenue goals as the key criteria (for example reducing staff turnover to improve service levels and thereby improve external company image).

    I’d love to hear your comments, even though the original post appeared a few months ago.

  44. @David–
    Wow, that’s quite a comment! I agree with you that personality and image are necessary components of brand. I guess small businesses just need to do it on a different level than big brands. That was my point.

  45. No company needs to direct it’s marketing any differently than another – large or small. A brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that when combined will account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer, whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor, doesn’t pay a premium, make a decision, or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. We’re branding our companies with each customer interaction. How their initial contacts with our companies are handled starts the development of the feelings, perception and reactions that will become our brands. Actually, the truth is, we’re branding our companies whether we know it or not. I can say unequivocally that there are some local brands, national or international brands that I wouldn’t consider. Their brands have been unattractive to me for one reason or another.

  46. I couldn’t disagree more.

    All the activities you cite—advertising, promotions, product positioning, public relations and social media are wasted effort if they’re not contributing to a consistent brand message that conveys a unique customer advantage. Because otherwise you are doomed to confuse your best customers and your employees about your company’s intentions toward them and your sense of purpose.

    Consciously defining and positioning one’s brand is the most significant strategic activity any established business owner can undertake. All the tactics in the world won’t do much good without it.

    • We agree, Jon. All these activities should point toward your branding, but the key is first getting the kinks worked out on your product and positioning, and then building your branding foundation!

      • Well, actually, all these activities should be based upon your brand positioning. When you say they should point toward it, it sounds like an afterthought, when in reality, it should be the main thought that is supported by all your marketing, your products and your customer interactions.

        If your brand positioning is correctly based on your ideal customer’s inner-most desires, there’s no better way to have lots of happy, profitable customers!