Massive benefits accrue to small business owners who can successfully create a powerful brand.
“A brand is a promise that when kept, creates preference and sometimes forgiveness,” says Moses Foster, CEO of West Cary Group, a marketing communications and advertising firm headquartered in Richmond, Va.
He's right. A strong brand creates preference that enables you to charge a premium. It can also result in forgiveness when you infrequently disappoint customers because they know it’s not the norm.
Today’s businesses understand the power of brand. There are entire schools devoted to branding and brand management. Fortune 500 companies pay high-powered ad agencies millions of dollars to help them develop brands. However, in our experience, small business owners don’t need a complex brand strategy. Rather, they need a common-sense approach to marketing their products or services. We suggest starting by answering two straightforward questions:
What message do you want to communicate? A brand is much more than a logo or a tagline. It’s everything that someone thinks about when he or she sees or hears something that identifies you, your company or your product or service. What image do you want in the minds of prospective customers? Of course, you want them to think about something that will cause them to buy your product or service.
This brings us to the primary question that every entrepreneur must be able to answer, “Why should a prospective customer buy my product or service rather than that of a competitor?” If, after some thought and perhaps seeking the help of expert advisors, you still can’t answer this question clearly and concisely, our advice is to cut your losses and seek alternative employment. Conversely, having answered this question, you know what differentiates your product or service from the competition. You have the message you want to communicate to prospective customers.
Related: How to Build the Next Amazon Brand
What is the most cost-effective way to communicate your message? Almost all businesses will want to do the basics. You’ll want to ensure that your business cards, website and letterhead are consistent with your message and with each other. Consistency is critical. We’ve seen too many companies suffer from "multiple brand disorder." Small businesses are unlikely to be able to afford enough impressions to communicate multiple messages. Be consistent every time you present yourself, your company or your product or service. Stay on point.
Depending on your business, it may make sense to spend money on proactive marketing (print ads, direct mail, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, radio or television spots, etc.). If you decide to do this, remember that markets are not homogeneous. Make sure that the segment of the market that most values the things that differentiate you from the competition hear your message.
It’s useless to communicate to a group of people who prefer red if your product is blue. In fact, it may be worse than useless. Once you have identified the segment of the market that values your message, figure out the most cost-effective way to reach them.
A brand campaign can be incredibly expensive. It can be a black hole into which you throw endless resources without result. On the other hand, if you deliver a clear, well-targeted message that resonates with prospective customers through cost-effective channels, it can provide great value.