Branding is time-consuming and often expensive. From getting your logo, websites, and brochures designed to crafting a content strategy to developing ad campaigns, it can seem overwhelming and costly. Won’t your great business idea attract people without all that extra stuff?
Sadly, that quote from Field of Dreams is not true. If you build it, they will not automatically come. The good news is that all the work described above is actually not branding. It’s marketing, and it’s much easier when you have a strong brand underpinning your business.
To understand why you need a brand and how to refine it, it helps to look at what a brand is and isn’t.
The Basics of Branding
When you ask many aspiring entrepreneurs or new business owners about their brand, many of them aren’t sure how to answer. They know what they’re offering customers and how they want to sell it, but they don’t understand the fundamentals of their brand, which include:
– the value they present to customers
– the problem they’re solving for those customers
– their core philosophy and operating values (not to be confused with their value for customers)
For example, Target is an extremely popular and distinctive brand. It distinguishes itself from Wal-Mart and other big-box stores by prioritizing customer service and selling higher-quality clothing, home goods, and other essentials. The problem Target solves is that many consumers want more luxurious options than Wal-Mart offers without shopping at a high-end store. Target offers value by selling fashionable garments, sophisticated home decor, and natural/organic foods at low prices. They are also well known for their premium customer service, luxurious shopping options (e.g. in-store Starbucks and touchscreen kiosks), and progressive policies.
Many small businesses, especially those run by inexperienced owners, associate the word “brand” with big corporations like Target. However, even the best products in the world don’t sell themselves. Target’s customers could purchase many of its products at other stores, including Wal-Mart! They choose Target because they know and trust the brand experience. Small businesses are more likely to build a loyal customer base if they have a brand that people recognize and appreciate.
Signs That Your Brand Strategy Needs Work
Unfortunately, brands do take a bit of effort to develop, but your primary cost will be time and brainpower, not money. That’s because your brand stems from the core values, propositions, and personality that form your business’s foundation. To develop this, you first need to do some deep thinking and a lot of research. Here are some common mistakes of initial branding strategies:
You focus on acquiring a logo first. Rushing the logo is a mistake. New business owners often start with a wordmark or clumsily designed logo, and they may not have even completed the market research needed to develop an effective logo concept.
You’ve listed large companies as your competitors. Even if your small business offers amazing tech solutions, you likely can’t list Apple as your competitor. That’s comparing apples and oranges. When identifying your competitors, you should always look for companies of a similar size, value offering, and target audience. They are the ones you are actually competing against.
You want to target “everyone.” As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone, and definitely not in business. If consumers feel like you’re not speaking directly to their pain points, they won’t do business with you. Your brand also needs to be distinguishable from others, and that’s near impossible to do if you don’t target a niche segment of the population.
As you see, focusing on surface-level aspects of your business is pointless until you’ve developed the bedrock of your brand. Once you’ve identified your core values, unique propositions for your customers, and basic operating principles, it’s much easier to build your marketing on top of that. With a strong brand, even the smallest business is more likely to connect with their target customers.
It may be helpful to think of branding as a combination of relationship skills and impression management. Consider how you prepare yourself for a networking event: you rehearse your elevator speech, put on nice clothes, and write your name tag. These are all marketing aspects of your personal brand, which stems from your core values, skills, and talents. Now translate that into small-business branding: the basic foundation of your company’s “personality” helps you choose the right “clothing” (e.g. a logo), “elevator speech” (e.g. your sales pitch), and “name tag” (e.g. your tagline). You need that strong brand to form the most effective marketing materials — and that’s true whether your small business has one employee or one hundred!