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Creating Your Brand without a Big Budget

August 11, 2011

To many of us, it takes millions of media dollars and dramatic Super Bowl commercials to create an effective Brand. We think of Chevrolet and
Cadillac, Budweiser and Coors, or Staples and Office Depot, but seldom
consider the brand message created by our experience with the corner
hardware store, the local dry cleaner, or our neighborhood restaurant. By
definition, your company has a Brand. The real question is whether you are
managing it and building on it.

What Makes a Brand?

There is a simple and venerable definition of a brand, and it’s a definition
which we can all use whether we have the media clout to reach our
consumers by pounding the airwaves or are a small manufacturing
company dealing with business customers, face to face. It recognizes all
purchases and customer relationships – B2B and B2C – are based on
product or service attributes and the emotional connection shared by buyer and seller, product and consumer. Jim Collins’ record-selling business book, Good to Great, recognizes the foundation of a brand as a company’s reputation and the emotional connection customers have to it.

A true brand reaches us with its logic + emotion. Even the most basic of business contract requires not only an agreement on the attributes or deliverables to be offered but also an often unspoken emotional element of confidence, credibility, trust, security, dependability, reliability, fairness, or other similar non-tangibles. Even though Nordstroms, for example, has great buyers, merchandisers, and real estate planners, the connection we always talk about is its level of service, the great sales people who engage us and with whom we memorably connect.

Understanding that a true brand is based on logic + emotion is important because it means that any company, no matter how small – even an individual — can create a brand which is something they own, something which is competitive and distinctive.

Understanding that a true brand is based on logic + emotion is important because it means that any company, no matter how small – even an individual — can create a brand which is something they own, something which is competitive and distinctive (Tom Peters, author of In Search of
Excellence, offers a program developing a personal or individual’s brand). A properly developed and positioned brand delivers that final hook to win the sales transaction whether the product is sitting on the shelf, being delivered by a restaurant’s server, or offered up by a committed sales team.

How Do I Develop My Company’s Brand?

How does a small, even a B2B company, create, live with, and build and execute its Brand?
To begin with, the Brand is the key element which ties the consumer or customer to the purchase in a memorable way, and you probably already have the building blocks in place. The first step to create your company’s Brand is to understand what makes your company distinctly competitive or even superior. What aspects of this competitive edge are product focused and
which are more emotional or personality driven? The second step is to work this competitive advantage into your overall strategy or what the company expects to accomplish by creating direct and simple vision and mission statements which all employees can understand and relate to. And the third step, which many of us do unconsciously, is to develop or recognize the
personality of the company. Is it energetic? Thoughtful? Caring? Solid? Analytical? Engineering like? Steady? Reliable?

When these elements are combined, understood, and embraced by the management team, they can be consistently communicated as the vision/mission/personality values to the company, whether it’s made up of five or 2,000 employees. The Brand values exist at this point, but decisions have to be made on what the brand’s “voice” will sound and look like. This voice will impact everything from the logo and the font and layout chosen for the company’s business cards all the way to how we want to “talk” and relate to our own staff and our customers. A real brand is tightly woven into everything the management team communicates to its employees and the
company communicates to its consumers or customers. It represents what a company makes, the services it provides, and its culture and values. A brand is much bigger than a short term advertising slogan.

Does It Really Work?
Because we are accustomed to brands being discussed in terms of Coke and Pepsi, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, Honda and Toyota, or Boeing and Airbus, we tend to presume brands are not important to our small to medium sized companies.

Case in Point One: But my own experience of working with multi-million dollar communications as well as more minimal budgets has taught me differently. One example is an experience with a medium sized restaurant chain which had been suffering through a malaise created by a lack of clear leadership and a steady 2% to 3% sales decline. Its external media budget was close to zero. However, the management team repositioned the company and brand based on three core values of sales, hospitality, and nutrition. Everything from training to bonus programs to business cards to customer communications were redesigned to communicate a clear message of the company’s new value system. Every operations meeting and every CEO
speech or presentation focused on the three core elements in a way which was consistent with the new “personality.” The result turned a negative sales trend to 50% growth over five years as the chain became known for its great service and tasty, nutritious food.

A real brand is tightly woven into everything the management team communicates to its employees and the company communicates to its consumers or customers. It represents
what a company makes, the services it provides, and its culture and values. A brand is much bigger than a short term advertising slogan.

Case in Point Two: A $10 million B2B service company created a new division and needed to find a different voice from its parent which had been struggling over the three previous years and had made headlines with some legal issues. To start out with its new bundle of products and name, we spent time understanding where we were (Departure Point) and where we wanted to get to (Arrival Point) a few years down the road. The only “media” we had at our disposal was a new web site driven by some good search engine optimization and marketing work (SEO, SEM), booths with brochures distributed at association and other related conferences, email lists, and
our sales approach to potential clients. Although it is too early to note demonstrable results, all communications and products were developed with one clear voice, and the early returns are making the rest of the company take notice.

Your Brand, Your Culture

The foundations for a true brand, long lasting Brand come from within the company and therefore can be expressed by any company of any size, whether it is B2B or B2C – even an individual. These true brand elements can then be expressed to the customers as well as the internal organization in a consistent, sustainable, and business building fashion to give your company competitive leverage for the short and long term.

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