Branding: It’s Not Just For Nike Anymore

by Patricia Fitzgerald

“Brand,” with a capital B. Now, there’s a word that gets bandied about a lot by marketers. It’s one of those vague terms we’re all supposed to intuitively understand but often don’t. Many small businesses shy away from the concept of “branding,” assuming that it’s something big companies with big budgets do.

And they’re right. According to a report put out by the World Intellectual Property Organization, global companies spend nearly half a trillion U.S. dollars on branding annually — more than they spend on research and development. That’s because branding works. Samsung may pull in massive revenues, but Apple is way more profitable thanks to their way more recognizable brand. For a look at the top 100 global brands, check out this Brandz 2016 report.

Fortune 500s aside, we’re here to tell you that small companies have just as much right to a brand — and just as much to gain from one — as the big guys do. Branding isn’t just for Nike anymore.

So what is a brand, anyway?

Good question. When we discuss branding with our small-business clients, we usually start by defining what we mean by “brand.” Understandably, many small businesses believe a logo and a brand are one in the same. While your logo does play a role, it’s a small (albeit important) component of your brand. There’s much more to branding than the mark on your business card.

Your brand isn’t about what you do, as opposed to who you are. What you as a company stand for. What’s important to you, and what defines you. It’s your personality and identity, your heart and soul. More than how your audience perceives you, your brand is how they interact with you. Through your brand, your audience can make an emotional, psychological and personal connection with your company that goes beyond buying a product or service.

An effective brand will elicit a desired response from your audience, whether that be joy or pride or excitement or comfort. The best brands instantly trigger an association among those who come into contact with them. What do you think of when you think of Apple? Innovative? Minimalist? Different? What comes to mind when you think about Coca-Cola? Fun times with good friends? These associations aren't accidental; they’re a result of the investment both companies have made into building their respective brands.

Your brand is also a promise you’re making to your audience. So, in Apple’s case, that promise is to make technology more focused on improving people’s daily lives. For Coca-Cola, that promise is to inspire shared moments of happiness. Think about what promise you might make to your customers. There you have the first kernel of your brand.

Why bother to brand?

For a small business with limited resources and funds, branding may seem like an introspective endeavor, requiring too much navel-gazing. Who has time to think about “who we are” when we’re busy answering phones, responding to emails, managing staff, serving customers, ordering supplies, and all the other stuff that goes into running business?

There’s a case to be made for small business branding, however, and here it is.

“You really like me!”

By creating a brand, you’re also creating personal, emotional connections with your customers. These customers then become loyal patrons who feel like they know you, trust you, like you. And when they like you, they’re more likely to come back and purchase from you again and again. What’s more, loyal customers will bring other new customers with them.

Know thyself, and others will know you too.

Having a consistent, clear brand raises awareness. Even within the smaller sphere of your audience, people will start to recognize your brand, and associate it with your business. They’ll see your print ads or postcards, your Facebook posts or signage, your website and brochures, your in-store experience, and know beyond a doubt that it’s you.

Show ‘em you’re different.

Your brand is often what sets you apart, especially among competitors who sell the same kinds of services and products you do. Use your brand to communicate what’s unique about you, and why someone should take notice. When you stand out, you also grab attention — most notably, from your customers.

Your brand tells your story.

There’s a reason you started your company. A childhood dream, a newly discovered passion, a burning desire to improve people’s lives, a problem that needed solving so you decided to solve it yourself. Your brand allows you to share this story, which gives your business, products and services added depth as well as stronger connections with your customers. People love stories, so let your brand tell yours.

Get your employees in on it.

When you create a brand, you’re taking a stand for what truly matters to you. You’re making a statement about your company’s core values. You’re distilling the whole reason you’re in business down to an idea or emotion. And this can be a powerful tool for getting your employees on board too. Make them part of the brand, and watch them become your most dedicated advocates.

Your brand’s building blocks.

So the next question we often get, after “what exactly is a brand?” is “ok, so how do I get one?” The process of building a brand starts with a little internal exploration to discover who you are, and who you want to be as a business. Yeah, we know that sounds a bit touchy-feely new-agey, but we vehemently believe it’s an important exercise for all businesses, large and small.

Here’s a quick check-list of questions to help you get started on your journey of self-exploration (ask your most valued employees to answer these as well):

  • What’s the one thing you want customers to think of when they think of you?
  • What makes your business unique?
  • What do you stand for as a business? What’s most important to you?
  • Why do you do what you do? What drives you?
  • What are your business's top five personality traits?
  • How do you want to be perceived by your customers?
  • How do you want your customers to feel when they interact with you? (i.e. happy, safe, strong, impassioned)

Answering these questions may not be as easy as you think. But the insight you glean will be instrumental in creating a brand that truly captures your company’s identity and personality.

Once you’ve done the basic legwork, we recommend bringing in a creative partner or team with branding experience and know-how. As we mentioned earlier on this post, branding is much more than a logo. It should inform and pervade all your marketing materials — print and digital. It also encompasses all manner of elements including your color palette, visuals, messaging and voice. In fact, every interaction you have with a customer — whether online, on the phone or in person — should be true to your brand.

So, how much is all this going to cost you? On average, experts recommend spending about 5 to 15 percent of your overall marketing budget on creating a brand — more if your business is super-reliant on your brand (if you design a clothing line, for example).

Small business brands we love.

If you’re still questioning whether you really need to invest in branding, take a moment to check out some of our favorite small-business brands.

Kaibosh — Outta Sight

This Norwegian eyewear store is a great example of taking your brand into your physical location and just running wild with it. It’s so different, so wacky, and so unexpected — you know customers are going there just for the experience.

Method Home — People Against Dirty

So many green cleaning products suffer from boring. Not so Method Home. They have a playful, quirky, colorful and fresh brand that makes cleaning sound fun.

Big Ass Fans — The Name Says It All

The brand lives up to the name — bold, chromatic, straight-forward, no BS. These fans — and the company who makes them — are not messing around.

New Belgium Brewing — Pairs Well with People

Makers of Fat Tire Amber Ale, this Colorado-based micro-brewery has a great voice. It’s irreverent but friendly, non-pretentious, the kind of brand you’d like to hang out with in the back yard over a six-pack. Check out the video of bike jousting.

Bonobos — Better Fitting, Better Looking

This business started out as a couple of dudes selling men’s pants from a Manhattan apartment, and they haven’t lost their just-a-guy brand. Simple, honest, no-frills. It’s all about making shopping easy for men who don’t like to shop.

OK, now it’s your turn.

You own a business? Then you need a brand. And we’d love to be the ones to help you build it. So let’s talk. Then let's get to branding.

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