Monday, January 30, 2012

Small Business Branding - Super Critical for Growth

- Myrna Gold, Director of Marketing, Synectic Technologies

Branding can be a tough business process for small businesses to embrace and execute - I mean, you have a great product/services and you've determined that a market exists to buy your offerings from you. Something so good should really sell well, no matter what, right? RIGHT?

Right. Once, during a luncheon in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 2001, I sat with some gentlemen from an IT firm that specialized in providing security solutions to small consulting firms serving Federal government agencies. One of the men asked about my job function in my company, and I answered, "I'm in charge of strategic marketing and branding." He said, "That's nice, but if you have a good company with good technology and good leadership, there's no need for marketing and branding - the product will sell itself." I smiled, replied that I disagree with him, and went on to enjoy my lunch while listening to the speaker marketing changed his bottom line. The other diners at my table drew diagrams on napkins, talked about Federal agencies and how to sell to them, and no one could top their security solutions. No one.

The men from my table aren't in business anymore. I had heard through the grapevine that although their technology was phenomenal and their thought leaders were the best and brightest, they couldn't agree on how to sell their offerings.

Now I'm not suggesting that branding would have solved the issues for those gentlemen at that luncheon. But if you consider these brand names - Kleenex. Pepsi. Coca-Cola. Cadillac. Sony. Toyota. The President of the United States. :-) With the exception of POTUS, each of these brand names started from small businesses.

Instead, I'm going to point you toward a great article on branding for small businesses, and why branding can help convey leadership, product, market, and value through several integrated elements.

Thanks to Nick Harrison from Chicago-based marketing/social media company, Dashal, for his concise article on branding for small biz. Must read, okay! Find the whole article on --

You can read the whole thing here if you prefer:

Branding for the small business

By Nick Harrison

Far too many business owners feel that they are too small to worry about branding, don't understand it entirely or they think they don't have the time or resources to invest in it. Even if you are a “CEO” at a home business and your dog is your bookkeeper, you are not too small to make branding a part of your daily business. Branding also doesn't require a lot of time or expense.

The truth is that most of the large brands you see today like Walmart, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Pepsi and KFC once started as small businesses like yours. They focused on their brand, combined it with a sound business strategy, and it helped them achieve the success they have today.

Your brand isn't just your logo and your website: Your brand not only encompasses your logo and website, it also has to do with marketing, advertising, communicating and messaging, as well as how your employees respond to customers, the customer experience, policies, and your products and services. These things and more make up your overall brand.

You may not have the funds to hire a branding expert or have the best website design, but what you can do is focus on consistency — and standing out from the competition.

Here are four tips to get you headed in the right direction:

1. Uniform look and feel:
Your logo, your colors and even your typeface should be uniform across your website and all marketing materials. If you are using Helvetica on your website, then it should be on your menu and your business card. When I am working with a major brand, one of the first things I receive is their style guide letting me know which fonts, colors, etc., I must use. Your small company should be the same way.

2. Product/Service differentiation:
Rarely will you find yourself selling a product or service that someone else isn't offering down the street. Try to find the differences that set your product or service apart from the rest. A good example is Lou Malnati's. There are deep-dish pizza places everywhere in Chicago, but what makes Lou Malnati's stand out is its signature butter crust. At Dashal, instead of focusing on social media or web development like most of our competition, our strategy is focused on the fact that we do it all digitally, and by using one company, all parts work in harmony. You will never stand out if you are offering the same thing that someone else is. Don't offer office cleaning, offer your Five-Point Cleaning System. McDonald's has a Big Mac, not a double cheeseburger with Thousand Island dressing.

3. How your brand communicates:
Whether it is through social media, a press release, your content on your website or how your company interacts with customers, set an expected voice. Whether you have one person or two people tweeting from the same Twitter account, it should sound like the same person who is posting on Facebook and greeting each customer. Be as unchanging as possible in all communications.

4. Consistent products/service:
Whether I go to Brett's Kitchen on Superior, Yolk on Wells, or Lou Malnati's on State, I know that I am going to get the same experience each time. I know the service will be awesome and the food will taste the same no matter who is cooking. Customers should not receive a different product or service every time they experience what you have to offer. If your employees or your products and service differ in quality, you aren't paying attention to them. It isn't about time and money; it is about focusing on your brand's consistency.

In summary, the key to branding is setting your company apart from the competition, making yourself noticeable, and making yourself memorable. You do this by making your products and services special and with consistent quality, having a constant, steady way of communicating via every channel including how customers are greeted and treated, and having a recognizable look (logo/font/color scheme). This should be done whether you are a "CEO" in your home office and your dog is the bookkeeper, or you are McDonald's.
Nick Harrison is creative director for Chicago-based branding, web development and social media firm Dashal, whose client roster ranges from small businesses to best-selling authors to major consumer brands.

Follow Nick on Twitter: @HarrisonNick.

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Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnDwyer_Crains.

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