Does My Small Business Really Need A Brand?

Does My Small Business Really Need A Brand?

If you are a small business or work for yourself as a consultant,  you might think that branding isn’t for you. “Only big companies spend money on branding, small companies just get along by doing good work” is a typical response when small businesses are asked about their brand activities. But this perception is wrong, as I’ll explain here.

Even if you do believe in branding, it may come low on your to-do list after vital day-to-day tasks that keep your customers happy and keep revenue coming in. That’s understandable.

Why do small businesses need a brand?

So how do I convince you that branding matters – whether you are a consultant, landscaper, lawyer or run a restaurant?

I think maybe people get hung up on wording. If you were to replace the word “branding” with “reputation” instead, I think I might get your attention. You care about your reputation, right?

The thing is, you have a brand whether you like it or not. So you might as well embrace that and find the best way to connect your brand with your target audience.

Well, branding is all about the impression you make on others. If you want to succeed, that impression should do two things – it should convey what is unique about your business, and it should show you in a positive light.

Of course, many small businesses make a good impression most of the time without ever giving a thought to their brand. But think how much more successful you would be if you gave a good impression ALL of the time.

What I am suggesting is that you think about the reputation you want to have (your brand) and actively manage it.

There are two parts to doing this. First, you have to decide what you stand for – what is your unique value proposition – who your audience is, and how you want to position yourself to the market. Then, you need to make sure that all aspects of your business are aligned with this.

It’s about applying your values to everything you do, clearly and consistently. The thing is, you have a brand whether you like it or not. So you might as well embrace that and find the best way to connect your brand with your target audience.

Creating the right impression

But if you don’t think branding is for you, you are not alone.

Many small business owners, coaches, and consultants I meet think that brands are something that only large companies need or can afford. But your company name, the way you answer the phone, what your customers say when they’re asked about you – these things all build to create an impression of your company and what it’s like to do business with you – and that is your brand. So, your choice is to let whatever impression you give to the outside world happen on its own, or you can take control and manage it to your advantage.

If your brand values jibe with the values of your prospects, they will be more inclined to buy from you. Your foot is halfway through the door before they have even met you.

Your brand may be just as important to your relationships with partners and suppliers as it is to your customers. A strong brand could boost traffic to your website, and close the sales cycle sooner. And if your brand values jibe with the values of your prospects, they will be more inclined to buy from you. Your foot is halfway through the door before they have even met you.

Branding doesn’t need Nike-sized budgets. It takes passion and time and thought. But you neglect your brand at your peril. Businesses don’t own their own brand, they are custodians of it. Perceptions can alter quickly. Brands are continually evolving, and they need a lot of tending.

The takeaway is clear. If you’ve got a business, then you’ve got a brand. What you do with it is up to you.

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Do You Need To Rebrand Your Business?

Do You Need To Rebrand Your Business?

In today’s competitive business climate no company can afford to rest on its laurels. Your business may be keeping up with economic and market changes but is your brand keeping pace?

The important factors to consider when assessing the value of a rebrand include market differentiation, brand awareness, relevance, consumer personality and preference, associations, and emotional connectivity. If your company can improve its relationship to its customer base in any or all of these key areas, you may want to think seriously about rebranding. Here are some things to consider if you’re trying to decide if your business needs a rebrand.

1. You’re looking to gain a competitive advantage

A well-executed rebrand can allow your company to reflect current market dynamics and gain competitive advantage, accelerate pipeline performance and become a leading voice in your industry.  Sidestep the competition and increase your market share through an updated image. By revisiting your brand messaging, you can counter a loss in consumer confidence and/or decreased profitability.

2. You want to stimulate growth

Rebranding can help you to cater more efficiently to current customer demands. Many businesses operate in markets with complex product portfolios, fragmented audiences, and promotional clutter. An effective rebrand can help improve your impact in a crowded market. As the company continues to grow and develop, customers hungry for change will keep coming back to see what’s new.

3. You’re preparing for long-term market expansion

A rebrand can become a public expression of a company’s evolution. As any small business prospers, a rebrand can reflect the larger, more sophisticated company it has become. Businesses that fail to develop their brand risk being dwarfed by more dynamic competitors.

4. You want to refocus and reinvigorate employees

Rebranding can have a rejuvenating effect on the internal culture of your company as it calls for new levels of employee support, knowledge and feedback. It gives staff the chance to get involved in creating a new, positive business culture.

So, how much could your company benefit from a timely rebranding exercise?

Whatever your reason for rebranding, your company’s brand must remain consistent with the latest and greatest your business has to offer. Whether reflecting advancements in your products or service or the evolving nature of your business as a whole, the process of rebranding is essential to communicate your level of quality to your customer base.

After all, a rebrand is about much more than making your business look good. It’s about making your bottom line look good, too.

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Four Simple Strategies to Keep Your Brand Consistent

Four Simple Strategies to Keep Your Brand Consistent

Business owners are more in tune with the principals of branding than ever before, some spending millions of dollars to brand or rebrand, depending on where they’re at in the business lifecycle. A brand represents everything about an organization, from its market position to company culture.

When you think about some of the most iconic brands, such as Apple, Nike or Starbucks, one common thread can be found: all three were created over time, through consistent creative, advertising and experiences. To reach their level of success requires a multi-prong approach that combines creativity, planning and, when warranted, periodic evolution. Consistency may be the most vital component of brand management — it’s paramount to maintaining the customer’s viewpoint of a company and its products.

Keeping the core brand intact throughout evolutionary changes is a crucial component to brand consistency. While employees may come and go, company product offerings may change, and even logos get updated over time, the brand at its core should remain unaltered.

Brand consistency enables companies to drive customer perception and engagement from initial contact through the purchasing process. Prospects who understand a brand — including its evolution — are more likely to buy its products. Brand consistency also provides the trust that underpins marketing efforts.

So how can you maintain brand consistency? Here are four strategies that organizations of all sizes can adopt.

1. Make Consistency a Company-Wide Effort

Without a company culture that protects the brand, consistency is unlikely going to be sustained. Educating employees about company history and values and the stories behind its growth and success will encourage internal brand loyalty and inspire internal audiences to project a more professional image to prospects, customers and other stakeholders. Remember, everyone in your company represents your brand so they should also understand it and be able to explain it easily.

Hiring or assigning a brand manager can go a long way to protecting the brand and ensuring consistency. View the brand manager as the gatekeeper for all company products and services. They understand that a company communicates through a variety of channels and can establish policies for maintaining employee awareness of consistent branding practices.

2. Create – And Use – Brand Guidelines

The brand manager’s job is not only creating guidelines but documenting them in a brand guide that is distributed throughout the company and presented to new employees. Your company’s character, personality, and identity should be documented in the brand guide. One easy way to keep a brand guide current is to create a digital brand portal that is kept evergreen. This online portal ensures everyone in the company has access to the current brand guidelines — and may include everything from logos, fonts, and colors to messaging and key visuals.

Review the brand guide on a consistent basis. Inspect and alter it with your company’s core brand messaging and image in mind. This guide should provide clarity to everyone and show the values they should project and uphold. It’s much easier to maintain consistency in branding if teams across the company can easily find guidelines for creating company materials.

3. Facilitate Steady Brand Evolution

A brand manager usually tackles the challenge of overseeing steady brand evolution while still maintaining consistency. As the needs of the market change, so will your company and its products. The brand can’t remain static — it must remain relevant amid changing trends and shifts in the market.

Remember, the core brand doesn’t change all the time, but there are times when creative elements around it do, such as logos, color schemes, and taglines. Therefore, keeping staff in sync is key to your branding efforts.

4. Using Technology to Support Brand Management and Consistency

While brand management is an “all hands on deck” exercise, when used correctly, technology can simplify the brand management process and support the effort to maintain consistency. The right solution can enforce organization-wide branding guidelines without the continual memos or emails that employees may never open. Your guidelines can be easily updated with the most relevant images and content so that departments across the organization are adhering to brand policies.

While some companies may use Dropbox, Box, Google Drive or another cloud file storage system for brand management functions, these lack the necessary controls. Once organizations realize they can’t correctly manage growing asset libraries, they usually move on to a more advanced brand management solution like Digital Asset Management (DAM).

DAM allows organizations and marketers to easily store a full range of digital assets including images, videos, presentations, logos, design files, documents and more with metadata tagging for better search and share capabilities. Some DAM systems include brand guide features that keep everything accessible from one place.

Consistency Is Key for the Long Run

It’s no secret that a lot goes into creating and maintaining a brand. Those business owners and marketers that adhere to the principles of consistency over the long haul will realize the most rewards.

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Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and has been since I was a kid. I grew up on the thrillers of the 1970’s and 80’s like John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (be thankful I didn’t choose the other image from that iconic movie). What I liked most about many of the thrillers from back then was that we often didn’t actually see the monster until late in the movie. So much of what scared us was the idea of the monster lurking in the dark.

Many companies have built their brands on promises based on addressing fears – the needs for protection, for reassurance, for status, for achievement, recognition and so on – in a world where so many of those things are portrayed as being at risk. But how successful is fear as an emotive driver today and should we still be using it as a motivation to get people to buy more?

The first thing to be aware of – fear works. While some marketers regard fear as an old-fashioned way of changing attitudes and behaviors, a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2015 and based on 50 years of research shows that fear-based appeals are still effective, particularly when they contain recommendations for one-time only behaviors. According to the article, including a fear element more than doubles the probability of change relative to not presenting a fear motive or including an appeal that has a low fear component.

Some of the reasons for this seem obvious. Fear gives people a reason to pay attention and therefore it instills an emotive reaction. Fear plays to our view of a changing world. And it seems we live in an age where fear is a significant component in the media. As someone remarked recently, the world is now presented to us as an ongoing sequence of dramas. So much is such a big deal that if your message lacks an element of primal response, there’s a risk some will feel that your brand could easily be lost in the noise. The temptation for brands to play up fear is also brought on by the observation that others seem to be using it successfully.

Keith Payne, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, makes the point that the brain is a pattern-seeking machine. In the absence of patterns, we go looking for regularities to make our lives work, he says. Chaos and randomness stress us because they make us feel left out, left behind or out of control. Lack of pattern and predictability induce fear. Too much pattern and predictability, on the other hand, quickly incites boredom and rebellion. We all want to know where we stand. At the same time, we don’t ever want to feel stuck or being seen to be stuck. We fear that.

Social media has generated its own fears, particularly around failure. The article I read that quoted Keith Payne also pointed out that Facebook et al have exploited notions of what is normal. Perfection is now portrayed ubiquitously as achievable and expected. In a time where so much is streamed to us as picture perfect, the fear of missing out or of not keeping up is driving many of those who interact with their world digitally to be highly anxious and chronically over-aware of other people’s achievements and opinions.

Another reason why fear gets our attention is that we have conditioned ourselves to believe that we must not just solve the problems that we face, but do so in ways that vanquish them completely. One of the key reasons for that, according to Brene Brown is we live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. We’re told we’re not getting enough sleep. We worry that we’re not getting enough done. We’re concerned that we’re not perfect enough. And we feel an expectation to deal with those concerns comprehensively; to use the resources that we have available to us to make the problem go away once and for all. But Brown makes the point that the opposite of scarcity is not necessarily abundance or completeness. Sometimes, it’s the ability to do enough, just enough, and then stop.

That brings us back to the point in the research – that people are looking for answers that resolve what concerns them; answers that they understand and can act on.

If you believe as I do that brands are most effective when they address a need stated simply, clearly and distinctly, then the path to being competitive may not lie in simply adding to the burgeoning fear factor. If they want to avoid being caught up in this escalating volume of drama, outrage, and concern, brands may want to adopt a different approach. As Anne Bahr Thompson points out, millennials rely on their favorite brands to help them feel less anxious and more emotionally balanced and fulfilled in a world that is increasingly complex to navigate. And so brands could, perhaps should, be making better use of that reliance to help them achieve a balanced response to the demands of their social media peer group and to develop more valuable relationships in a range of ways. I think her ideas are potentially applicable to all sorts of brands:

1. Deliver Leadership – in a world where people are concerned about the quality of life, long-term security, and family, brands should be looking for ways to inject confidence about the future and the planet and to embed broader societal solutions into their ways of doing business.

2. Be Realistic – brands need to help people connect with what really matters to them in life. The most powerful way they can do is by example – by being genuine and sincere themselves in how they interact with customers and potential buyers.

3. Protect The Relationship – brands need to respect buyers as people and treat data as a relationship building tool rather than as a sales platform and a means to stalk shoppers. Inevitably that means addressing the irony of a desire for more personalized interaction with a willingness to set boundaries around intrusion.

4. Treat People Fairly, Starting With Your Own People – brands need to establish their credentials as good citizens by behaving fairly and openly, but they also need to build a deeper and broader sense of community by taking opportunities to involve more people in how they develop products and set and deliver policies.

5. Defend And Support Wellbeing – in much the same way as brands need to consider how they can offer solutions for the world, they should also look at how and where they can help people function more effectively and in a more fulfilled manner. That may well mean looking out beyond what they feel they are responsible for (via their products and services) to a broader consideration set of human factors that they could positively influence.

Increasingly, it’s not good enough for brands to simply focus on what they want to get out of their relationship with customers and to use whatever means necessary, including fear of failure, to achieve that. While the pressures to deliver profitability internally may be as strong, if not greater, than ever, and certainly more complex, the onus for brands now is to participate in a much more rounded and considered way with those who buy from them.

So if fear works as such a powerful motivator, how do we harness it without relying on it? As Martin Lindstrom wisely pointed out, what’s more important for brands is to use our fears as the starting point for helping people to better manage their lives:

  • Convert problems into assets – People always have problems. Rather than highlighting those, find answers to the underlying difficulties. For example, he says, no one knew they wanted an airbag, but everyone agreed they wanted safer cars.
  • Add a practical dimension to an irrational decision – if you want people to buy something that rewards them emotionally, find a way to include elements that seal the deal.
  • Don’t just play on the fear. Instead, look for ways to systematically remove it, so that people feel a sense of progress and personal achievement.

Here is my perspective on how to best think about fear when: “People’s deepest feelings generally fall into two buckets: (1) anxieties/fears and (2) desires/longings. People try to avoid that which they fear and seek that for which they long. I personally believe marketers should pay more attention to people’s desires and less attention to their anxieties. And, to Brene Brown’s point, brands need to do so in ways that are practical, finite and provide a sense of closure and resolution. Brands should inspire customers to achieve what they want, but also help them set limits on where a sense of fulfillment ends, and unhealthy obsession begins.

That conversation – the one about brands’ responsibilities for responsible consumption – is only just getting started, and there will be some who fear it’s a step too far because it’s not the role of brands to define when enough is enough. But as brands like Patagonia have shown, calling time on what counts as *enough* builds trust and reinforces authenticity.

My (professional) fear is that unless brands choose to see their behaviors in the wider context of social responsibility and check them accordingly, they will continue to play on powerful emotions like fear for the quick wins they can get now, at the expense of the brand’s deeper, long-term value and trustworthiness to customers.

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When Is It Time For A Name Change?

When Is It Time For A Name Change?

Dunkin’ Donuts recently announced that it was considering dropping ‘Donuts’ from its name in selected stores. A Pasadena, California location is to be the first with the Dunkin’ only branding. This new naming will highlight that there is more to the brand than the products it’s well-known for, according to a spokesperson.

“While we remain the number one retailer of donuts in the country, as part of our efforts to reinforce that Dunkin’ Donuts is a beverage-led brand and coffee leader, we will be testing signage in a few locations that refer to the brand simply as “Dunkin’,” according to a company statement. “We have been referring to ourselves simply as Dunkin’ in our advertising for more than a decade, ever since we introduced our ‘America Runs on Dunkin’ campaign.”

Is this a smart move?

Identity, meaning, and recognition are the most powerful elements of a brand name. A great name tags a brand’s character. You know what to expect from the way the brand identifies itself. Casual, credible, functional … great names capture the nature of what they describe. Powerful brand names also hint at hidden meaning. Sometimes, they carry within them the synopsis of a story. And of course, names provide us with cues as consumers. We recognize them. They give us something to ask for, and something to look for.

So if the Dunkin Donuts name already has a clear personality why would the company look at changing it? It means a lot to plenty of people and it’s very recognized. There are arguments for and against such a move. Coca Cola changed to Coke, and Starbucks dropped Coffee from its’ name. But when Pizza Hut tried to become “The Hut” it reverted under public pressure. Consumers dismissed the initiative as an unfashionable attempt to be fashionable.

So when should a brand look at changing its name? If you want to signal a change in strategic focus, and if the name change will serve greater meaning, resonance, and value for consumers and customers, then do it.

Let’s apply those three criteria to Dunkin’ Donuts proposed name change: Does “Dunkin’” as a name carry greater value than the original? Yeah, sure, it gets around the recognition issue in that half the original name is there. And since people want minimalism and simplicity, it could bring greater resonance to a market where it’s harder and harder to stand out.

As for the third criteria, only time will tell whether consumers see enhanced value in the abbreviated version. After all, the company is currently the undisputed leader in the donut industry with a greater than 60% market share and a presence that runs to 11,300 restaurants globally.

What’s the biggest risk here? Messing with the brand essence too much confuses customers. You put doubt in the consumer’s mind as you force them to ask if that new brand is still the same product they used to buy or a completely new product. This changes consumer expectations erodes the hard-earned reputation and can result in a drop in sales due to the confusion you as a brand owner create.

Here is the real question: what benefit will shoppers get from the Dunkin’ brand that they don’t get from Dunkin’ Donuts? In terms of association and experience, is anything going to be different? If not (the company has talked about rolling out a new image, with emphasis on beverages and leadership in coffee), then what exactly does the change signal?

Every change you make to your brand is a signal to the market that things will not be as they were. What Dunkin’ Donuts seems to be signaling though is a shift that could feel like a brand looking to keep up with the times. People may like that, and welcome it. Or they may not. Because they may see value in it happening, or they may perceive no important difference—in which case they might prefer that things stay as they are.

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5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

We all understand how important brands can be. There are brands that are significant all over the world. Nike. Harley Davidson. Starbucks. These are companies that are more than just the products they sell. They’re lifestyles. They’re statements, both about the company and the consumers who choose them.

If you think bold, memorable branding is only available to big companies with massive marketing budgets, think again! No matter your industry, you can cultivate a unique brand that resonates with your clients. Want to know how to do it?

Small Business Branding Tips

1. Clarify Your Company’s Purpose. For a brand to be meaningful, it must connect to your company’s reason for being.  Why did you start your company?  How do you think you’re making the world a better place?  Without a firm grasp of your purpose, you’ll never be able to communicate what’s unique and important about your company.

2. Enlist Your Employees. Along with clarifying your purpose, you must also ensure that every single member of your staff understands that purpose and knows how and why to communicate that purpose with every customer. In a perfect world, your purpose isn’t something that’s pounded into your staff. It’s something you hire for. When you hire an employee who shares your values, then you’re on the right track. Effective branding isn’t an afterthought. It infuses everything you do!

3. Create a Rallying Cry. Your rallying cry lets you communicate your purpose and values quickly … to anyone and everyone. More than 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sang about a reason to believe, a hopeful song from the otherwise stark Nebraska album. There’s a reason this theme is a recurring one in music, literature and business. In relationships, as consumers and even as companies we need reasons to believe in the people and causes we stand behind, and for someone to believe in us. Companies spend a lot of time developing products and services, creating messaging and engagement, nurturing customers and prospects. Why? To create reasons to believe (which often lead to reasons to buy). A rallying cry builds loyalty and comfort, and creates advocates. A rallying cry gives a company its mojo. Its swagger. Its ethos. Its reason for being. That’s your brand. As Springsteen sang: “at the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe.”

4. Enlist Your Customers. You know your purpose. Your staff knows your purpose. But do your customers know your purpose?  Letting your clients know that they’re buying more than just your goods or services is key to enlisting them in your brand building efforts.  Consider the Life is Good brand.  When people don a t-shirt, they’re making a statement about a lifestyle, rather than just getting dressed. Folding in what makes you unique and worthwhile is a big part of successful branding.

5. Hire a Pro. Sometimes we think we should be able to do it all, but no matter how talented you are, you need help in the areas that aren’t your strength. If marketing isn’t your thing, consider hiring a consultant or agency to help you crystallize and evangelize your brand. Professionals can help you avoid spinning your wheels and wasting money on ineffective tactics.

Your brand is more than just your company name, logo, or slogan. It’s the expression of your values, your quality, and your unique vision.  Branding done right cements you in the minds of your customers. It makes it easy for people to understand who you are and what you do. Branding differentiates you from your competitors, and it speaks to your ideal customer, resonating with the people who will most appreciate your work.

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