Branding is often overlooked, undervalued, or dismissed altogether by small business owners. Huge mistake and let me tell you why.
Yes, investing in your brand is sometimes an uncomfortable step to take because it’s difficult to measure its success. Unlike other marketing tactics, it’s sometimes impossible to figure out if you’re seeing a favorable ROI compared to the time, energy, and money you throw at establishing and maintaining a good brand identity.
Believe me, I know this thought process. I used to work for a direct response marketing agency which meant that if we couldn’t immediately measure the ROI, there was slim chance we were investing much money towards the initiative. For those of you not familiar with the term “direct response,” it simply means that we created marketing programs that resulted in people acting immediately. Think infomercial, mail, email, or banner ads, among many other things. In other words, if you saw our marketing, there was a very good chance you had an urge to either click, call, or buy something right then and there.
In fact, we even had a rule that helped govern our agency’s strategy called the 40/40/20 rule of direct marketing.
I’m writing today after changing jobs and moving over to a full brand agency. Think billboards, commercials, websites, and Mad Men. And I have to say that my eyes have been opened to the importance of establishing a solid brand for your business.
First, what is brand?
The word brand used to mean the distinctive mark that you burned into your cattle to differentiate your animals from someone else’s. In a lot of ways, the meaning behind this definition still applies. Your business’ brand is the distinct feeling that your customers get when doing business with you versus your competitors. Your brand is articulated through every point of contact you have with your customers or potential customers—from the way you answer the phone, to the receipt or invoice you hand people after the transaction, to the post sale communication you have or don’t have.
Take a moment and try to describe your brand to yourself. If you have trouble, think about your business as if it were a person. It’s goofy, but hang with me for a second. Imagine another person meets your business at a 4th of July party and they chat for about 30 minutes. The person then walks over to the other side of the party and someone asks them, “Hey, what was that guy/gal like?” The answer to that question will describe your brand, whether you like it or not. Fear not though, because if you don’t like the answer you get, you can change it by investing time, money and energy.
Ok, but what’s the big deal? Why? Why should you consider building a remarkable brand for your business? What’s the return on the investment of that time, money and energy?
Here are 5 reasons you should be crafting a strong brand for your business:
1. Brand allows people to trust your business
Trust plays a critical role in the way people do business with you. It’s the reason why company’s like Symantec have helped businesses make billions simply by placing a “VeriSign trusted” badge on their sales pages. Having a solid, unified brand shows people that you have your act buttoned up. And if you do, it’s only natural for them to think their experience with you will be treated the same way. This is particularly true when we talk about repeat customers. If your company is having trouble getting repeat business there is a good chance something is wrong with how people are experiencing your brand.
2. Brand allows you to charge more
When people feel good about a product or service they will pay more. Ever heard of a little company called Apple? As of April 2013, Apple wasn’t even in the top 5 for PC sellers, but they earned 45% of the profits in the entire PC industry (source). Yep, in the grand scheme of things, Apple is selling the same product and simply charging more because they can. The reason they can is because they invested so much in the brand experience for their customers. And don’t get confused here. Features like the way windows are animated when you minimize them don’t need to be there, but Apple knows features like this make a beautiful user experience which is critical to their brand. So, Apple makes a nonrecurring investment to make sure those windows look fancy when you minimize them. This is the classic brand investment model—an investment at the beginning to ensure your customers feel a certain way when interacting with your product or services. Over time that brand investment pays for itself.
3. Brand results in word of mouth marketing
Branding allows you to take a product that is seemingly identical to your competitors and make it different and more enjoyable, thus resulting in buzz and more sales. Look at JetBlue and Virgin airlines. They sell exactly the same product as all the other airlines, yet I’m sure you’ve heard at least 10 times more positive word of mouth marketing centered on them. That’s because their brands are remarkable. The experience is something to talk about. Flying on those airlines makes people feel cool and in the know. People love to share things like that. Feeling and looking cool is a strong form of social currency in society and if you can harness that power with your brand, your business will grow like wildfire. In addition, having a clear brand identity that people can quickly understand and share with others only sets your business up for success. That’s because people tend to only share information they completely understand to avoid looking foolish in front of their peers. You want to set your customers up so they can explain what your business does in a way that’s clear, concise and echoes your brand mission.
4. Brand is the gift that keeps on giving
Unlike running a quick hitting tactical marketing program, such as sending out a direct mail piece, brand will continue to benefit your business over time. Establishing a solid brand can be a significant investment at the beginning, but don’t undervalue it’s importance over time. The longer a strong brand identity is in market the more familiar people will become with it and the faster results will roll in. Think of investing in your brand like investing in stocks or real estate; you could see fast results, but more likely you’ll get the results you’re looking for over time.
5. Brand guides the rest of your business strategy
Concisely defining your brand forces you to put structure to your decision-making process. Once you’re able to define what you business’ mission is and how people should feel when they do business with you, it becomes easier to quickly say “yes,” and sometimes more importantly “no” to certain strategic opportunities that present themselves. For instance, Southwest airlines is famous for creating an insanely successful business based on a single idea: being the low price airline. This means offering assigned seating, gourmet meals, and tons of extra leg room simply don’t fall into their brand identity and don’t get offered. Sure, they want their customers to have a good time when they fly Southwest, but only if that means they’re also getting one of the best deals out there. Because at the end of the day, Southwest wants to be seen as the low price airline since they know that’s what their customers care about the most. You can do the same with your business, but it obviously doesn’t have to be for low price. The next time you go to make any business decision, ask yourself, “How does this fit with my brand?”
I felt compelled to share this insight because I used to hate on brand. I used to be part of the team that thought brand is for the artsy fartsy—show me the ROI. Not anymore. Moral of the story? Brand is important. There’s no getting around it. Don’t invest in it and you’re undoubtedly not getting as many customers as you could with it. Ignore it and customers will ignore you.
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