Q: How do small-business owners brand their product/service effectively and efficiently?
A: This is a complex topic. There are entire schools devoted to branding and brand management. Fortune 500 companies pay high-powered consultants millions of dollars to help them answer this question. However, in our experience, small business owners don’t need a complex brand strategy; instead they need a common sense approach to marketing their products or services. Therefore, we suggest answering two straightforward questions: (1) What message do you want to communicate? (2) What is the most cost effective way to communicate it?
What message do you want to communicate? A brand is much more than a logo or a tagline. It’s everything that someone thinks about when he or she sees or hears something that identifies you, your company or your product/service. What image do you want in the minds of prospective customers? Of course, the answer is that you want them to think about something that will cause them to buy your product or service.
This brings us back to the one question that every entrepreneur must be able to answer: “Why should a prospective customer buy my product or service rather than that of a competitor?” If, after some thought and perhaps seeking the help of expert advisors, you still can’t answer this question clearly and concisely, our advice is to cut your losses and seek alternative employment. Once you can answer this question, you know what differentiates your product or service from the competition. You have the message you want to communicate to prospective customers.
What is the most cost effective way to communicate it? Almost all businesses will want to do the basics. You’ll want to ensure that your business cards, website and letterhead are consistent with your message and with each other. Consistency is critical. We’ve seen too many companies suffer from “brand schizophrenia.” Small businesses are unlikely to be able to afford enough impressions to communicate multiple messages. Be consistent every time you present yourself, your company or your product/service. Stay on point.
Depending on your business, it may make sense to spend money on proactive marketing (e.g., print ads, direct mail, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), radio or television spots, etc.). If you decide to do this, remember that markets are not homogeneous. You will want to make sure that the segment of the market that most values the things that differentiate you from the competition hear your message. It’s useless to communicate to a group of people who prefer red, that your product is blue. In fact, it may be worse than useless. Once you have identified the segment of the market that values your message, figure out how to most cost effectively reach them.
A brand campaign can be incredibly expensive. It can be a black hole into which you throw endless resources without result. On the other hand, if you deliver a clear, well-targeted message that resonates with prospective customers through cost effective channels it can provide great value.