It’s no secret. These are challenging times for small businesses. We’re all searching for the answer to the question: “What can we do to win our share of business and escape the struggle?”
This time around branding seems to be the latest marketing trend small businesses are looking to for relief and to help ease their pain.
For small businesses, branding can be a savvy marketing initiative, but only if several important questions are answered first.
- What is your company’s business goals or “end-game”?
- What is your point of differentiation and core message?
- Who is your Ideal Client?
- What is your current position in the marketplace?
Branding is something you do after you’ve figured out what it is you’re trying to brand and should be fourth among five linked small business marketing pillars: strategy, differentiation, positioning, branding and marketing communications.
- Strategy - This is where branding should begin. All the goals of the branding program should align as closely as possible to the overall business strategy. This is also where critical marketplace questions need to be answered. Questions like: What business are we in? What service(s) do we provide? Do we provide significant benefits to our clients? What is our end-game or strategic goals?
- Differentiation – I talk a lot about differentiation because I believe that a clear differentiation strategy is the foundation of real competitive advantage. Prior to developing a branding strategy, small businesses must understand the ways in which they are uniquely valuable to their customers.
- Positioning – Don’t confuse positioning with branding and differentiation. Positioning is a separate principle that relates to a firm’s placement on a client’s mental map. Before creating a branding program, a firm should know what “spot” it holds in the marketplace today and whether or not their strategic objectives anticipate their customer’s future perspectives.
- Branding – I’ve said it before… branding is more about fulfilling an intangible emotional promise than about a logo or color scheme. Everything a firm does and says will be conformed to build a customer’s expectation.
- Marketing Communications – Perhaps the most familiar pillar. Many small businesses haven’t fully aligned resources to effectively communicate branding promises through carefully crafted messages and images. Consider carefully the words and visuals that will most effectively communicate the strategies identified above.
Small Business Marketing Takeaway:
Branding is crucial to the success of small businesses, but be careful not to let branding initiatives drive strategy. The reason some small business branding efforts fail is because firms don’t first understand where branding fits along the continuum of other marketing initiatives. You don’t need millions of dollars to address the five marketing pillars above. Many small businesses are able to do the most relevant strategic work first and develop sophisticated branding strategies on a modest budget.