Branding on a Budget

This post originally appeared on the OneAccord Partners blog. We’re reprinting it here with minimal revision.

What Makes a Brand?

To many of us, it takes millions of media dollars and dramatic Super Bowl commercials to create an effective brand. We think of Budweiser and Coors, or Staples and Office Depot, but seldom consider the brand message created by our experience with the corner hardware store, the local dry cleaner or our neighborhood restaurant. By definition, your company has a brand. The real question is whether you are managing it and building on it.

We can all use our brand, whether we have the media clout to reach consumers by pounding the airwaves or are a small manufacturing company dealing with business customers face to face. B2B and B2C are both based on product or service attributes and the emotional connection shared by buyer and seller, product and consumer. Jim Collins’ record-selling business book, Good to Great, recognizes the foundation of a brand as a company’s reputation and the emotional connection customers have to it.

Logic + Emotion = Brand

A true brand reaches us with its logic plus emotion. Even the most basic of business contracts requires not only an agreement on the attributes or deliverables to be offered, but also an often unspoken emotional element of confidence, credibility, trust, security, dependability, reliability, fairness or other similar non-tangibles. Even though Nordstroms, for example, has great buyers, merchandisers and real estate planners, the connection we always talk about is its level of service — the great sales people who engage us and with whom we memorably connect.

Understanding that a true brand is based on logic plus emotion is important, because it means any company, no matter how small — even an individual, can create a brand which is something they own, something which is competitive and distinctive. A properly developed and positioned brand delivers that final hook to win the sales transaction whether the product is sitting on the shelf, being delivered by a restaurant’s server or offered up by a committed sales team.

How Do I Develop My Company’s Brand?

How does a small, even a B2B company, create, live with, build and execute its brand?

To begin with, the brand is the key element which ties the consumer or customer to the purchase in a memorable way, and you probably already have the building blocks in place.

1. Understand what makes your company distinctly competitive or even superior. What aspects of this competitive edge are product-focused and which are more emotional or personality driven?

2. Work this competitive advantage into your overall strategy, or what the company expects to accomplish, by creating direct and simple vision and mission statements which all employees can understand and relate to.

3. Develop or recognize the personality of the company. Is it energetic? Thoughtful? Caring? Solid? Analytical? Engineering like? Steady? Reliable?

When these elements are combined, understood and embraced by the management team, they can be consistently communicated as the vision/mission/personality values to the company, whether it’s made up of five or 2,000 employees.

The brand values exist at this point, but decisions have to be made on what the brand’s voice will sound and look like. This voice will impact everything from the logo, font and layout chosen for the company’s business cards all the way to how we want to talk and relate to our own staff and our customers. A real brand is tightly woven into everything the management team communicates to its employees and the company communicates to its consumers or customers. It represents what a company makes, the services it provides, and its culture and values. A brand is much bigger than a short-term advertising slogan.

Do Brands Matter in Smaller Businesses?

Because we are accustomed to brands being discussed in terms of Coke and Pepsi, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, Honda and Toyota, Boeing and Airbus, we tend to presume brands are not important to our small to medium sized companies. My own experience of working with multimillion-dollar communications as well as more minimal budgets has taught me differently.

Case in Point One

One example is an experience with a medium sized restaurant chain which had been suffering through a malaise created by a lack of clear leadership and a steady 2—3 percent sales decline. Its external media budget was close to zero. However, the management team repositioned the company and brand based on three core values: sales, hospitality and nutrition. Everything from training to bonus programs to business cards to customer communications were redesigned to communicate a clear message of the company’s new value system. Every operations meeting and every CEO speech or presentation focused on the three core elements in a way which was consistent with the new personality. The result turned a negative sales trend to 50 percent growth over five years as the chain became known for its great service and tasty, nutritious food.

Case in Point Two

A $10 million B2B service company created a new division and needed to find a different voice from its parent, which had been struggling over the three previous years and had made headlines with some legal issues. To start out with its new bundle of products and name, we spent time understanding where we were (departure point) and where we wanted to get to (arrival point) a few years down the road. The only media we had at our disposal was a new website driven by some good search engine optimization and marketing work, booths with brochures distributed at association and other related conferences, email lists and our sales approach to potential clients. Although it is too early to note demonstrable results, all communications and products were developed with one clear voice, and the early returns are making the rest of the company take notice.

Your Brand, Your Culture

The foundations for a true brand, a long lasting brand, come from within the company and therefore can be expressed by any company of any size, even an individual, whether B2B or B2C . These true brand elements can then be expressed to the customers as well as the internal organization in a consistent, sustainable and business building fashion to give your company competitive leverage for the short and long term.

What has your experience been in developing your organization’s brand?

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