Branding is one of those big words that marketers and multinationals see as core to business. But what if you’re not a giant company with a huge budget?
In the world of small business, where every dollar counts and every mistake is felt deeply, immediately and often personally, does branding deserve a place at the strategy table…and a line item in your budget?
For answers, I turned to branding guru, founder of The NY Brand Lab, Mary Van de Wiel, aka “Van.”
Q: Everyone throws around the word "brand," but what is it really?
A: I’m going to put on my Brand Anthropologist hat to answer that question. A brand is a complex bundle of feelings. It’s how you’d like the people in your world (customers, tribe, clients) to feel about you and your business. So a brand infused with an irresistible luster is going to make your customers’ hearts beat a little faster. If they’re confused or baffled by your brand, they’re not to going to buy. Zero in on that scintillating spark in your business and bundle it up.
So your brand is what sets you and your business apart. It’s never just your logo, name or tagline. It has a real and distinct personality, an energy and attitude, character, behavior, value system, code of ethics. Your brand reflects who you are (you’re the Brand Guardian, after all), what you believe in, what you offer and why you do what you do. And, of course, why it matters.
Q: What about small business? Does it matter as much when you're a local or regional player or small online biz?
A: Absolutely. Your brand matters, you bet—no matter how big or small. No matter whether you’re wearing pinstripes in a corner office or fluffy rabbit slippers in the back bedroom. If you have a small business and an online presence, you’re on the global map (whether you like it or not!). After all, in this virtual world, everyone has total access and can come knocking on your virtual door any time, day or night. So if you’re interested in a business with customers, you’re going to want a brand because without it, you lack an identity, a pulse, a presence—and a purpose.
Q: What is the relationship between a person or company's brand and their ability to sell and charge more? Put another way, how does your brand translate to more money in the bank?
A: The money’s in the brand. The successful brands understand how to engage customers—particularly when it comes to creating deeper emotional connections with them. The successful brands stand for something irresistible, attract raving fans who adore everything about them. Take Apple, for example. Their hot tribe wait in long lines with wallets wide open. Tap into the Irresistibility Quotient in your brand. It’ll pump the pulse of your business and spike your bottom line.
Q: For a small business, budget is a HUGE issue; Can you build a serious brand without spending a boatload of money?
A: You bet. In this virtual world, there are remarkable people out there willing to lend a hand without charging a boatload. A couple of things to think about before pulling out your wallet:
- Think about what kind of voice you want people to hear across your brand materials (site, collateral, social media). Amazingly enough, the tone of your voice and language is almost more important than your content. Track down a recommendation for a mindful copywriter who can massage your message so it hits home—every time.
- Start tapping into what kind of energy or spark you want to bring to your brand. Your brand has to communicate that you are who you say you are. Find an empathetic designer who can coax out and interpret your kind of aesthetic and intention so your brand reflects what you stand for.
- We’re living in a global village. Put your periscope up and get a grip on what’s going on. Many successful small business brands are staking out their territory, talking to their tribes across social media platforms, offering valuable content and an ongoing dialogue—all within a pretty small budget. Get plugged in, start engaging people and put yourself out there so the world can get a sense of who you are, what you care about and why it matters.
Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes small businesses make when experimenting with branding on their own?
- They’re not who they say they are. The best idea is to be your own person. Speak in your own voice. Be authentic, real and congruent.
- The lights are out. People can tell when no one’s home, right? Infuse your brand with your own unique energy. If not, you’re going to fall into that trap of Dead Brand Walking.
- Not being mindful. Language is a tricky thing. Be aware of the invisible clues embedded in your brand. They can be emotional triggers telling your audience to “go away or don’t buy!” Keep a close eye on what your brand is actually communicating to your audience 24/7.
Q: What are some of the most important things to strive for when building a small business brand?
- Be madly, truly and deeply in love with your brand. If you have any ounce of resistance or doubt, your audience will sniff it a mile away. A potent dose of passion will get you through even the toughest patch along the way.
- Nothing quite like clarity. Murky thinking is not a smart business strategy. Agility and a nimble mind tends to put you ahead of the pack.
- Know what your audience is longing for. It’s all very well if you believe you have a special product/service to offer but if no one else gives a damn, you’re toast. Before you even start thinking about building a small business brand, make sure that there are real people are there who are craving what you’re really offering.