Some businesses have a brand worth billions of dollars, others are worth very little. What is yours worth? Regardless, a brand is invaluable asset that every organization needs to take seriously and branding is easier that you think. By applying a good image, name, and a little effort, you have just moved yourself ahead of much of your competition.
Not long ago, I was driving to work and noticed a large storefront sign promoting a small shopping center caught my attention. As I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green, I thought to myself, “the owner of this shopping center really needs to put up a revamped store front sign for the tenant businesses.” In fact the only good looking sign up there is a standard Allstate insurance sign. The rest looked like they were printed out using a computer text font found on any computer and slapped up with minimal effort. As I continued to scan the list of stores, I noticed that one of the businesses in this complex was named Signs to Succeed. I thought to myself, “surely that is not a business that creates signs as its core offering.” If so, they are either out of business or barely in business. I didn’t give it a second thought. The next day, as I was stopped at the same traffic light, I couldn’t help but notice the sign again. That same question was nagging in the back of my mind – “Surely this isn’t a business that sells and customizes signs as its core business.” I immediately pulled into the shopping center (curiosity killed the cat). I had to reassure myself that they were not really selling “signs”.
It was early in the morning when I pulled in front of the store. The blinds were pulled, the lighting was off, but sure enough they make business signs, stickers, banners on vinyl and other types of printing. As I looked at this store and its offerings, I was caught off guard. How in the world are they attracting customers? How are they in business? Who would buy a sign from this business when their own sign looks like it was printed on a clear sticker stuck to a piece of plexi-glass? As I drove away, I felt bothered that this business had absolutely no brand recognition and conveyed such a poor perception to its customers or potential customers.
So here I am, writing about strategy development for small businesses. As a business person, your strategy must include a concept of branding. It is especially important for small to medium sized businesses to ask themselves, “Does my business have a brand or is it just plain ordinary text on a sign? Does your sign or brand say “I’m ordinary, regular, and just another commodity in the market?” Branding needs to reflect a unique promise of value or a commitment to do something special that results in a positive buying experience for customers. The perception, image, or promise your brand sends to customers should set you apart and make you distinctive.
Reflect on the first thoughts that come to mind when you read the following brands:
- Wal-Mart: Great values and “always low prices.”
- Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts: Unsurpassed customer service, a home away from home, every demand gladly fulfilled.
To conclude, everything from packaging, to business cards, to advertising on the internet conveys your brand. A brand says something about who you are and what you’re about. Some small businesses may argue the point that they don’t have time to worry about branding or strategy; “we’re just trying to survive, make payroll, or cover our rent. We suggest that if you’re a leader working on strategy development for any small business to periodically have a “strategy conversation.” Try the following:
- Include your key players in every part of your business in this discussion.
- Talk to them about your brand. Discuss how it’s being portrayed, (ordinary or something special).
- Challenge them to enhance your brand.
- Help them communicate your brand in any form with potential customers.
Remember branding is more than just a fancy sign – it’s the sum total of who you are. And remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.