You Probably Wouldn't Have Guessed It
There’s an enormous amount of confusion—especially among small businesses wanting to create marketing plans—as to what a brand is.
For me, a brand is the personality of a business. It’s the first thing you think of, or how you feel, when you see a logo or hear its name. In fact, you can use the word “personality” as a direct substitute for “brand” to instantly clarify its meaning.
A quick Google search gives the following diverse range of answers for the term brand:
- “It is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers.”
- “A type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.”
- “The name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.”
- “It is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image.”
All of these are only partial answers. As you can see, I like to eliminate fluff and keep things simple.
Everything you need to know about branding can be found below. Use the quick links to jump ahead and access the information you’re interested in.
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My Definition of a Brand
So think of your business as a person. What attributes make up its personality?
- What’s its name?
- What does it wear? (i.e., design)
- How does it communicate? (i.e., brand positioning—the benefits you want your target market to think of when they think of your brand)
- What are its core values and what does it stand for? (i.e., brand promise, value proposition)
- With whom does it associate? (i.e., target market)
- Is it well-known? (i.e., brand awareness—the extent to which consumers are familiar with the qualities or image of a particular brand of goods or services.)
This personality varies dramatically between businesses. Toyota and Rolls Royce both produce functionally the same product, but their answers to the above are very different.
To help you get started, please use our How To Build A Brand worksheet.
Which brings me to brand awareness.
Some small businesses look at the flashy advertising campaigns of well-known brands like Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike etc. and get caught up thinking that they also need to spend time, money, and effort building brand awareness. That’s putting the cart before the horse.
The Best Way to Build a Brand
Let me ask you a simple question: What came first, the sales or the brand awareness?
The sales, of course.
It’s true that as a company gets bigger, brand awareness feeds sales. However, don’t look at what they do now as big companies. Look at what these businesses did to get big in the first place.
When they were small, they certainly didn’t put huge amounts of money into their marketing with flashy ads on social media and brand-awareness campaigns. They hustled, they closed deals and they sold their products. If Apple, Coca-Cola, and Nike didn’t concentrate on sales to begin with, they wouldn’t exist today and, certainly, there would be no awareness of them.
So that’s why I tell small business owners, “The best form of brand building is selling.”
If a brand is the personality of a business, what better way is there for someone to understand that personality than by buying from you.
When all is said and done, branding is something you do after someone has bought from you rather than something you do to induce them to buy from you.
In the same way that you get a sense of someone’s personality after you’ve dealt with them, so too it is with your business and its personality.
Trying to emulate the marketing practices of large businesses is a major mistake. (And I’ll go into this more in the section, What is Brand Strategy?)
If you’re in the startup phase or a relatively unknown small business, then you’ll want to focus on direct response marketing to build sales momentum, but I digress.
Is There a Difference Between a Brand and a Brand Name?
So there’s a lot of jargon around branding and it can seem more complicated than it actually is. And, you know, it’s even trickier because the definition of “a brand” has changed over time.
So let’s take a moment to head back to the slaughterhouses in the early 1900s to trace its roots. I know. Not pleasant. I’ll be quick.
So back then, cattle ranchers in the US started “branding” their animals with hot irons so it would be easier to recognize the ranch each animal was from. And just like that, the word “brand” was born.
But over 100 years later, the meaning has changed, and now the mark burned onto the hide of a cow would fall into the “brand name” category. Why?
Because you can actually see it and identify it as a product deriving from a specific business, whether it’s on a website, packaging, information in a newsletter or blog, a cow, etc.
And now, “brand” is used to refer to the perception customers have about a product or service; it only exists in someone’s mind. So yeah, a brand’s name plays a part in this, but there’s a lot more.
Remember my definition of a brand? I see it as the personality of a business. It’s the first thing you think of, or how you feel, when you see a logo or hear its name.
- Tiffany’s packaging—the little, robin-egg blue box (romance? special moments? wealth?)
- YouTube (entertainment? entrepreneurship? stardom?)
- Nike (speed? fashion? controversy?)
- Coca-cola (nostalgia? celebration? pleasure?)
So brand and brand name are totally different in 2020. Good to know. Now let’s move on.
What is Brand Equity?
I once heard it described as customers crossing the road to buy from you even though there’s a supplier of an equivalent product on their side of the road.
The things in your business that cause customers to figuratively “cross the road” and buy from you is your brand equity. This can manifest itself in the form of customer loyalty, repeat business, or even a price premium you can charge for your product or service.
For me, nothing illustrates this better than seeing droves of people lining up for the latest Apple gadget or limited edition Nike shoes while their competitors with plentiful stock and no lines get much lower demand.
This kind of equity is born out of amazing previous customer experiences, which turn customers into raving fans. This is something that simply can’t be bought with hype-filled “brand awareness” campaigns.
The advice I’d give to any small-to-medium business wanting to work on branding is, focus on sales and create raving-fan customers after the sale.
And bonus, the long-term result of creating raving-fan customers is the possibility of creating raving-fan investors too. So win-win.
Brand Identity vs. Brand Image
So in a nutshell:
- Brand identity (you can control this): It’s the voice you give your product or service.
- Brand image (you can’t control this): It’s what your customers hear.
But, as you know, I like to simplify things (ex: The 1-Page Marketing Plan), so I like to explain it this way:
- After you identify the attributes of your business (see list from the section “My Definition of a Brand”) you’ll have established the personality of it, which is your brand.
- This list will be focused/detailed enough to also serve as your business’s brand identity—killing two birds with one stone.
- And over time, you will build your brand image by selling and creating raving-fan customers (and possibly investors).
Simple, right? But just concentrate on selling and creating raving-fan customers and they will all nicely blend into one concept.
What is Brand Strategy?
And you know what I’m going to say in the end. It all boils down to making sales and creating raving-fan customers for small- to medium-sized businesses, so you don’t have to sweat it.
But it’s always good to be able to identify what not to sweat. Let’s start with brand strategy.
Ok, so large-company marketing is also sometimes known as mass marketing and usually comes with a massive advertising budget and a strategy about how to use that money—”brand strategy.”
The goal of this type of advertising is to remind customers and prospects about your brand as well as the products and services you offer.
The idea is that the more times you run ads from your brand, the more likely people are to have it at the top of their consciousness when they go to make a purchasing decision.
The vast majority of large company marketing falls into this category. If you’ve seen the ads from major brands such as Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple you’ll have experienced mass marketing.
This type of marketing is effective; however, it’s very expensive to successfully pull off and takes a lot of time. It requires extensive market research and for you to saturate various types of advertising media—TV, print, radio, and internet—on a very regular basis and over an extended period of time.
The expense and time involved are not a problem for the major brands as they have huge advertising budgets, teams of marketing people, and product lines are planned years in advance.
However, a major problem arises when small businesses try to imitate the big brands with this type of marketing. The few times they run their ads is like a drop in the ocean.
It’s nowhere near enough to reach the consciousness of their target market, which is bombarded with thousands of marketing messages each day.
So they get drowned out and see little or no return for their investment. Another advertising victim bites the dust.
It’s not that the small businesses aren’t good at “branding” ads. It’s that they simply don’t have the budget to run their ads in sufficient volume to make them effective.
Unless you have millions of dollars in your marketing budget, you have a very high probability of failure with this type of marketing.
It’s the domain of large companies. To achieve any kind of cut through requires an enormous budget and the use of expensive mass media.
Following the path of other successful businesses is smart, but it’s vital that you understand the full brand strategy you’re following and that you’re able to execute it.
Brand strategy from an outside observer’s perspective can be very different from the reality. If you’re following a strategy that has different priorities than yours, or has a vastly different budget, then it’s highly unlikely it’ll generate the results you need.
What is the Importance of Branding?
Now, diving in a bit deeper, I want to address a couple other topics—assets and value propositions—and how they relate to building your brand:
1. How do tangible and intangible assets differ? What kind of asset is a company’s brand?
So assets are basically everything a company owns, and they fall into two categories:
- Tangible assets: are physical and include cash, inventory, purchased items like equipment, buildings, and investments.
- Intangible assets: non-physical including accounts receivable, patents, intellectual property, copyrights, trademarks, your company’s name.
To break it down, intangible assets are seen as having more long-term value than tangible assets because tangible assets are expendable. For example, the brand name Apple Inc. is of greater long-term value than thousands of warehouses full of the latest iPhone.
So yes, building your brand name will be a valuable intangible asset to your company. And how do you build it as a small- to medium-sized business? That’s right: through selling and creating raving-fan customers.
2. What are the elements of an effective value proposition? Will it help build brand loyalty?
So simply put, a value proposition is a statement about the value a business offers its customers through its products or services. You can usually find this in the “About Us” page or a mission statement.
You create a value proposition when you answer the following:
- What are your business’s core values and what does it stand for? (i.e., brand promise, value proposition)
And to flesh it out more, you could read for hours about creating an effective value proposition for your business, but I’ll sum up the key elements:
- understand your target market (what brings them both joy and pain)
- connect with them (by being real)
- add massive value to their lives (this will create raving-fan customers and brand loyalty)
Why Invest in Branding?
Unless you’re Nike, Google, Microsoft or another big-name company with a massive advertising budget, I’d say don’t invest in branding (in the traditional, mass-marketing sense—like hiring a brand manager, dumping tons of money into brand strategy, market research, etc.).
For small- to medium-sized businesses, my advice is:
THE BEST BRAND BUILDING IS SELLING.
Because like I mentioned earlier, it’s something you do after someone has bought from you. Rather than something you do to persuade them to buy from you.
In the same way you can get a sense of someone’s personality after you’ve dealt with them, the same thing goes for your business and it’s brand.
Focus On Creating Raving Fans
As a small business owner your focus should be around creating raving-fan customers. If you do this correctly, your brand will build itself.
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