Brian Sullivan is principal and CEO of Sullivan Branding, a brand development agency in Memphis, TN.
Most small businesses are focused on ways to sell more products or services. Sales and marketing are often synonymous in their world, driven by the constant question of: How can we get more people through the door, to our website and on the phone? Intuitively, most small businesses understand the value of having a brand, but we have found that most have a harder time understanding the value of actually taking steps toward branding.
So, does brand really matter to a small business? The short answer is yes. Your brand matters regardless of the size of your business, and arguably it matters more for small businesses where customers likely have more convenient options. If brand matters, then branding matters. In this article, we will explore the meaning of brand and branding and suggest ways small businesses can affect their brands.
In order to explore the concepts of brand and branding, let’s start by looking at definitions of each. There are many ways people define a brand and most tend to focus on the visual identity. One definition put forward by advertising legend David Ogilvy, author of On Advertising, is: “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” Few could argue with the elements included in this classic definition.
Branding can be a somewhat vaguer concept because it touches almost every aspect of a business — small or large. It is a lofty term that is hard to concisely define. So, for the sake of this discussion, we are going to define branding in the context of Ogilvy’s definition of brand. At its core, branding is the management of all the brand attributes and the related activities that shape the overall perception of a brand in the minds of its key audiences.
When I think about these definitions in the context of my practical experience, both as a marketing professional as well as a consumer, I tend to place more weight on the reputation/perception element. Therefore, my translation of Ogilvy’s definition is that the intangible sum of all touchpoints with customers, prospects and employees is what truly defines your brand. Therefore, branding is the active management of these touchpoints, including the visual and emotional elements of the experience.
Branding is something that most people associate with large companies that have a marketing department with a significant budget whose sole purpose is to mold and shape brand perception. While it is true that the bigger the business, the more resources (i.e., people and dollars) they likely have to invest in their brand, branding does not require a lot of time and resources, but rather intention and authenticity.
So, how does intention and authenticity translate to branding? Well, every business — large or small — has opportunities to interact with customers, prospects and employees. Whether these are in person, online or on the phone, the tone and manner of these interactions matter and represent an opportunity to reinforce elements of your brand DNA.
People will form an opinion of your brand based on these interactions, or based on someone else’s interaction recalled in a story or memorialized in a review. Think about the effect that a few online reviews can have on the market’s perception of your business — good or bad. We are all hoping to get good reviews, but the truth is more people are moved to action by bad experiences than good. Each represents an opportunity. In the case of a good review, a simple acknowledgment shows you care. In the case of a bad review, your response can turn a bad situation into a truly positive one. Your response to those comments can change people’s perception of your brand. I submit that this falls into the category of branding, as you are actively helping to shape the perception of what it is like to do business with your brand.
Considering this, there are implications for hiring, onboarding, and ongoing training and cultivation of a company culture that is representative of the brand personality.
It is time to begin looking at your customer, prospect and staff touchpoints through a branding lens. Each and every one of them is an opportunity to shape perception or reinforce elements of your brand DNA. Avoid falling into a routine or discounting any of them as unimportant, as the cumulative effect of each touchpoint is ultimately the definition of a brand.