MindFire Communications, Inc.
Big brands for small businesses
August 25, 2009 | Lynn Manternach, Ph.D.

A lot of people think branding is something for big companies. Something that requires a high-priced agency and a huge budget. Not so.

Branding is not advertising. It’s not a logo. It’s strategy. And developing and implementing a strategy takes time and energy, but it doesn’t always require a big budget.

The best way to think about your brand is from the perspective of your consumers. Why do they choose your company, product or service over others? That’s really the heart of your brand. It’s differentiation.

Consumers have too many options and not enough time. You have to give consumers a clear reason to choose your company or product over your competitors. If you don’t communicate a differentiator to consumers, they are likely to think you’re just like everyone else, which leaves them no option other than to make a decision based on price.

A business can only grow if it stands out from the crowd, connects with the market and understands how to differentiate itself in a way that is authentic, unique and relevant.

So what makes your business different from your competitors? The answer to that is the core of your brand.

Determining what your brand differentiator is can be very difficult to do from inside your company. It has to be authentic. It has to be consistent with what customers have experienced. It’s important to remember that your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what consumers say it is. You have a lot of power to influence that, but you can’t totally control it.

It’s the nuances that matter, and your customers are best positioned to help you understand what those nuances are and how they make you different. Qualitative brand research – either formal or informal – is an important aspect of brand development. Listening to the voice of the consumer is critical to the overall success of brand development.

Lots of companies say their differentiator is "friendly, personal service,” but does that really differentiate you from your competitors?

In a recent brand research study I conducted, a customer said "They treat me special. Not like a customer.” That’s a powerful insight into the emotional connections that are part of "friendly, personal service.” But it’s a lot more than just friendly, personal service. It’s a differentiator.

Once you’re able to understand and articulate your primary differentiator, you’re in a position to create a clear brand that communicates that differentiator in many ways. Consistency is critical to success. If you can make sure your brand is being communicated effectively across all consumer touch points, you’ll enjoy many benefits.

Start inside your company, with your employees. Make sure they really understand what differentiates your company, and how their daily actions contribute to that brand. Take the time to make changes, big and small, to make sure your brand differentiator is at the core of your organization.

When your business's branding and marketing efforts, services, promotions, and actions are backed by your brand differentiators, your business will really shine. Your potential consumers will have a clear understanding of who you are, what you do, and what makes you different. And you’ll be positioned to have a big brand, regardless of the size of your business.

This article originally appeared in the Corridor Business Journal.

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