If I had a nickel for every time a small business owner told me he doesn’t need brand development, I’d be swimming in nickels (although that sounds suffocating at worst and uncomfortable at best). More often than not, small businesses think they need “just a simple logo.”
Well that’s great. So for your new restaurant, we’ll just buy dixie cups, white drapes and tablecloths, and an 8.5×11 sheet of paper with your logo at the top for a menu. Done, no branding.
Sarcasm aside, every business needs a solid brand. The problem is many business owners (particularly small business owners) are intimidated with the term “branding” and have a preconceived notion that branding is reserved for Fortune 500’s, when in actuality, they don’t even know what a brand is.
The problem is not that business owners don’t think they need to be concerned with their brand, it’s that they don’t understand what their brand is. Wikipedia describes a brand as “the identity of a specific product, service, or business.” If this is true (which it must be if it’s on wikipedia) then, listen close – you have a brand whether you know it or not! For a few of you, that’s great news, but for the vast majority, the incidental brand or identity that has developed from your business is hurting your consumer’s perceptions and bottom-line. Let’s use an example:
John owns a plumbing business. He made some business cards at Kinko’s and had the local sign guy make him a magnet for his truck. You call his number that you found in the phonebook and it goes to his cell phone where he politely answers “hello?”. You tell him your sink has a leak, and he says that he’s got some other jobs going on that side of town on Wednesday and he could swing by “around 4”. When he makes the service call, he’s wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt with a hat that says “Get’r done!”, a phrase he has taken to heart and uses at every opportunity. After finishing the job, you pay him with a personal check and he leaves, saying “give me a call if you need anything else”. There’s a grease stain in your carpet and three days later your sink breaks again.
Of course this is an extreme example, but it provides an understanding of buyer psychology and the importance of a strong identity that instills the right perception from your audience. John doesn’t even have a logo, but he has an identity, a brand, associated with his business – a sloppy, fly-by-night plumber who not only doesn’t look professional, but may very well have no idea what he’s doing. Ironically, the sink problem that happened days later was unrelated to the plumbing problem he fixed (it’s in fact common for several plumbing problems to happen around the same time as they have around the same amount of usage to them). Unfortunately, John’s poor brand set him up for failure. The deck was stacked against him, and the customer’s automatic response was that he was inept, just based on their experience with his brand. Poor John.
Your business’ brand starts with your business card and visual elements, continues through the consistent visuals and feelings that your customer experiences, and culminates with the interaction and relationship between your customers and your business. The entire brand experience should convey exactly who your business is, reflect what it stands for, and explain why it exists to a customer. As they work through the brand subconsciously, their emotions tell them “Yes, I really enjoy purchasing from this reputable company who treats me right. I’m comfortable spending money with them” or “Oh no, it’s John the plumber again. I’m probably going to be severely disappointed and waste my money today.”
Do you need a brand? This is really the wrong question, because like it or not, you already have one. Instead, ask yourself “what does my brand look like to my customers and how can I improve it?”
Toss the “Get’r done!” cap for starters…