While you might think a brand is simply a marketing gimmick the big boys use to jazz up their advertising, your small business could actually succeed or fail based almost entirely on the brand you create for it. A brand is much more than just an image and a slogan—it tells customers why they need to buy from you instead of anyone else. Understanding the concept of branding will help you position your business as the first choice with your target customer.
What is a Brand?
A brand is an image customers have of a company specifically based on the benefits of the product or service the company sells. That benefit can be a feeling, generated by what the product delivers, but your brand must be more than just an image—you should be able to justify your image.
For example, automakers don’t stress their features (fuel injection, drive train warranty, air bags) as their primary benefit. The primary benefit of most cars is an intangible one, such as status, safety, luxury, affordability or reliability. Honda, Lexus and Volvo all make quality cars with most of the same features. However, you think of luxury when you think of Lexus, reliability when you think of Honda and safety when you think of Volvo. One of those benefits was probably your starting point when you began looking for a car, and you already had an idea of what brands you were going to research.
Brands are so important that companies actually make and sell competing products sold under different names. Did you know that Procter & Gamble makes Camay, Ivory, Safeguard and Lava soaps, as well as Tide, Gain and Downy laundry detergents? They also manufacture Clairol, Herbal Essence, Prell, Head & Shoulders, Nice ‘n Easy, Pantene and Vidal Sassoon shampoos.
Why would a company sell multiple products that compete with each other? Because, by creating different brands, the company attracts buyers with different needs or wants. A woman who buys Camay probably won’t ever buy a soap like Lava, and a man who uses Safeguard will probably not be interested in Ivory.
Did you know Honda makes Acura cars? Honda does this because it knows people who want luxury aren’t going to buy a Honda, so selling Acuras won’t hurt Honda sales. Honda has created two brands that don’t compete with each other.
So how do You Create a Brand?
Step #1 – Identify Your USD
To create a brand for your business that wins customer preference for you over your competition, write down what you think your unique selling differential—or unique selling benefit—is. USDs can include:
•Convenience (location, free delivery)
•Security (warranty or guarantee)
Examples of USD Determining Brand:
•Let’s say Bob wants to open a restaurant. He decides on Italian food. You might think his brand is Italian food, but that’s not correct. His product is Italian food, but customers can buy Italian food from multiple restaurants or grocery stores. Bob can create a brand for his restaurant by opening an upscale eatery with a wine list and gourmet Tuscan dishes. His target customer would be upscale couples. He can create a completely different brand by serving his Italian food at affordable prices. His target customer would then be families, seniors or college students. His décor and dishes would need to be different to create a brand for each restaurant.
•A shoe store might sell only to women, which positions it as an expert in women’s footwear. It can further brand itself by selling either only high-end or only bargain-priced women’s shoes.
•A landscaper might create an affordable brand by offering low-cost mow-and-go service, or create a higher-end brand and charge more for year-round service that includes seeding, aerating, fertilizing, edging, leaf blowing and tree and shrub care.
•If Lisa wants to open a hair salon, she can create a value brand by offering low-cost haircuts to men, women and children. Or, she might create an upscale spa brand by offering women’s cuts, perms, coloring, facials, manicures and pedicures. The design and furniture in each salon would need to be different.
Step #2 – Create a Brand Message
The key to benefiting from a brand is correctly communicating it. This means you should come up with a short slogan you use repeatedly and exclusively.
•For decades, Nike has used, “Just Do It” to let consumers know that it sold athletic footwear and apparel for people who were serious about their fitness and sports.
•“You’re in Good Hands With Allstate” reinforces Allstate’s message that you get the best customer service (not necessarily the lowest rates) when you’re insured by Allstate.
•”Because I’m Worth It” has allowed L’Oreal to charge a higher price for its shampoo.
•“We Do Chicken Right” tells customers that, while they can get chicken at other fast-food restaurants, KFC sells only chicken, making it the best place to go when you’re in the mood for chicken.
•“I’m Lovin’ It.” Who the Hell knows how this has worked for McDonald’s? But apparently, it does. However, unless you’re a communications expert, don’t try to be cute or overly creative with your slogan—keep it informational, brief and memorable. Talk about the customer, not yourself. Communicate your benefit, not your product or service features.
Consider the benefits the following slogans:
“Have it Your Way”
“Does She or Doesn’t She?”
“It’s Everywhere You Want to Be”
Are you getting it yet?
What is Brand Management?
Brand management means making sure you communicate the correct brand message, even if it means sacrificing opportunities that can bring you more money. This requires you to look at how everything you do sends a message to the marketplace. This includes looking at:
•Where you locate your business
•Where you sell your products
•What graphics you use on your website, marketing materials and packaging
•What price you set
•Where you place ads or run promotions
•Where you decide NOT to advertise, even thought it can generate extra sales.
Can You Damage a Brand?
Many small-business owners damage their brands by acting pennywise and pound-foolish. For example, a restaurant might increase its revenues one month by offering a senior discount or a buy-one-get-one-free promotion. However, if it’s an upscale restaurant, it will send the message to its core, affluent customers that it is not really a high-end eatery. In the long-term, this promotion will damage the restaurant’s brand.
If a high-end shampoo that’s only sold in boutique salons suddenly begins appearing in Wal-Mart and Target, its core customers (who want the best hair-care products) will come to see the shampoo as a bargain brand and look for a new shampoo.
Things that can damage your brand include:
Your store location or the places you sell your product can affect how people look at you.
Lowering your prices to match your competitor’s can make you look cheap. Some consumers believe a higher price means the product is better (known as perceived value).
•Coupons and Discounts
Generally not a good idea for high-end sellers targeting upscale clients.
If you add products and services to your mix that don’t relate to your core wares, you can send the message you’re not a specialist. Consider “Anne’s Hair Salon and Tax Preparation.”
Stay consistent with your slogan. The minute you begin using more than one slogan or tag line, your customers won’t believe either one is your main identity.
Creating a brand requires defining yourself as a provider of a specific benefit that specific customers want. It requires you to consistently send that message in everything you do. It also requires you to avoid practices that can increase your revenue in the short term, but damage your profits image in the long run.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been a small-business consultant and owner for more than 25 years. He has written for a wide variety of magazines, newspapers and websites, including Entrepreneur, The Chicago Tribune, Chron Small Business, AZ Central Your Business, TheNest, Zacks, Motley Fool, Synonym Money, GlobalPost and Opposing Views.