Over the 5 years I worked for Virgin in the U.S. development office, I met some amazing entrepreneurs and small business owners.
These folks, I’m convinced, have a different genetic code than the average business person. They have an amazing ability not just to identify gaps in the marketplace, and new ideas…but to act on them.
Being a successful entrepreneur is not easy. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And most of all it takes a kind of blind faith, to believe in yourself and your product or service and to get up every morning and keep it moving forward despite (many) obstacles and better resourced market incumbents.
But here’s one thing that I think a lot of start up ventures are missing…a smarter approach to branding.
For many new companies, “brand development” consists of thinking up a name and a logo and focusing on getting a website up and running.
While these are important elements, they miss the more fundamental role and purpose of branding: to help connect with your consumers on a deeper level, build preference and loyalty and set you apart from your competition. If done right, a well-developed brand should influence every single business decision you make.
If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur and are interested in learning more practical ways to build your brand, you should consider attending the annual NYXPO at the Jacob Javits in NYC. I have spoken there before, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to network and receive great insight. Click here to Register.
In the meantime, Here are 5 thoughts on how a strong Brand can ignite your business:.
A Strong Brand Idea can help you:
1. Attract the Right Kind of Investor
2. Make Sure You Have a Well Defined Target Audience
3. Develop Products and Services Faster and with More Discipline
4. Create Brand Expressions that Cut Through (with less spending)
5. Stay On Course as the Company Grows
1. A strong Brand can help you attract the right kind of partners and investors. “Dumb money” can be fairly easy to find. But “Smart Money” is harder. But it’s better. Because it means you’ve found backers who are on the same page and share the same philosophy. They are more likely to give you on-going advice and be supportive of your need to build a strong business and brand. A well thought out and presented Brand can help you attract the right people on the right terms. It can also help cut through the 1,000’s of pitches that VC’s and another investor see on a regular basis. It can make your venture more memorable and interesting.
2. Developing a strong Brand forces you to make some tough calls about your target audience and to really make sure there is a well-defined and substantial market for your venture. Too often we fall so in love with our own ideas that we don’t stop to question if there are other people (besides our mom and college roommate) who would also be a receptive , paying audience for our product or service. Brands don’t exist if there is no one out there willing to buy them. If they are not answering an unmet need or addressing a current need in a better way. Brand Idevelopment makes you go through the process of identifying your target audience, understanding what motivates them, and making sure your idea answers their needs in a way that is relevant and different from current options. You’d be surprised at home many people short change this step…with pretty disastrous results. “If we build it, they will come” may work for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but it can be an arrogant and costly mistake for many entrepreneurs.
3. A Strong Brand can help you develop your product and services faster and with more discipline. One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is to stay on track. It’s hard, to know which opportunities to pursue, and which ones to pass on. Particularly when you don’t have the structure and decision making processes of a large company. A well defined Brand should be used as a continual, actionable filter to review everything: products, partnerships, people for fit to your core values. If they don’t fit, even if they have merit, then pass.
4. Well defined Brand Ideas are the cornerstone of great brand expressions that cut through. So many entrepreneurs that I have met and/or worked with spend hours of wasted (precious) time going in circles about the name, logo and marketing materials of the company. But often the reason they can’t decide or seem to get what they are looking for isn’t that they are using the wrong creative resources. It’s that they haven’t defined the Idea behind the creative. They think they will know something good when they see it. But 10 years of running Naming and Consumer Branding at Interbrand has driven home how subjective the creative process can be. Having a strong Brand promise translates into tighter, better creative briefs which translates into better creative- with fewer (time, money and energy sapping) rounds of iteration and evaluation. And once you have this strong Brand expressions developed, chances are they will cut through in the marketplace and amplify the always too limited spending of entrepreneurial brands.
5. A Strong Brand will help you navigate the growing pains as your entrepreneurial venture expands from a two to twenty to two hundred employees. Having a tacit understanding of what the Brand stands for and where it should and shouldn’t go is often ok when you can fit all of your brand stakeholders around your kitchen table. But what happens as you grow? How do you efficiently and effectively on-board more people quickly and make sure that they have the same understanding as the original 5 members? How do you make sure you expanding workforce of brand ambassadors is putting out a consistent message to the marketplace? We encountered this same issue at Virgin as the brand began to grow particularly in the United States. We finally decided it was time to take some of the “gut” knowledge and put it down in writing. With an articulated Brand Idea, Brand Pillars and some training tools such as identity, tone of voice and launch documents. This didn’t mean we were turning “corporate”. It just meant we were getting smarter about sharing our Brand knowledge and DNA with new members of the family.
Fundamental Brand building, particularly paying attention to defining your target audience and your Brand Idea (not just what products you offer, but the emotional benefit of engaging with your brand) can be a powerful tool for any small business. And the difference between a Google, Starbucks, Virgin and all those other failed ventures that never quite made it.
That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
How do you see branding as a challenge or advantage for small businesses?
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“Through Julie’s feedback I learned critical information about my demographic audience, what I was trying to say with my story, and what I stood for.” – Lynn Stull, Owner Arts2Thrive
For example, companies like About.com have good SEO going for them, but not so great brand building. And by no means am I trying to throw SEO out the window, it’s just a reminder that a strong online strategy includes both strong brand building and superior SEO techniques.