A Brand with a Plan
by Scott Harris
A brand gives your company an instant identity—who you are, what you do and why people should care. As you’ve probably heard many times, branding is more than just a pretty logo (although the logo is key); it’s a complete image and look, along with a consistent customer experience. Having a logo gives your company an official, legitimate look in the eyes of your target audience. The logo is a starting place to establishing this image—a consistent look that will become recognizable.
The value of branding has only increased as the Internet has made information about any company so readily available. So, how does a small business create a successful brand identity with a small business budget?
The first step is the most important: plan. Small businesses cannot afford to make mistakes, and the best way to avoid them is through proper planning. A good branding plan includes four key parts:
- Goals: What are some of the goals a new or updated brand might help you reach? Remember, goals are measurable (by time, dollars, units, etc.) and must be reasonable. The key with not only goals but every step of your plan is to prioritize and focus—keep your goals specific.
- Audience: Determine the customers, groups, individuals and/or businesses that will interact with your brand the most. What kinds of images will be best received by these audiences?
- Message: What message would you like your brand to communicate about your company? Think about the action you want your audience to take when they encounter your brand.
- Vehicles: Brainstorm the ways your brand will reach your target audience. These vehicles include a website, letterhead, print ad, etc. Be sure to prioritize what will work for your budget.
The next step is to address and plan your budget—as a small business, your budget must be realistic (along with your expectations). You are likely not going to have the means to spend a large amount of money to create a visually staggering logo and infiltrate the top media outlets with your new brand. You are going to have to build your brand more carefully and strategically to get the maximum out of every dollar spent.
One way to do so is to take advantage of “guerilla” marketing tactics—promotion that relies on time, energy and imagination over a big marketing budget. Social marketing is one of the primary guerilla marketing tactics you’ve undoubtedly heard many times over the last year.
Public relations is another vital tool to keep your business in the media and in your customers’ minds. Several avenues of public relations are fairly inexpensive, such as press releases. These can be used for event announcements or big company news, and are especially good when they work as a community piece. Local newspapers like publishing news with a neighborhood spin, and it can give your small business some great exposure.
Finally, the last step in developing a solid brand image is to constantly evaluate it and, when necessary, make changes. Do not be afraid or hesitant to fix x something that isn’t working or is outdated. One key advantage small businesses have over large companies is the flexibility and ability to change and adapt at a much faster rate. Building a brand can seem like an overwhelming first step to establishing your small business, but it is a crucial process. Owning a small business comes with its own challenges, particularly in the budget department, but allows for more flexibility and creativity—two key ingredients for a successful brand campaign.
Scott Harris (http://www.mustangmktg.com/) is president and owner of Mustang Marketing, a full-service marketing, advertising and communications firm. Reprinted with permission from the July 2010 issue of Independent Agent magazine.