Small Business Branding With Google – Feeling Lucky?
These days whenever people find themselves facing a quandary of any sort – how to fix a leaky faucet, the best movie to stream tonight, how to rock a quinoa salad – they turn to the sagest of oracles – Google. I wondered what this fount of knowledge would have to say to those in pursuit of branding a small business.
First, I asked for a definition of small business. The top search result, which was from Wikipedia, essentially boiled down to ‘a privately owned corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship comprised of 1 to over 500 employees.’ A rather inclusive definition, wouldn’t you say?
My next search (branding a small business) yielded these top five (unpaid) results, in order:
I read each post and then thematically categorized all the tip and suggestion headers. Though most referenced other posts or additional pages, I focused solely on these to get a sense of how many small businesses taking this route would initially be introduced to the topic. What follows are the tip and suggestion headers (paraphrased), grouped by category, followed by my comments:
What is branding? How does it apply to your business?
• Understand the power of a brand.
• Understand what your brand actually is.
• Start by defining your brand.
• When building your brand, think of it as a person.
• Consider what drives your business.
• Write down the brand messaging.
• The old way of doing things was simply to stamp your logo on everything that sits still long enough.
comment: Understanding the importance and power of branding an enterprise is fundamental business knowledge. But exactly how do you do it? It’s far-fetched to assume that everything a small business needs to know can be had with a cursory Google search. Many online articles outline common branding process protocol providing a general sense of the subject. But you’d be much better served by the comprehensive explanation a book such as The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier offers. Or for a deeper dive, try Kellogg on Branding: The Marketing Faculty of the Kellogg School of Management. Still, it’s doubtful you’d be able to knock the brand ball out of the park, much less get a base hit. At least not without some experienced help.
Businesses should be experts regarding their products and services, the audiences they target, the defining characteristics of those audiences, the competitors vying for the same audiences, and how those competitors go about it. Businesses should also have clearly established goals and game plans to achieve them. Who are we? What do we do? How do we do it? Why do we do it? What makes us different? What obstacles are in our path? All this information is extremely important to the branding process.
What do you need to consider when creating a brand identity?
• Get a great logo.
• Develop a tagline.
• Get your name and logo right.
• Create a standout logo.
• Come up with a slogan.
• Create a voice that reflects the brand.
• Have a distinct voice.
• Your brand should always speak to your customers with a consistent tone.
• However, don’t be obsessed with consistency, don’t repeat the same message in the same way over and over again.
• If you are a small business, don’t try to mimic the look of chains or big brands.
comment: This is where the advice begins to get dicey. Yes, having the right brand name, visual identity, and voice is extremely important. And yes, it would be great to establish them as early in a business’s life cycle as possible. But there was a fairly big gap in my search about how to accomplish this. Creating an effective brand is a relatively challenging feat for professionals, and nearly impossible for someone who has never done it before. I’ve heard it compared to representing yourself in court, or performing your own surgery (assuming you’re neither an attorney nor a surgeon). The reality is that the brands people know and love are the result of tremendous effort, experience, and investment. So advice such as ‘Get a great logo.’, or ‘Come up with a slogan.’, isn’t what I would think of as helpful.
The good news? For small businesses, a variety of accessible professional services can help you make this happen. Often, leaders of small agencies or independent consultants have worked at larger firms on a range of accounts of different sizes and in different industries. Because their smaller size reduces overhead expenses, they are able to offer competitive rates. Review the websites of those serving your area, look at the work, read what they have to say. Perhaps some have experience with businesses related or similar to yours. Maybe you’re intuitively attracted. Either way, when you’re ready to start the process, it’s a good idea to pick two or three and make contact to learn more. If you truly understand how important branding is to a business, having an experienced advocate in your corner is a no-brainer.
Protect and standardize your brand assets.
• Establish guidelines. Avoid cheating on them.
• Police the brand’s usage.
• Be consistent.
• Design templates and create standards for marketing materials.
comment: This category is also best handled collaboratively with professionals. The consistency with which a brand is presented contributes greatly to its legal ownership. Therefore, standardizing the use of brand assets enables businesses to take advantage of this precedent, ultimately protecting their investment.
Traditionally, consistency has been regulated by brand standards manuals – typically thick, encyclopedic documents detailing the use of every brand element. More recently, simpler, readily accessible versions have become popular. What type is appropriate for your company? How extensive should it be? How should you distribute it? To whom? What about outside vendors? How will you enforce it? Who will police usage for compliance?
You need to consider all this when developing standardization protocol, which again is best addressed with the help of an experienced partner.
Looking for brand advice?
• Don’t overcomplicate the brand.
• Don’t be vague.
• Don’t change a brand unless the benefits outweigh the risk of alienating existing customers.
• Be true to your brand.
• Stand out.
• Integrate the brand.
comment: OK, so Google did serve up a few items worth being aware of, but most are boilerplate considerations for professionals. For example, mentioning to a consultant that you’d like your brand to stand out would be like asking an attorney to argue in your best interest. (Although, I will go on record here and say I’ve met many clients who just want to blend in. Perhaps they feel looking as if they belong is the perfect mix of credibility and safety. But with few exceptions, being a wallflower will seldom get you on the dance floor.) At any rate, no big revelations here.
Represent your brand.
• Offer great products and services.
• Make sure your customers know the face(s) behind the products.
• Build community around what you do.
• Be an advocate for your business – not just a sales rep.
• Be reliable.
• Create a value proposition.
• Build long-term relationships with your customers.
• Be innovative, bold and daring – stand for something you believe in.
• Always consider your branding when communicating to your customer base, especially when doing offers.
• Create an elevator pitch.
comment: Here is where all the heavy lifting is for a small business. It’s all about walking the talk and delivering on the promise. All the branding in the world won’t help a company that can’t make it happen here. This represents an appreciable amount of effort. Just the same, working with professionals to objectively build the structure and map out the plan will set you on course. The rest comes down to what you’re best at – doing business.
So, how did the quick Google search do overall? Well enough to get us into trouble but hardly enough to get us out. As with most things, it was good for a general sense, but without a solid background, how can you judge the quality of advice? The bigger point is that just because it’s a top Google result doesn’t means it’s valuable or true. That’s when it’s comforting to know someone with experience has your back. But what if you haven’t identified that entity, how can you find it? Hmm, sounds like a future blog post to me.