Most small and medium-sized businesses don’t spend a ton of time thinking about their brands. And for them, it shows.
For the time-starved, resources-stretched chief executive at a growing business—especially those in the business-to-business realm—a brand is something for the other, bigger, consumer-oriented companies to worry about. But like it or not, we all have a brand. The only question unanswered is “What are you going to do about it?”
Your brand, as difficult as it may be to define on paper, is your public persona. What do others think of you? DO others think of you? What is the user experience for a customer consuming your product or experience? What is your reputation? And what is reality?
A brand is personified in everything from the logo on your business card to the sales rep delivering your pitch to prospects. It’s the sign on the door, it’s the verbiage in your collateral. It is part reality, and part perception. It is among your most precious assets.
And it’s not just for the consumer businesses to worry about. If I told you that your company has a reputation for being time wasters and overpriced, would you care? Well, substitute “brand” for “reputation,” and you begin to see why it matters.
What’s in a brand?
The Comcast brand is largely damaged goods. Sure, it’s doing admirable business, but the company has a reputation for poor customer service, right or wrong. As competition continues to flood its market, the Comcast brand will be a liability…for lack of authenticity. You’ll see everywhere these days an ad campaign delivering the message that Comcast is 100% committed to superb customer service. Who among those who have called their customer service reps believes this to be the case? The message is inauthentic, and the brand fails to resonate.
What is it about your image that makes people want to do business with you? For McDonald’s, it’s fun and fast. For Apple, it’s nerdy-cool, category-killing gadgetry. These companies are known for something, and that something is both appealing and inviting for a subset of the overall market. Find your subset; develop a brand that will compel them to want to work with you.
You don’t have to be all things to all people—especially as a B2B firm. You only have to be the right thing to the right person. Charles Schwaab in essence has two identities. One says legacy and trust, the other says everyman relate-ability and usability. They both work, because each is targeting a specific subset of the company’s market. The two images, working in tandem, actually create one brand for the company…a trusted legacy investment bank with user-friendly products and services for the everyman to understand.
How are you different than the myriad competitors in your space? Every business owner I’ve talked to has said, “We really are different than our competitors.” It generally doesn’t take much effort or time for them to explain why, which is why it’s so confounding that too often so little of each is devoted to actually communicating that message—the company brand—to the publics who need to hear it.
Having a brand is easy—we all do. Carefully crafting and controlling that brand is a little more work. The returns on that investment, though, are invaluable (if difficult to measure).
But brands are like windshield wipers: It’s easy to tell when they’re not working, but we don’t do anything about it until it’s obvious (and too late!).