Identifying, refining, AND communicating your business’s brand can be the most important step you take in marketing (and selling!) your product and/or services. Whether you are picking a name or color to represent you or creating a web site, sales literature, ads, letterhead, packaging, etc. (this list goes on and on), each decision you make and action you take will help build your brand (i.e., fix an impression in people’s minds about who you are and what you do — hopefully in a memorable and desirable way).
All too often, small businesses neglect this opportunity to send a strong message to the public and view each of these communications as separate and distinct (rather than as opportunities to reinforce an overarching brand).
The first lesson that must be learned and practiced by a small business is to treat branding as a set of golden rules applied to all activities. Once you accept this basic premise (which extends to operational decisions as well as those of sales), you must decide whether to build your brand yourself . . . or buy that expertise from a professional such as an advertising agency.
Build vs. Buy
Before venturing further, you need to understand the bias of the author of this blog.
When my son was in elementary school, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ruled the day via a television show, movies, comic books, extensive lines of merchandise, etc. Consequently, turtle costumes were huge style setters for Halloween . . . and sure to create a strong impression among the child’s peers. While dozens of variations could be purchased inexpensively, I chose to personally transform my son to become the 5th turtle (aka Caravaggio) – with a shell made out of cardboard and all! Similarly, I’ve spackled walls and gotten rid of computer viruses myself rather than automatically turning to an expert practitioner. This instinct has sometimes proven cost effective and (as in the case of the turtle) sometimes not. However, I’ve always ended up acquiring a useful skill that later paid dividends and inevitably end up with a more original product, which is generally useful in branding. By building, you get to control your own fate and the timing of each activity . . . and often DO end up saving a lot of money!
10 Good Reasons to Consider Building, Not Buying
- Better control – You know your product and customers better than anyone as well as the image you want to communicate. You can spend many expensive hours trying to transfer that knowledge to a vendor . . . and never quite get to where you need to be.
- Faster response to opportunity – Sometimes, opportunities disappear quickly. You can miss the boat while waiting for a third party to be ready, to fully understand the moment, and to craft the right message tailored to the right audience.
- No language barrier – Every industry has an accompanying unique language and jargon. Teaching this language to the uninitiated can be a slow, imperfect process. If a task is executed without full command of the industry’s verbiage, your customer will immediately sense a fraud . . . and not trust the information being communicated.
- More flexible strategic planning – You control the schedule and the range of activities that seem most likely to be effective . . . rather than having someone create a campaign around THEIR areas of expertise and resources.
- Trial and error – Since you are in control, you can quickly abandon unsuccessful strategies and try new ones rather than seeing a losing campaign through to the bitter end. Very often, you can tell early whether or not an activity is resonating with your audience.
- Cost savings – Third-party expertise does not come cheaply . . . and you pay for their learning curve as well as their finished product. When you take a DIY approach, your time is your major investment.
- Better use of data – The effectiveness of every brand-based activity should be measured. You are in the best position to implement the systematic collection of data and ensure that your operations are adjusted as needed to reflect the insights you gain.
- You develop expertise – While you may not be an expert at every activity you try, you will eventually become one (much like the process of building equity in your house). Whenever you develop a new core competency, spin-off business opportunities might present themselves.
- You stay abreast of technology – Brand building always involves some degree of mastery over technology (at least as an end user). While this benefit might also seem scary to some people, we all know that we must have a reasonable grasp of current technology to survive . . . and this venue offers a fairly low-risk chance to learn more.
- You can have fun – Making that ninja turtle costume was a whole lot more enjoyable (and yielded a whole lot more laughs) than running to the local store . . . and ended up creating a more memorable experience.
5 Reasons to Consider Buying (Rem: I already disclosed my bias)
- Third Parties (ad agencies; web site developers; etc.) DO Provide Expertise – Even if you elect to become a DIY builder, you might require third-party expertise for specific tasks until you can learn how to do those tasks yourself.
- Objectivity – Sometimes, you can be too close to your product and audience to see them clearly; third parties offer a fresh point of view.
- Completeness – Vendors provide a level of assurance that you will not overlook a very basic and necessary consideration.
- Uniformity of Quality – Use of a practitioner that regularly delivers certain activities to the world assures a basic level of quality is maintained.
- You Learn – When you hire a third party, you always learn some valuable lessons from them.
While “Build” and “Buy” have been presented as mostly separate either/or options, DO know that a mix-and-match approach is possible (and sometimes even advisable) as you acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to DIY.
That said, this blog is generally devoted to practical tips addressing a wide variety of common activities that help end users who want to be hands-on in Brand Building for their Small Business.
Next up – Where to Begin?