Role of Branding in Direct Mail/E-mail

Role of Branding in Business Plans

As a small business entrepreneur, you’ve probably had one or more of the following needs to prepare a business plan.  To:

  • Help start up a new business.
  • Get capital for an existing business to fund growth.
  • Recruit investors.
  • Obtain a grant.
  • Develop strategic alliances with potential partners.
  • Sell a company.
  • Expand into a new area of operation.
  • Attract employees.
  • Plan for the future.
  • Etc.

If so, you already know that most templates and discussions about appropriate content seem to contain similar advice. 

Being a bit different can help you stand out from the crowd.

For example, Indeed.com offers the following:

10 essential components of a business plan

Effective business plans must contain several key components that cover various aspects of a company’s goals. The most important parts of a business plan include:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Business description
  3. Market analysis and strategy
  4. Marketing and sales plan
  5. Competitive analysis
  6. Management and organization description
  7. Products and services description
  8. Operating plan
  9. Financial projection and needs
  10. Exhibits and appendices”

(See https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/parts-to-a-business-plan#  for more information.)

If you go to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_plan), you will find a very similar general outline, though with a few variations such as a separate subsection for the company Mission Statement.  However, I personally have not found that many of these discussions and templates have chosen to overtly incorporate a discussion about branding.

Frankly, mine have, and yours should!

Specifically, consider including a section labeled “Branding” that incorporates a discussion of the current status (showing any research done) as well as plans and expectations for the future.  These days, brand has a very real and monetary value.   I’m sure all of us have heard of someone buying another company “for the name” because the reputation associated with that entity has value in the marketplace.  These days, I believe you should think of brand similarly.

 Although I do believe brand can be appropriately included as a separate named section, you can also build your content into several of the sections traditionally included in most Business Plans.

For instance:

Business Description – Since your brand encompasses both your product and the services used to deliver that product, any Business Description will benefit by including a discussion of this kind.  Also, the process of defining your brand identifies your audience which, in turn, clearly suggests the needed distribution channels.

Market Analysis and Sales Plan – Your chosen niche within the marketplace is defined by the way in which you identify and communicate your brand.  By discussing your market in this way, your analysis will be more precise and your strategy will be more persuasive.

Competitive Analysis – A well-formed brand communicates the way in which you’ve chosen to differentiate yourself from others and highlight the sales advantages you’ve carved out for your operation.   If you try to write this section without incorporating your brand (i.e., who you are), a clear description of your competitors (those who share some of the same products and services) will not be possible.

Products and Services – This section generally includes additional details about the products and services provided by your company, so highlighting the qualities that distinguish them (i.e., their branding) is both appropriate and useful.  Also, a discussion of your brand can illustrate some of the “spin offs” that can evolve to take advantage of the existing audience of your brand.  Furthermore, part of the brand of your company is your underlying service philosophy and the standard of excellence you establish.  Such qualities are the ones that help create a corporate culture associated with your brand in the eyes of both your customers and your staff.

Operating Plan – In discussing the day-to-day operations of your company, including how you go about delivering your products and services to consumers (number of employees, equipment required, etc.), be sure to highlight the ways in which a strong, branded corporate culture supports those activities as well as describing any visual clues you might be using to help define yourself.  For example, will uniforms be required?  What kind of signage will support operations?  What form of communication will be put into place to set customer expectations and ensure smooth trouble-free operations?  If a separate section for Risk Factors is not included, that content might become part of this section, and the success and failures of your branding play a huge part.

Exhibits and Appendices – Among the typical exhibits you might find in the appendices are brief bios of key staff, organization charts, flow charts, etc.  Similarly, you should consider including any research done to support the success of your branding.  For example, results of a survey that suggest a high degree of name recognition within the community would be very useful as well as commentary from focus groups that suggest your brand has positive connotations.  I would also consider adding a page about your Brand Style Guide or perhaps a copy.  (See https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/09/17/brand-basics-part-3-the-role-of-a-brand-style-guide/.)  Finally, your Brand Plan should be addressed similarly.  (An upcoming article will be devoted to the creation of this separate document.)

As these examples suggest, a company’s branding can play a part in virtually every section of your business plan.  When drafting a section, you just need to continuously remind yourself to consider whether some thoughts about the role of branding should play a part.  Nine times out of ten, the answer will be “yes,” though the references can range from the incidental to the extensive.

The One that Got Away . . . !

During the course of your career, you will more than likely have a few opportunities to brand or rebrand a business from scratch.  While very exciting, recognize that such moments occur sparingly . . . so be sure to approach the task with appropriate enthusiasm and seriousness of purpose.  Also, be forewarned that – once you become personally invested in the process – some serious disappointment can follow.

Failure is just part of a normal learning curve!

Many years ago, I had one such chance very early in my career – in this case, to brand a bank.  My employer at the time had just purchased a very small, rather archaic financial institution and was planning to broaden and modernize the level of services provided under a new national charter . . . while hopefully maintaining the modest, existing customer base within the immediate community.

Clearly, this circumstance called for some advertising and publicity to let customers know about present and future plans (trying to generate some enthusiasm for the changes) while reassuring them that the key qualities they already liked would not be lost.

An interesting . . .and difficult challenge!

To get started, we looked at the bank’s name and byline.  Since we hoped to build a bridge between the past and future, we retained part of the original name . . . but with some tweaking.  We were also looking to build upon the existing community identity but signal that enhancements in size, scope, and capability were coming, so we adopted the byline “Your Neighborhood National Bank,” which seemed to capture the idea (and benefits) of big and small in few words. With those two decisions and a few more about logo, color, and font already behind us, we were off and running to the next phase of our rebranding.

Working with a graphic artist, the two of us developed a proposal for an extensive branding campaign.  Since funds were available but somewhat limited, we knew such an initiative would have to unfold over time.

Deciding to give life to our new corporate byline (“Your Neighborhood National Bank”), we created a line drawing/cartoon of a typical community, showing the various elements – both commercial and residential – that would be touched by the bank throughout the course of the year.  For each structure portrayed, we saw a story being featured.  For example, the houses would be used to tell the tale of a family’s first mortgage with another involving the tale of a home improvement loan to add a new bedroom for the addition of a child.  A contractor’s truck in front of the latter provided a vehicle for illustrating small business loans . . . while a tale of college tuition being made available could be triggered by the photo of a teenager in a cap and gown getting a family picture taken up the street.  We would even try to highlight our bank’s growth into areas like new car auto loans by showing a billboard featuring the product.  Basically, we believed this flexible theme could be used to highlight every possible product while a consistent neighborhood brand got promoted that emphasized the very real human stories that got affected every day by the actions of our community bank.

Over time, we figured the regularly reused neighborhood artwork would become very familiar and well-known . . . and people would eventually understand, identify with, and care about the stories being told. Furthermore, the slice of the community shown could be enlarged as needed to accommodate new products and services featured by the bank . . . AND the overall approach worked well across multiple media – from print ads and brochures to TV and radio spots as well as billboards and novelty items.

In other words, we had a very broad vision for developing a brand that could support years of repetition while retaining sufficient flexibility to change and grow as needed to reflect reality in a fresh way and ever-evolving goals.  In our minds, we already saw the customers of the bank getting sufficiently attached to this neighborhood to do whatever was necessary to get the latest Christmas Club toy bank giveaway item for their homes.   Obviously, we had a vision for this brand and had allowed ourselves to get very excited by the possibilities.

So, Was this Campaign and Brand Strategy Successful?

Given the buildup I’ve already presented and the clear sense of the faith we had in our plan, the logical question that comes to mind is – WAS THE CAMPAIGN SUCCESSFUL?

Unfortunately, we will never know because this proposal is the one that got away!

At that time, funds were somewhat limited because the bank had just been purchased and lots of systems modernized with newer technology – all of which represented a significant investment AND expense.  While a certain amount of money had been allocated for advertising and publicity, some of the senior sales staff was proposing the available funds be used instead for a shorter-term promotion aimed at encouraging growth of a passbook savings product (a once very popular form of saving account that had already become a bit passe).  While we pitched our use of the funds for our longer-term branding plan, the head of sales was all for publicizing a 6% return on passbook savings with the focus of all publicity being a BIG  6 – including a full-sized Formica sculpture to sit outside the bank as well as in huge ads in the local newspaper.  Convinced this approach would do some immediate, short-term good, the sales team backed this pitch with full enthusiasm and argued that a branding proposal would not address our immediate need for growth.

In the end, the “BIG 6” campaign carried the day and was launched shortly thereafter.

Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

In my mind, our extensive and elaborate branding plan woulda/shoulda/coulda worked to build a loyal and solid base of customers – a foundation for long-term growth.  Instead, the prototype artwork for the neighborhood sat in my desk for many, many years gathering dust.

Decades have now passed since this missed opportunity first occurred . . . but I still look back with disappointment and wonder whether the plan would have been successful. However, I’ll never know because this pitch is the one that got away.

On the other hand, the promotion that was implemented (with my help and participation I might add) was moderately successful and basically accomplished the more modest, very specific intended goal of savings account growth.  Furthermore, the bank increased in size and scope over time before eventually being sold to a much larger bank that was eventually swallowed up by an even larger bank.

So, was the decision to go with the Big 6 campaign the wrong one?  I’m quite certain that I’m the only one who was left with a sense of unanswered questions about this choice . . . and a few regrets.

The Moral of this Story

 I guess this particular story and experience come with several “morals”:

  • When developing a new brand, think BIG.  Come up with a plan that’s broad enough to encompass many initiatives in many different media over time . . . while still promoting the same basic, simple brand message.
  • Branding is a long-term effort that will often (if not always) end up competing with short-term needs for the use of the same funds (i.e., promotions).  Therefore, select branding that can support both long- and short-term strategies . . . if at all possible.
  • Learn to be resilient in dealing with failures – those magnificent pitches that lose out to “lesser” plans.  As an entrepreneur, you understand that loses are just part of the learning curve to success and that nine ideas out of ten will “crash and burn” . . . but you only need that one to make progress.   In other words, learn to “live to fight another day” and give yourself time and opportunity to find your one victory among the defeats. 

Overtime, the key role of branding has become more widely recognized and appreciated . . . but is still a “hard sell” very often because the benefits are not always either immediate or easy to quantify.  I kind of suspect that anyone involved in product branding long enough will have their own sad story about a plan that would woulda/shoulda/coulda transformed the company to a billion-dollar enterprise – in other words, their own versions of the one that got away.

Clever Customer Service

Customer service comes in all shapes and sizes . . . from a cashier who smiles genuinely to a service tech that goes the extra mile to make sure everything is working for you just as intended to a clever little card enclosed with your purchase.  Enter Anker, a Chinese electronics company, and my new portable charger.  While I was sufficiently pleased with the charger, I was taken with their customer service insert.  A small business card in size that was folded in half . . .

Compact, concise, thoughtful, and thorough.  I was impressed enough to snap a few pictures and jot down a few words . . . to remember my dose of inspiration and perhaps extend the feeling to others.  Establish your objective, however ordinary, and challenge your thinking to be somewhat extraordinary in your path to achieve it. 

Approaching Social Influencers: Sample Text

In a recent post on Approaching Social Influencers (read that story here), I laid out components for drafting a pitch to your influencer of choice and said that I would provide some sample text going forward.  Today, I’m making good on that promise.  Below, you’ll find a quick reminder of the recommended components side by side with the corresponding fleshed out sample pitch. . . .

If you’d like, you can view the sample text here in full without the side-by-side explanation.

Hope you’ve found this helpful!  (And in case you were wondering, the Daily Deal group admin did feature the product, so . . . SUCCESS!  I hope you find an opportunity that’s perfect for you and your product as well!) 

If this sample pitch does prove useful for you guys, one or two additional samples will follow (I’m currently working on a pitch for a couple products for Christmas time).  Let me know of any questions or comments in the “Leave a Reply” section below. 

Press Release Generator – Identifying Your Content

So . . . you’ve sat down to write your press release . . . and you’re stuck getting started.

In an earlier article, we discussed Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding.  Specifically, we addressed some of the basic criteria needed to produce a successful PR piece, including discussions about:  Topics, Voice, Audience, Outlets, Format, Quotes and Photos, and Post-Submission Follow-up.  In a second article, we wrote a Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week (in 2020).

Nevertheless, we realize that many of you may still be sitting staring at a blank page after having crumpled up a dozen failed efforts.

In this article, I’m hoping to help you get started writing by encouraging you to identify and assemble the content you need to include to attract the attention of the media and (ultimately) your audience . . . while successfully communicating your message about your brand.

First, ask yourself whether your proposed topic is of general interest to the public and not simply a self-serving grab for attention.  If you are convinced you have the right kind of subject (i.e., a message that’s unique and has a potential impact upon others), then you need to gather up the specific details to include.

The 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why . . . PLUS How)

Answer each of these questions in terms of your press release.

Who

Identify those individuals and/or organizations who are involved . . . as well as people likely to be affected by the outcome.  As you perform this step, consider possible prospects to provide you with a quote.  (In the case of a groundbreaking or Grand Opening, the “who” might be the founder of the business.   Or, perhaps the “who” is the individual behind a new product or key enhancement . . . as well as the consumers likely to benefit.  In the case of an employee being featured to acknowledge an award?, the “who” would be the recipient and maybe the judges (assuming they are well-known public figures).

What

This description should address the unique and special nature of the topic being publicized.  For an employee feature, the “what” might be the winner of an “Employee of the Month” contest and a discussion of the habits and accomplishments being recognized.  In other cases, your “what” could be the description of a new product or service, announcement of a Grand Opening or Employee Recognition Day, or perhaps the explanation of an award won by you.

When

The date and time associated with your topic should always be included.  While this piece of information is very obvious in some cases such as a Grand Opening, others might be a bit more ambiguous such as the anticipated date a new product or service will be introduced.  Occasionally, your “when” could be a timeframe such as “income tax season” or “early this summer,” etc.

Where

“Where” identifies the location in which the topic under discussion is taking place.  In a press release, inclusion of an actual address might be appropriate, but a more general reference such as “at the corporate headquarters” or “in Washington” or “at the satellite location of the store” would suffice to provide the reader with adequate context.

Why

This piece of information in very important because you are highlighting “why” the press release matters.  In some cases, the “why” gives you the opportunity to outline the criteria for an award while explaining the reason you were chosen as winner – one of the rare opportunities to be totally self-congratulatory in an acceptable objective way.  “Why” might be your opportunity to explain the reason a new product or enhancement matters to consumers.  “Why” could be the reason an “Employee of the Year” plaque is given, which offers you an opportunity to expand upon your company’s brand while highlighting the ways in which the recognized person embodies those desired characteristics . . . while also calling attention to the ways in which the consumer benefits.

How

“How” (like “why”) often gives you a bit more opportunity to expand upon the branding of your business.  This information can range from “how” the winner of an award was determined to “how” a company has elected to participate in some national holiday such as Small Business Week.  In crafting this piece of information, remain very sensitive to opportunities to highlight the company’s brand characteristics and the way those qualities made the “how” possible.

So, You Have Your 5 W’s . . .

So, you’ve dutifully filled in the blanks for each of those categories.  (Please note that we have provided a Word template with each of these components laid out to help make that process easier.)  Next, actually write down the two or three quotes you plan to use.  At least one of those sources will typically be from a high-ranking company official and the other should be a person with some recognizable expertise in the subject.  Similarly, one of the quotes should be devoted to the main theme of the press release while the other can merely mention the topic while making remarks that reinforce the general branding of the company.  If you can get a consumer to make a statement, that content can be very effective.  Government officials can also be useful, especially for items like awards and Grand Openings.

Next, locate or create any needed photographic artwork, being sure to supply an appropriate caption and perhaps citation.  If you do not have the necessary images, you can take the pictures.

The final preliminary content to highlight in this collection of information is the “branding boilerplate” language you want to include.  For instance, we chose the following message for our blog:

“Produced by two experienced communication professionals, Brand Building for Small Business is a blog that aims to provide practical, do-it-yourself advice about creating a brand identity from the bottom up.  Expect, simple, straightforward tips that can be executed by a single person or a small group on a very tight budget.”

As a result, we try to incorporate at least the substance of this message (if not the exact words) into any press release, knowing such content is the most likely to get cut by an editor.

Finding Your Lead . . . and Shuffling Content in Order of Importance

Now that you have assembled all of your content, you must begin to incorporate the elements into a cohesive story.  The first step is to identify your lead.  Specifically, read through the 5 W’s you’ve collected and decide which one is the most important.

For instance, “what” and “who” would probably be the elements you introduce first for an employee press release with “when” and “where” being secondary.  For example . . .

“The ABC company recently named Mrs. Mary Smith (your “who”) the “Employee of the month” (your “what”).  She will receive her official reward on June 14th (your “when”) at the annual company meeting at the ABC corporate headquarters (your “where”).  She is being recognized for outstanding customer service (“why”), which reflects ABC’s philosophy of putting the customer first (using this portion of the “why” to tie back very directly to the company’s branding statement).

Once this lead is in place, I’d include a paragraph of biographical detail about Mary’s background and history with ABC.  I’d add a quote from Mary about being surprised and honored as well as another from her supervisor about the reasons Mary is worthy and reflects those qualities that are part of the ABC brand.  Information about past recipients might also be included.

Finally, I’d explain the process of selecting the Employee of the Month (the “how” in this case), which could create a further branding opportunity by indicating the choice was made by fellow employees or perhaps the company’s customers.

Then, I would insert a paragraph that describes ABC and highlights some of the company’s accomplishments.  Within this section, I’d include the quote from the high-ranking company official that is pretty much exclusively about the organization.  (The inclusion of this statement will probably increase the chances of the company information surviving the final cut.)  Very often, a paragraph such as this one would reflect your company’s boilerplate.  If not, I’d incorporate that as part of my closing.

For this particular story, I’d be sure to include a photo of Mary and/or the award ceremony as well as photos of other quoted parties and perhaps an image of the ABC corporate headquarters (assuming the place is closely associated with the company and perhaps a bit iconic).

As I hope this one example above suggests, each collection of details will have an intrinsic order of importance that hopefully makes the progression of the press release both obvious and easy to write.  For instance, “what,” “when,” and “where” would probably be the lead of a “Grand Opening” with “who” being used to mention the dignitaries expected to attend. “Why” would almost certainly incorporate some statement about customer convenience that would provide a point of entry into a recap about branding.  An image of the new location would be essential.

For a press release about a new product, “what” and “when” would probably provide the essence of your lead with “who” being secondary unless a specific individual was instrumental in developing the new product.  Once again, “why” would provide an opportunity to expound upon branding and the ways in which customer needs were being better served.  The “how” in this case could talk about the process of development and perhaps incorporate some discussion about the ways in which customer feedback came into play.

As you can see, the 5 W’s are pretty much a part of any press release you’d choose to create.  By using these elements to gather and organize your content, your narrative will be half written – you’ll just need to figure out the correct order for presenting the information for maximum effect.  Generally speaking, most press releases will be less than 500 words, so taking this approach should be very useful in getting you close to a finished product.

To make sure no information is overlooked, we’ve created a template listing all the important components from this post to help you put together your content.  You will ALWAYS have some details to plug into each section.  Once gathered, the ultimate order will most often become fairly obvious.

 Note:  In a future article, we plan to create examples of simple common press releases such as the kinds mentioned in this article (i.e., Grand Opening, New Product Rollout, Employee of the Month Award, etc.).

Web Design: Everyone has to Start Somewhere

Recently, my blog partner did a post urging any small business owners holding out on creating a web site to take the plunge (read that story here).  He assured anyone feeling intimated that every “first try” typically lacks polish and suggested going to the Wayback Machine (a digital archive of the World Wide Web) if in need of evidence.  I thought that sounded like a super fun experiment.  So in the name of confidence building, let’s look at some big companies and their humble on-line beginnings. . . .

LEGO

Certainly not without charm (because who doesn’t love minifigures?!), but I’m guessing the individuals in charge of this design can’t look back now without cringing.

HOME DEPOT

I love a web site with a cartoon mascot that introduces himself before presenting the content of his page.  Homer from Home Depot.  Priceless.

MACY’S

Where pink, purple, and red and a dash of stars meet function.

GOOGLE

I rememberd Google always being just a logo and a search box, so I was amused to see this early weightier version. 

MCDONALD’S

More cartoons.  I’m lovin’ it.

PEPSI

This one may be my favorite.  And I’m not going to lie, I wish I had the Shockwave plug-in.

UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE

Look at all them clouds! 

AMAZON

Not too shabby, right?  I even kinda remember this design.  I knew I needed to keep looking. . . .

Here’s the gold!  This relic wasn’t available on the Wayback Machine.  Their earliest functional crawl of Amazon was 1999, and I had a feeling that an older, humbler version existed somewhere.  Thank you, versionmuseum.com.  (In amazon’s defense, this design was among the oldest within this collection with a July 1995 release date.)

FACEBOOK

Welcome to “the Facebook.”

In conclusion, I restate: everyone has to start somewhere. 

I hope one day your business grows so big that someone like me searches its origins to see the beginning of your journey.