When starting a company or running a small business, founders and owners are usually as strapped for time as they are for money. That means that important work often gets tabled while the team scrambles with day-to-day tasks. And because it doesn’t usually have an immediate impact, the building of the brand often gets pushed aside. That’s a shame. While you may have to wait some time to see the dividends, brand-building is crucial if you want to grow your small business. Here’s why:
BRANDS TELL A STORY
Angel investors and venture capitalists invest their money in people and stories, not ideas. Your brand is your company’s story—it’s an opportunity to create a compelling narrative that will separate you from your competition. A brand is much more comprehensive than an individual product—it encompasses style, imagery, associations, and much more. Warby Parker took mundane, conventional glasses and made them cool again. Co-founder Neil Blumenthal reports that over 50% of sales are driven by word of mouth. That means that at least half of the company’s customers have already heard of the brand when they go to make a purchase.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review blog, Catherine Kaputa, the brand strategist behind SelfBrand, argues that “whether you’re an established or aspiring small business owner, the best apply a bold and powerful simplicity to the branding process.” Kaputa points to Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, who turned her life savings into a small, innovative hosiery company and then used smart, edgy branding to grow the company into a leader in the industry.
PRODUCTS HAVE LIFE CYCLES; BRANDS CAN BE TIMELESS
You’ve probably already forgotten about Google Wave and Google Buzz, but you definitely haven’t forgotten about Google. If you’re old enough, you probably also remember all the horror stories—and jokes—about the exploding Ford Pinto. And yet, decades later, Ford continues to thrive. In each of these cases, the brand has been able to withstand the failure of specific products. And while Google and Ford are large businesses, the same can hold true for smaller companies as well. When building a brand, the whole is much larger than the sum of its parts, and if your customers feel a connection to your company, they’ll stick with you, even when you’re working out the kinks. Maybe you’re running a restaurant and the customer has one bad meal. Maybe you’ve got a car wash that breaks down for two days. If your customers trust your brand, they’ll give you another shot.
SCIENCE REVEALS THE STRENGTH OF BRANDS
The results of the famous Pepsi Challenge suggest that many more Americans prefer the taste of Pepsi to Coke. So why does Coca-Cola perpetually outperform Pepsi in actual revenue and consumption? Marketers argue that this is largely due to the value of the Coca-Cola brand. Overt aesthetic choices like color and logo have a great effect on consumers, as do more nuanced details. Neuroscientist Read Montague of Baylor College of Medicine uses fMRI to track brain activity related to branding. Montague and other scientists study the brain’s ability to create strong associations with brands, which relates to traits such as perceived quality. When you invest time into building your brand, you are, in effect, investing time into building relationships with potential customers, using psychology and marketing strategies.
Ultimately, startups and small businesses should work to build their brand equity, that intangible quality that may well have the largest impact on their success. This begins with creating brand awareness, which leads to brand loyalty. Because creating a brand is a process, it’s essential to start as early as possible. True, it’s not easy to find extra hours when you’re running a small business, but, when it comes to branding, you’ve got to find the time. It will likely pay off sooner than you expect.
The proof is in the pudding—the power of branding is huge. Invest the time and resources your brand deserves, and you’ll see the benefits for your business.
Have a story of your business’ branding activities? Tell us in the comments below!