Branding doesn’t need to be a complicated exercise, especially for small businesses. This isn’t P90X; it’s touching your toes, or at least reaching for them in earnest.
You don’t always need an agency retainer and a three-day retreat in wine country to start or reboot your brand. If “Mad Men” taught us anything, it’s that scotch and a smoke-filled room were just as an effective muse as a high-paid brand guru or a $30,000 focus group study. But you do need the smarts and humility to realize you can’t shoulder the load alone.
DIY branding is totally possible – with a little professional assistance. This is especially true when you’re just getting started or are hitting a new phase of growth. If you do rough it on your own, you’re liable to unwittingly stick on one of these common Brand-Aids:
1. Brands, brands and more brands
If you think that the way most small business owners fail in branding their products and services is by under-branding – no positioning, taglines or explanation of why people should care – then you’re wrong. Most entrepreneurs overcompensate for a lack of branding know-how by overdoing it. This takes many forms. Sometimes, it’s introducing a new brand just because a new product or service doesn’t fall into their core vertical, not realizing that there are creative ways to leverage the brand equity you’ve already built. Multiple brands easily confuse customers, especially when their first impression of you includes a mess of assorted logos and taglines. Creating multiple brands is akin to dropping Gremlins and a basket of fried chicken in a hot tub after midnight. More is not better.
2. Speaking clearly
Jargon and industry-speak often look like a handy flotation device when you’re wading through the waters of uncertainty. Finding the right buzzword or hackneyed phrase of the moment will convince our customers that we relate to them, right? Ughm, nope. One of the reasons people choose to work with small businesses is because they’re friendly and accessible. Don’t muck it up with a bloated business lexicon or try to fake your way with a strange parlance or persona. By developing a strong initial brand position, you'll have the guide rails for communicating effectively with your audience.
3. Getting inspired vs. straight-up stealing
How many new product launches stole a page from Apple’s brilliant, minimalistic web streams? Companies copied it down to the black mock turtle neck their CEO sweated through. It’s OK to be inspired by successful companies. But when you reload ideas verbatim, you’re the worst type of thief – an unoriginal one. And if you’re lucky enough to pull it off, it’s only a matter of time before your copycat act becomes its own meme, complete with cuddly kittens romping over toner cartridges.
Asking for branding help doesn't have to mean you're stroking large monthly retainer checks or giving up the keys to the brand (your customer hold those, anyways.) But finding a right-size branding partner to kick the tires with can mean the difference between having a brand that creates real stickiness and one that's your undoing.
Mike Ward is the Founder and Chief Brand Driver for Milepost 0 Creative. In other words, he's the only employee. Mike likes helping companies tell stories - or fables, as Aesop called them - as well as reminiscing on his days as a failed stand-up comic, semi-successful movie critic, and cheering for losing sports teams (Go Bills!).