Rethink branding precepts for better strategic marketing

small business blogging help

In New York State, 99% of the businesses are small. That’s under 500 employees, which can seem like big business to the solopreneur or, what is being classified as micro-business (under 20 employees). Still, merely recognizing that small companies contribute to the economic landscape is a huge shift from the corporate mentality that governed decisions less than twenty years ago. Similar trends are occurring across the U.S. and around the world.

When the White House Conference on Small business convened (these events were held in 1995, 1986 and 1980), getting anyone to admit issues facing small business mattered was a significant accomplishment. Prior to that, small business owners were laughed at when they suggested policy decisions should include someone besides corporate giants at the table. Even consumers would scoff if you seemed small – forget about working from a home office.

Today, small businesses are accounting for all net new jobs year after year. Many of these statistics don’t even count one-person businesses. Who’s laughing now?

It’s no longer the behemoths driving the economy – or their strategic marketing spurring commerce. It’s us – the quick, agile, adaptive, relationship-focused and astute small business owner.

Small has a different playground

Even if you wanted to implement a mass-market, general appeal, traditional advertising strategy that sets a success target at 1% for conversions, you couldn’t. Small businesses don’t have the monstrous budgets needed to achieve reach. Why would you want to? Just ask Kodak how that’s working for them. Or General Motors. Or any other corporate giant who thought market share could protect them as they failed to bother keeping pace with consumer needs.

It doesn’t take a million dollar research budget to see consumers are looking to build better relationships with the businesses they buy from. Customer service, honesty, focusing on niche audiences, effective outreach, being real and offering a product or service that provides an answer to an unmet need is all you need to know to answer the question,’ how to sell’?

Branding is becoming more about who you are than how you present. Sure, it makes a difference if you take the time (or invest the money) to develop great materials that look good and express your message in compelling ways, but even ugly sites with horrible writing are gaining traction if the ideas are solid, the business owner is open and clients offer gripping testimonials. Consumers want to connect with people who are real.

It’s actually refreshing to see new trends in advertising where models are no longer photo-shopped gorgeous, pencil thin, and/or five-hour-a-day gym regimen buff. Personally, I still enjoy seeing those chiseled male physiques, but it doesn’t compel me to buy. Some of the giants are getting it. Most aren’t.

In branding today, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is what you stand for. Forget about market trends, SEO terms, comparable company results and acclaimed branding techniques for a moment and consider what really gives you your charge. If you’re not truly passionate about your personal selling platform, it shows. Conversely, if you believe in what you’re offering and see how what you have can help others (help first, sell later), it’s likely you’ll succeed with determination and hard work. Word-of-mouth is the selling tool today. Impress enough people with how you deliver and you’ll be amazed at how many referrals come your way.

Your brand is you

It amazes me how many small business owners fail to put their name on their website. When people go to your about page, (or the author blog bio) they want to know who’s talking to them.

Times have changed. Today, people seek out businesses offering a face and a name accountable for product or service satisfaction. Focusing on fluff, image, secondary market research (primary’s good) and the latest (usually yesterday’s) fads for quick returns rarely works. Being insightful about what’s missing in the market (don’t ask your friends for feedback – go to your prospects), real, honest, trustworthy, flexible, responsive and a visible as a force willing to step in to ensure a good experience for prospects and clients is a better approach for prosperity.

I’ve built a number of companies over the years with professionally designed logos (I still recommend this), carefully and painfully crafted brand names and positioning statements with solid media and other strategic marketing outreach plans. Frankly, it hasn’t worked very well because clients and contacts refer to me, not the company.

So, why have I started using the Fulcrum Communications logo on posts? I could say it’s because it’s a strong image that visually imparts the leveraging concept we’ve carried through the firm branding over the past 23 years. The truth is, though, logging through hundreds of imagines with the added concern of potential copyright infringement isn’t worth the time and stress. People come to this blog for the words, not the pictures.

Of course, for other businesses, pictures can replace the words. If you’re selling an interesting product or you can tell your story best visually, take the time to capture your own images that showcase your work instead of going online for someone else’s.

The old ‘show don’t tell’ mantra is more pertinent today than ever. Consumers want to buy from people and companies they like. Putting yourself in the forefront begins the connection. Delivering beyond expectations starts the buzz. Crafting a brand that’s all about excellence through actions is the clincher. It matters less what you say. Today’s consumers talk about what you do.

8 Responses to Rethink branding precepts for better strategic marketing
  1. Alan Miles
    July 18, 2012 | 9:57 pm

    I don’t think I’ll write anything today. This says it all.

    • Nanette Levin
      July 18, 2012 | 10:16 pm

      Don’t let me stop you from writing, Alan :-).

  2. Cathy Sykora
    July 18, 2012 | 10:07 pm

    “Putting yourself in the forefront begins the connection. Delivering beyond expectations starts the buzz. Crafting a brand that’s all about excellence through actions is the clincher. It matters less what you say. Today’s consumers talk about what you do.” Very good blog! I have been in a small business for 30 years…lol, I thought it was a small business, now I find out it is a micro business! Branding is important…and we are way ahead if we know that we are the brand. ~Cathy

    • Nanette Levin
      July 18, 2012 | 10:25 pm

      Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting, Cathy. Enjoyed reading about the positive ‘beauty mark’ spin on moles in your blog today. Yes – government terms aren’t very telling, are they? In our own we, we’re all big businesses – certainly to the people we serve, anyway.

  3. Julia Neiman
    July 19, 2012 | 12:42 am

    My coming to your blog to read this post today was perfect timing for me Nanette. I’ve been thinking about what to do about branding for the past two days. I’m having a logo designed for my new program which is going to be the main focus of my business for the next few years at least. I’ll integrate the logo into my site, but my name and photo will remain as well.

    Thank you for sharing your insights on this topic.

    • Nanette Levin
      July 19, 2012 | 2:30 am

      So glad to hear it was useful, Julia. On the small world front, I had a conversation with Alan today and he encouraged me to check you out. Now I have an easy link to do so :-). Wise on the logo decision. Also smart to keep your name and face in the forefront. I look forward to getting to know you.

  4. Amy Putkonen
    July 20, 2012 | 1:46 am

    I learned a lot in this post, Nanette. When I think of small business, I think of micro-businesses. This was very informative! It is kinda cool to think about the bigger picture and realize how very versatile we are as a nation because of this. I love that. I work in a very large company – in the top 20 internationally for revenue and nearly every move we make takes about five months of committees to make a decision. There is so much waste! I call it “the big elephant”. I work in technology, which changes very quickly so it is hard for the big elephant to keep up. We are still using Windows XP and most of our employees are using Office 2003! It’s kinda funny, really.

    • Nanette Levin
      July 20, 2012 | 2:53 am

      How sweet of you to say, Amy. I’ve done some work for corporate entities and hear you on the glacial speed of decision making and approval. It’s still incredible, though, to hear that Windows XP and Office 2003 is SOP at one of the top 20 companies. It is funny, in a sad way. Fortunately, we do have a wonderful entrepreneurial spirit in this country, and opportunities that weren’t available in the not too recent past for these entities to find respect and success. Personally, I see a ton of activity with Baby Boomers on this front. It’s an interesting shift and will likely result in some amazing results as these educated, savvy and former corporate managers put their wisdom to use in new ventures.

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