Create a brand for a small business that doesn't suck.
By John Welch on April 3, 2019
I come from a family of athletes.
My dad ran a 4:29 mile as a freshman in high-school. That’s pretty fast when you’re 15. That’s actually pretty fast no matter how old you are.
Just do it.
When I got into sports, my dad would tell me stories to motivate me. Sometimes those stories were about how hard he worked to become a varsity runner his first year in high-school. My dad told me about how he used to run 10 miles every morning and then 10 more miles at track practice that day. 20 miles a day. That’s a big number. The other thing he would always tell me was the fact that he was wearing his Nike running shoes. My dad wore Nike, back in the day, when no one even knew how to pronounce the name. He loved Nike running shoes.
For a while, I’ve been surprised at the major focus that has been placed on companies trying to build their “brand.” For around 5 or 6 years now, the push from marketing companies and web developers has been heavily centered around convincing companies that if they can “build” their “brand” the “right” way, then they’ll be able to massively increase their traffic, clicks, sales conversions, credibility, etc… You might have noticed that I put the words “brand,” “build,” and “right” in quotations. That’s because I would like to call into question the validity of a bill of goods that is being sold left and right to unsuspecting companies.
What makes an amazing brand?
We hear a lot about what the best brands have in common. We usually hear about it on a commercial or an ad where a company is using a well-known or established brand to tell you how important it is that you buy their product instead of their competitor’s. But what are they using as the basis for their brand? What authority are they actually appealing to? Are these brands saying, “my logo is so amazing; you should buy the shoes I sell?” Are they saying, “the typeface I use is so compelling; you should wear my clothes?”
In case it isn’t obvious, the answer to these questions is no.
What I’m seeing happen to businesses everywhere is that they are being told that in order for them to be relevant in the modern commerce climate, they need to look a certain way, talk a certain way, present a certain image and that will ensure that they remain competitive. This “branding” is focused 100% on superficial ideology that has no impact or reflection on a company’s ability to offer products or perform services in a competitive way, or their ability to follow through on their commitments to customers. The real problem is that this idea of branding is the very definition of putting the cart before the horse.
Let’s go back to the brands that have the most impact, recognition, and clout. I’ll pick two: Nike and Apple. These brands are held up constantly by marketing companies when they want to make a point about the impact that brands can make. They use companies like Apple and Nike to sell to businesses that are looking for help standing out in the marketplace and increasing their brand recognition. Marketing companies talk about how Apple and Nike drive their customers decisions: not the other way around. They talk about how customers look to brands like Nike and Apple for direction. They tell businesses that they can bring that same level of engagement from their customers: all it’s going to cost is $100,000.00.
This is the dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about: branding is not something a business does for it’s customers. Branding is something that customers do for a business.
Let me explain.
The Golden Apple
When marketing companies hold up Apple as an example, they hold up mature Apple. They hold up the version of Apple that bloomed in the mid 2000’s under Steve Jobs’s watch the second time around. What they don’t hold up as an example is early 1990’s Apple, when they were struggling to capture market share and solidify their leadership. That Apple didn’t have a brand. That Apple wasn’t a… didn’t deserve a brand. That Apple hadn’t earned their brand.
The reality is that a brand is not a logo.
A brand is not a typeface. A brand is not a slogan. It’s not a color scheme or a metaphor. A brand is an emotion: either a good or a bad one. Emotions can only be built on experiences: either a good one or a bad one. This is the cat that the marketing companies and gurus don’t want out of the bag. Before a company has a brand (and in order to have a brand), they first need to offer something that is hard to find these days: value.
My dad used to be a runner in high-school. He used to wear Nike running shoes. He remembered it so well, and he loved the shoes so much that 30 years later? He was still telling his son about it. Nike didn’t start with a slogan. It started with people who fell in love with their product. They fell so in love with it that they had to use it, and they had to tell everyone else about it. People buy Nike because of what it means: the experience that Nike offers. Nike means quality, durability, style, and prestige. Nike has spent the past 60 years earning the right to mean that. It has spent the last 60 years proving its value.
The same applies to Apple. Apple earned its brand by giving customers something no one else was offering: simplicity, high-performance, and status. It did it so well that people were willing to pay significantly more for Apple products than comparable products from other companies. It did it so well that people were willing to buy anything Apple made. As long as Apple made it, they knew it would be everything that they expected it to be. Why? Apple had earned the right to be trusted. Again, they created the value. Apple created an experience.
Stop trying to create a brand out of pixels and fonts.
I’ll wrap this up and cut right to the chase because I’m getting long winded. Start focusing on three things:
Through consistent application of these three things, the brand will take care of itself. It may be needed at some point to refresh or re-valuate a brand. It may be necessary to explore new ideas; however, the simple truth is that a brand is an experience. It always has been. That experience can exist completely removed from a logo, slogan, color-scheme, or typeface.
Someday, your company may be just like Apple or Nike. If it is, it won’t be because you hired a marketing company to help you “rebrand.” It will be because you provided value, day in and day out, until that value took the shape of your company. That is real branding.
Don’t wait to change your business.
- Are you providing a service people love? Do you have raving Google reviews?
- How does your content reflect your business?
- What is your message? If you are having trouble converting website visitors or closing a deal with your potential clients, 9 times out of 10 it’s an issue with your message.
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