Insights

Branding for the small company

Phil Mollenkof / June 9, 2017

The term “brand” get’s thrown around more than frisbees at an ultimate tournament, yet there’s often a lot of confusion as to what a “brand” really is, and therefore to what will help solve these sorts of “branding” problems.

The prolific marketer Seth Godin formulated this definition of a brand:

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. A brand used to be something else. It used to be a logo or a design or a wrapper. Today, that’s a shadow of the brand, something that might mark the brand’s existence. But just as it takes more than a hat to be a cowboy, it takes more than a designer prattling on about texture to make a brand.”

Notice how all-encompassing this definition is? It goes far beyond how a logo looks, how the website functions, or even the name of the company. To a lot of companies (particularly smaller ones), this definition feels very intimidating. A lot of small companies are just trying to get their employees to stop making bad powerpoints, or to use the logo in their email signatures. But if they start with a simple list of things that make up the sum total of the “set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships” of the company, it may seem more tangible. Here are a few to get started with:

Marketing (logo, colors, website experience, letterhead, business cards,etc.)
Notice that these still make the list. They aren’t the ONLY part of a brand, but they still account for a big part of it. What does the logo say about your company? Is it playful? Corporate? Does it remind your audience of something? What about when someone gets a letter in the mail from you? The difference between a badly printed letter on cheap paper versus clear printing on a higher end, tactile paper can mean a big difference to the receiver.

People/employees
This is one of the most overlooked aspect or small organizations. Who’s picking up your phone when someone calls? Have they been trained to give the best possible customer service with a cheerful tone to anyone that calls? If a customer calls and has a less than excellent experience with an employee, I don’t care how amazing your website looks, you’ve lost the brand battle with them. What about your CEO or Executive Director? How often are they in front of people saying positive things? How often are they on social media brightening people’s days? Your people are truly your ambassadors. Hire accordingly.

Your product
This may seem obvious, but the problem with small organizations like nonprofits is that they sometimes haven’t even identified what their “product” is. For many nonprofits, it’s either a service or actual people. Are you measuring/analyzing your product with the same obsessiveness that a wine company would be constantly testing it’s wine? If you’re producing a remarkable product, word will spread, and people will take notice.

Your physical space
What were your considerations when you decided on where your offices would be? Are people often coming into your office for meetings? What kind of chairs are they sitting in? How is the space lit? What does the coffee taste like?

Your story
Lastly, this is the big mamma that really should be integrated into everything you do, but it takes a while to define this. You can start with questions like “Who are we,” “What’s our core D.N.A.” or “Why did we start this company?” Ideally, the answer to these questions is the narrative that everyone should have in their mind when they interact with you. Thoughts like “wow, these people really know what they’re doing” or “when I use this product it just makes me feel better about the day” are what you’re after. Defining this story takes a lot of deliberate effort and work, but is a hugely important aspect of your brand.

For many small companies and organizations, just starting to think through these things is a victory, and will get you ahead of the majority of other similar companies who are just keeping things status quo.

Ready to start thinking more about this for your company? Drop us a line and let’s talk!