Why the hell should small businesses even care about brand?

Brand is something most people have an understanding of — Heinz, Apple, Ford, Nike, Sony. Just about everyone knows the value of a brand name and the perception of others towards you when you invest in those brands. But what about your own brand, and does it even make sense to talk about your own business brand when you’re a small business?

The rules that apply to the Ford’s and Apple’s of this world also apply to your local plumber, joiner and electrician. Recently, I wrote about the 10 personal branding habits of the professionals, which has been a very successful article, one that clearly resonates with a lot of businesses around the world. However, it’s not the rules that separate the large businesses from the smaller ones, but the words, phrases and terminology; big businesses are much more likely to have university educated marketeers who’re up on all the current business parlance. As for the small business? It’s all buzz words and jargon to them.

The cult of personality marketing

Over on Marketing Donut, a growing business services and advice web magazine, a title caught my eye — “I’m a small business – why do I need a brand?” It’s a good question. It’s also a very good article, too!

For the most part, talking about brand with small businesses is just confusing and stirs up more questions than it answers. However, the advice offered here in the above article is precisely the kind I offer to my clients, which makes the whole thing much more understandable to the plumbers, joiners and electricians of this world.

Oftentimes, the client will reply by saying: “Oh, so this is like a brand name, yeah?” So I find it’s better to let them make that connection, rather than me try and place it there. At that point, brand isn’t this big thing, but something they can not only get a fix on and pursue as a function of their own marketing, succeeding by the sheer weight of their own personality.

It’s easy to think of marketing, or any kind of promotional activity, as being external to you and your business, as if there’s no physical connection between the two. But that’s what brand is essentially all about; bridging the perception of your business with the business itself. In reality, you become the very essence of your marketing.

But even this sounds contrived and lofty, when for the most part a smile, a disarming joke, a professional approach to work and a little honesty are all hallmarks of someone who’s likely to do well from word-of-mouth marketing. And at that point, their brand begins to grow and grow.

Out there, all over the country, thousands of plumbers, car mechanics, joiners, painters, decorators and electricians have thriving local trades, all of which are directly attributable to them marketing themselves through their personalities.

The brand performance curve

I’ve found is that smaller businesses often feel a greater benefit from an improved brand image than larger more established businesses, with the plumber being a good example; you really wouldn’t expect your local plumber to have professionally designed and printed business cards, would you?

So that one thing makes a statement which implies someone who is established and professional enough to put their name to their service. Immediately, the perception of that business is lifted high above their competitors. But for the larger more established businesses, the effort required for differentiation is measurably more difficult. Why? Because it is expected that larger businesses have business cards, compliment slips, headed paper and envelopes, pretty girls answering telephone calls in plush office receptions, account handlers wearing crisp suits and wide smiles —here, differentiation demands extraordinary people making extraordinary effort because these businesses have ridden their brand performance up and over the curve and are now coasting along the plateau.

Do you still care about your brand?

You should. But I wouldn’t get too hung up about it, either. Many business people recognize their deficiencies, so if you can see where you’re going wrong, you’re already on the road to a remedy. That said, knowing that little changes can lead to better things for your small business, perhaps you ought to think big!


Why buzzwords, jargon and acronyms are business buzzkill

The web design industry is awash with buzzwords. For most businesses, buzzwords are a big turn off. Ask yourself this: why should any business care about CSS, mashups, XHTML, PHP, Ajax, flash mobbing, or the lamentable Web 2.0?

I think you know the answer to that one. For most businesses, the web and all its many attendant acronyms, jargon and buzzwords are complicated enough as it is — no business ever really wanted a website:

“No one who paid to have a website developed actually wanted a website; they want the web to help them promote their business. I’m going to help you promote your business on the web, make money over the web, and measure what you’re doing on the web.”

WYNIWYG (What You Need Is What You Get)

My job essentially involves me either fixing something someone else broke, or me making a better box of tricks. If something is broken, I’ll try and fix it the best way I can without it costing my client a small fortune. If that fails, I’ll make a better version. It’s that simple.

The only time I will mention any kind of industry jargon is when I absolutely have to and there’s no alternative. The vast majority of my clients really don’t care how I do what I do, so long as I do it cost effectively, efficiently and as quickly as possible.

All good business is about good communication; talking complex concepts through in simple analogies and terms. The moment technicalities creep into the conversation, the door is opened to fear, uncertainty and doubt.

“Is that going to be expensive?”

“That sounds really complicated!”

“But I thought you’d be handling that for me?”

These are the kind of questions and exclamations that need to be addressed head on.

Needs versus Features

If someone tries to convince you to have a really slick animation or video on the front page of your website, ask them how that benefits you and will all your visitors be able to see it, and if not, what will they see instead.

If someone tries to convince you to have your entire website redesigned, built using a load of technologies you’ve never heard of before, ask them how that benefits your visitors, yourself and your sales & marketing activities.

If someone tells you they can get you onto Google’s first search page, ask them how, when, with which web pages, for what keywords, are their methods ethical, for how much, and for how long.

Each of these scenarios have more wrong answers than right. Each scenario could easily cost you considerable sums of money with very little obvious return for your investment. Each scenario can easily involve you being sold a feature dressed up to look like a need.

Don’t get me wrong, slick animations and redesigned websites all have their place, but being blinded by buzzwords, jargon and features in needs’ clothing does not a business strategy maketh.