One of the biggest issues we deal with when it comes to small businesses is the concept of brand continuity. For most small companies, there is a real confusion about what this is, why it matters and how to accomplish it. We will, hopefully, shed some light on those questions here.
What it is.
Brand continuity is the idea that everything that you do looks and feel fundamentally the same. When I teach classes about this, at this point the entire room seems to have a look of knowing satisfaction on their faces saying with a smirk, “oh ay baby, I got that handled” as they nod their heads in the same up and down direction. The next statement however seems to stop everyone in their tracks. Putting your logo on something does not brand continuity make. Oh… But… Wait… I thought…. Is usually what follows.
This goes back to another, and equally important, conversation about the difference between a brand and a logo. The brief example is that a brand is the emotion that is associated with your company, a logo is a graphic.
I often go back to cars to try to illustrate this point. For anyone who has ever had the pleasure of sitting in a luxury vehicle like an Aston Martin, this is a brand. It makes you feel special, it wraps you in opulence and luxury, and when you are there you are transported to a place that no Toyota corolla can ever take you. Their logo, tries to capture that brand as best it can, but a brand it is not. You see, everything they do represents their brand and one stop by a dealership will show you what I mean. Look at the building, look at the way that the sales people are dressed, then, I dare you, look at the swag case (where they sell all the Aston Martin hats, key fobs, glasses even bikes). You will immediately see what we are talking about. Ask about the bike and you will find that it is nearly $30,000 and that you can only get it with about 4 months of lead time.
From their website, to their brochures, their cars to their swag, everything exudes what it is that they are trying to do. So how does this translate to a small business devoid of the massive advertising budget, huge firm of creatives and little more than a logo to show for their current brand?
Simple. First, start with identifying your brand. What you are to your buying public now and what do you want to be. You see a brand is an opportunity to shape what people think about you, how they see your products and services, and without it you do not preclude this from happening, you just allow the market to do it for you.
Next, once you have established what you really want to be when you grow up, you use that as the lens to view your entire world through. Lets say that you want to be fun and exciting, youthful and hip. Ok, so now you put those glasses on and start to look at everything that you do, your website, your employees, your office, your clothes, your answering machine message, your marketing materials…. Everything. And, with each glance you have a yes or a no. Yes, means that things are on the right track, no means it is on a list and worked on when it can be.
In a small business don’t worry that your “to get to” list is long. It always is. But don’t let the list building process stop you from making the list in the first place. Doing this allows you to start to see the world this way and start to make a culture around what it is we are talking about. Although I have never sold (or purchased for that matter) an Aston Martin, I can imagine that the culture there reflects very closely the brand. I cant see them having video game centers and all you can eat captain crunch at their holiday parties. But if you are trying be hip and cool, maybe you should.
Why Should You Care
First, like I said above, this is your opportunity to define your company. If you don’t the market will eventually do it for you and far more often than not, you won’t like the outcome. I cant even tell you how many times we have companies come to us and say that “we have this great product or service and if only we could sell it to this specific demographic they would love it, but all of our customers are these kinds of people and we don’t know why?” Well, it is because you build a brand on accident… Oops.
I had a client in the real estate business once who had accidentally become the “super cheap condo guy”. All the calls he got all the referrals he got, all his business was helping people buy and sell super cheap condos. The problem was that he hated doing it, he wanted to be the big house on the hill guy and couldn’t figure out what had happened or more importantly what do to do get out of it. The market had defined him, and he was there stuck in the middle of a “I should have branded myself” moment.
Besides the fact that you get to decide, the more important fact is that it is cheaper. Yeah, I know, I have to explain… Well it is true. You see when you understand how branding works you understand that every dollar that you spend builds on the dollars that were spent before them and lays the foundation for every dollar that will be spent in the future. The problem with most small businesses is that their branding is well… neurotic, at best. A website looks like this, a brochure looks like that, the office looks like another and on and on it goes. Most people do it in the name of cheaper, I get that. But like anyone who has ever lived with a bank balance hovering on the brink of 0 there are costs to those bank fees and bounced checks that didn’t make it in the budget.
Having your sister-in-law do the website, the phone book company do the ad for their stuff, you used that stock template from the email company, and that guy down the street did some work on your last mailer may have saved a few bucks (but I doubt it) however, it really is costing you way more in lost brand continuity.
You see to understand the importance of this you need to understand how we as humans buy. Studies show that we make purchasing decisions once we have heard about something a minimum of 3 times for something as simple as a cheeseburger and that it can take many more times for more major purchases.
So, how does this translate to your business? Easy, your marketing dollars are for one purpose only, to have someone see you enough times to make a purchasing decision about your product. If you have done a good job of creating a brand that is easily recognizable and each time they see something that your company has done they register is as another touchpoint then you are doing good. IF everything looks so uniquely different that consumers don’t draw the lines between each of them then they do not register it as another touch from your company, and you have effectively lost the effective use of those dollars.
The biggest rebuttal to this line of thought is people will say “well you can’t say that, it works, people call me, and I get new business”… Well, yes, that is true. If I need a plumber in the middle of the night, and I find you online and your message says open 24/7 and you can stop the water pouring into my house, I don’t need 3 touch points, I need you to stop the water. It is like a mailer, you send it out, and inevitably you will get a few people who will call and say, I was just thinking that I needed my carpets cleaned, can you come tomorrow? This is the low hanging fruit, the stuff that was going to fall anyway, and you happened to have your basket under it when it did. Branding is about positioning your products, services or company in a place where when they think about what you sell they think about you, be it tomorrow or next month.
HOW TO ACCOMPLISH IT
First, second and third, be consistent. I cant tell people this enough. BE CONSISTENT. Don’t suffer from start/stop syndrome like so many companies do. Create a brand vision for your company and make sure that everyone knows that is what you want to create. You will be shocked how much progress this will have for your company. Next, make sure that everything goes through that filter. Do not buy another thing, another staple, another company lunch, until it has been run by that vision. If it is inline then good, proceed. If not, retool it to be. It does not have to be big, back to the example of a company that wanted to be hip and fun, get lime green staples and staplers that make funny noises when you push them. Those little additions to the brand will over time reshape the culture which will be reflected in everything that is done.
Now, look at every touch point and see if that fits if yes, good. If No, start to make changes. Some ads have a long shelf life like directories, phone books, and others, but some have the ability to change right now. Change what you can to be more inline.
Make sure that people can tell that it is your company easily. This is done with more then a logo, it is about feel. Think about colors, images, layout and other top level things that can make it recognizable from across a room with only a glance. Don’t expect your customers, or potential customers, to have to work to get it. Make it simple. Brands like apple have done an amazing job of capturing a feel. Try to do that same on the level you can.
Finally, bring in an expert to help you glue it all together. It is not as expensive as you think it is, and with a professional, you can make major changes across the board easily and quickly.
A brand is a very powerful thing. It can drive sales, or drive sales away. Your brand will define your company, for good or for bad. Taking the time to use it for your benefit will deliver long term results that cant be found any other way.
By, Christian Riddell