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Building a brand for your business worth every penny

If you ask Coca-Cola, Nike and IBM what their most valuable corporate asset is, you’re likely to get the same answer — their brand.

Coke could sell off it’s real property, industrial machinery, bottling plants and layoff 99.9% of it’s workforce, and still command $1 billion for proprietary use of its name. The dream of every marketing person, small business owner and yes, even us jaded ad people, is to create a brand with that kind of power.

Brands are quite possibly the most memorable, recognized and prevalent elements created by the modern industrial world.

So why aren’t there more Cokes, IBMs and Nikes out there? If “branding” is so powerful, why don’t more companies do it?
Three reasons — money, time and lack of understanding.

What is a brand anyway?

To address the last point first — many people use their company name and/or product interchangeably with the word “brand.” This is an understandable mistake.

Your company has a name, and most likely a logo. That’s a brand, right? Wrong.

If branding was that simple, I dare say folks like me would be out of a job. Your company name and logo are mere tangible executions of corporate identify. Your brand is the intangible perception your company holds in the minds of consumers.

In fact, a company name and logo can often conflict with the desired brand the company would like to create. Take for instance a (former) company familiar to us all — WorldCom.

As many will remember, WorldCom began life as LDDS — Long Distance Discount Service. At its genesis, this name was very appropriate. However, as the company grew and acquired other Internet and technology-oriented companies, “Long Distance Discount Service” became an albatross. Hence the change to LDDS WorldCom, and eventually just WorldCom. IBM and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) have gone through similar circumstances.

Point here being, just because you have a name and logo, don’t think you have a “brand.” In its purest sense, your brand is defined as the sum total of emotions, expectations, memories and experiences a consumer associates with your company, product or name.

As often becomes evident, you are not always in control of what your brand means to people. Advertising alone cannot create a brand. Customer interaction, word of mouth, preconceived notions and a myriad of other elements form what a brand means to the public. To better control this, consider that everything your company does should support something else, ultimately supporting the overarching idea of what you want your company to be. As a business owner, you have to try and control as many internal and external elements as possible to retain a good degree of control over your brand.

Committing the resources

Which brings us to a second point — money.

Attempting to control all the possible elements that create a brand can be very expensive. Your thoughts instantly turn to television commercials, slick print ads and extensive promotions. However, it is just as important not to overlook the small stuff. You can spend $250,000 producing television commercials which portray your company as a global enterprise, but if “Earl” answers the phone and spits colloquialisms familiar only to those of us between Corinth and Gulfport, then the “global” positioning you tried to take loses credibility, and your “investment” in TV quickly turns into an “expense.”

Not to pick on Earl — the same would be true if advertising positions a company as “Southern” or “downhome,” but corporate salespeople all speak with Boston accents. In either case, it is not the advertising that failed. Rather, the company failed to make a full commitment to brand. Making this commitment to branding can mean sizable dollars allocated to the effort across multiple company facets.
Ideally, money and time should be invested in PR, staff training and positioning statements as well as print ads,

Internet and TV commercials. Most small companies simply don’t have the capital to properly “do branding” throughout all these areas.

Taking the time

The third reason most companies don’t create a proper brand is time.

Think of our three brand poster boys — Coca-Cola, Nike and IBM. These companies are decades old (in Coke’s case, over a century). They have been shaping, developing and refining their brands for a long time. Most companies have neither the patience nor longevity to establish the kind of equity in their brands that these giants have.

With all these factors working against us, do we sub-Fortune 500’s really have a branding prayer? Should we hang it up? Is trying to brand a small company useless?

The answer (again, thankfully for us ad people) is no — brand development can and should be an important part of every company. Fred’s Used Cars probably can’t brand on the level of Nike or IBM. But then again, in most cases, they don’t have to.

Sticking to the plan

If you’re a small specialty company, your customers probably don’t expect to see you on TV. In fact, they probably shouldn’t see you on TV. Your marketing dollars are better spent on local newsprint ads, direct mail or word-of-mouth campaigns.

Even if you’re a larger company, it is not wise to spread your marketing dollars too thin over too many media. Say, for instance, you produce a product that is oriented to upper-income customers. If you can’t afford to spend enough to make a very high-end television commercial, then don’t do it all. Instead, channel your money into a very sophisticated brochure, direct mail piece or series of print ads.

Most importantly, have a definite “brand plan,” and stick to it — even to the point of having a “brand checklist” for every facet of your business. Know what you want your brand to be and make sure that everything your company does supports that idea. Even if that means paying for phone etiquette classes for Earl.

Tim Mask is senior account planner at Maris, West & Baker advertising in Jackson. He can be reached at tmask@mwb.com.

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