Your Business is Probably NOT a Strong Brand – Implications for Small Business

We all know the great brands of the world: Toyota, Samsung, McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Nike and many others. What do they have in common?

  • The same products across regions. You can go into any Toyota dealership and find Camry’s and every McDonald’s will have Big Macs. This, of course, means that customers will know the products and product availability associated with those brands.
  • Uniform quality. We come to expect a Coke to taste the same anywhere in the world, and Nike has a certain level of quality associated with its apparel
  • A certain image associated with the products. Mercedes, for example, is for urban and sub-urban people who have “made it” financially. Ruth’s Chris, a steakhouse chain, is known for a fairly expensive meal with excellent quality. It’s not where you’d take your kids for an everyday meal.
  • Brands are often regional, national or international due to the costs of building the brand.
  • Strong brands are easier (and more important) to develop with B2C products.

So, in this post, I use the word “brand” for a company, service or product that takes on a unique identity, bigger than the item itself. For example, pizza is a product and Domino’s Pizza is a brand. Anywhere we go, we can expect the same pizzas, quality and delivery if we call Domino’s. If we go to Aloha Chinese Restaurant for the first time, we probably don’t know what to expect (other than Chinese food).

Several months ago, I had a small business owner insist that his service-based business was a strong brand in our community because he gets customers that he doesn’t know where they came from (i.e, what marketing channel) so they must be a strong brand.

I respectfully disagree. Few non-franchised local businesses develop any sort of brand recognition. That is, would someone driving down the road have any idea of the products/services, associated quality or what image is associated with the users of that product or service? Probably not. 

Why does this matter?

Instead of spending money trying to “build a brand” these businesses should be positioning themselves to solve problems that people have. For example, if you need a tow truck, you probably don’t care much about the tow truck company’s brand; you just need to get your vehicle moved. If you have plumbing issues, you’ll search for a plumber and probably have very little concern whether it’s “Bob’s,” “We Fix It” or “Kona Plumbing.” 

As such small and medium-sized local businesses would do better putting their products and services as the most prominent parts of their marketing efforts–ads, website, direct mail, vehicle graphics, and so on. 

For example, imagine a vehicle that says, “Plumbing–Residential and Commercial” on the side of the van. O,r those words at 20% of the side of the van and the other 80% being the logo. Or, for example, seeing a newspaper ad with the company’s logo and what the company does in much smaller print. That works for McDonald’s but certainly not for “Julia’s Design”. Would it be better to have “Interior Design” as the biggest part of the ad and “Julia’s Designs” logo for maybe 20% of the ad? 

I understand where this comes from: many business owners have a false sense of the value of their brand. This does not mean there is no value in the business; instead, it means that value resides in the customer list, the products and services, the revenue history, and the goodwill it has built in the community and online. The logo often has no meaning to those who are not familiar with the business. There is no instant recognition, and that’s ok. 

Small businesses that focus on what they do, the problems they solve, and reasons to do business with them, will, in our experience, focus their marketing efforts on these things, instead of their logo. As we like to tell businesses, put what you do front and center as those are the things that bring in customers.