Bryan Haines: What is branding?
Maria Ross: Branding is the art and science of communicating your brand through everything you do and say. Your brand is your core, your essence, your promise to customers. It’s the reputation you build in the marketplace so that people can position you in the right “mental file drawer” in their brains. Are you the high-end, finely crafted, unique widget-maker, or are you the low-cost, reliable, generic widget-maker? There are markets for both types – you just need to know what brand you want to build and message you want to convey to attract the right audience at the right time.
Bryan Haines: Why should a small business / online business be concerned about branding?
Maria Ross: Anytime humans need to make a choice about something, they need information. They need to compare x over y, and sometimes that is not just about price – or luxury brands would not exist in our world today! If you care about reputation and what people associate your company with (low prices, stellar service, one-of-a-kind craftsmanship) then you need to care about brand. Customers need to understand, “Is this for me? When would I need it? What does it say about me?” A strong brand helps customers answer those questions quickly so they can choose you over heaps of competition in the market. What need do you fulfill for customers and what do you want them to be thinking of when your company pops into their minds? What’s your “hook” or lead offer going to be?
Bryan Haines: Does time/money spent on branding actually influence profits?
Maria Ross: Absolutely. Branding matters to the bottom line by impacting the Three C’s:
A well-thought out brand strategy helps give you clarity on making the right investments –and also saying no to the wrong ones. The right brand will attract the right customers because it will enable you to laser-focus on their needs and desires. And a strong brand helps you differentiate in a crowded marketplace, so that you increase profits and create a desired product or service that matters to the sweet spot of customers you’re trying to attract.
If you want to build a high-end reputation, for example, and charge a premium, you’ve got to make the investment in a good website, design, and message that appeals to those people and shows you walk your talk. If you are going after a lower-end market with something more cheap and disposable, then maybe you don’t have to spend as much but you do need to be deliberate and consistent in your communications so people don’t get confused.
Many businesses assume good branding is about spending a lot of money. This is simply not the case. You could have a horrible brand strategy and waste millions of dollars throwing the wrong marketing tactics out into the world. Effective branding is about clearly and consistently communicating to the right people with the right message across everything you do so that people remember you and understand who you serve. This can be done on any budget, through free or inexpensive ways as well as expensive ways, as long as you’re working with talented experts or getting sound advice.
Bryan Haines: In your book, you cover five branding myths that holding back small businesses. What are they? And what does a small business owners need to know about them?
Maria Ross: Here are the five branding myths the hurt many online businesses.
- Myth #1 is that branding is difficult and time-consuming. It does not have to be. It’s simply about thinking through what value you offer, to whom you offer it and how you want to convey your company’s personality and communicating that through everything that you do. In fact, if you have a clear brand strategy first, you can save lots of time and effort when it comes time to implement!
- Myth#2 is that branding is expensive. As stated before, good branding is not about how much money you spend, but on how clearly and consistently you communicate the right message to the right people at the right time. If you hire talented people to help you, you may not have to spend a lot.
- Myth #3 is that branding is all fluff. Most people think branding is just about your logo or pretty pictures. But brand is an asset that impacts the bottom line – just ask any private equity company who’s paid millions – or billions – for a brand name.
- Myth #4 is that all designers are the same. They are not. Good design is a skill and you need to invest in talented professionals so you can compel people to buy, and not leave them with the wrong impression. It’s not something your neighbor’s 16 year old daughter should do just because she knows how to use Illustrator or code HTML. If you want to lose out on future sales to save a few bucks, that is your call – but it’s a wiser investment to communicate the right brand visually and verbally that attracts your target customers!
- And finally, Myth #5 is that branding works immediately. Brand awareness is a journey, not a direct response mechanism. People need time to get to know you and trust you. You can’t just go live with a new logo, message and website and sales to pour in within a week. Over time, as long as your metrics are trending upwards, you know you are headed in the right direction.