Monday, April 14, 2014

Small Brands..Big Ideas

A brand is not a graphic, or an image, or a statement …it’s an idea …that can include all of these things and more. It creates a perception or an emotional response, about a person, product, service or company. The reason we know a brand is an idea is because we can observe and sometimes even measure the “affect” a brand has on people, in the immediate emotional response that a brand will generate.

I often use examples like “John Deere” or “MacDonald’s” to illustrate this emotional response. These two company brands are rooted in a person’s name, yet, it is not the person or some related memory of the person that is generated when we think of these names. It is the sum total of our perceptions of these brands, their history, culture and products that drive our emotional response and impose a narrative about the brand.

While a known brand produces an immediate emotional response… that response is largely the result of a brands narrative. How long has it remained in our consciousness? How has the brand evolved historically?  Has a recent event impacted our perception of the brand, negatively of positively? How has the brand been portrayed in media? What kind of social responsibility do we attribute to this brand?  What virtues or flaws do we attribute to the brand?

We express our emotional response in a heartbeat... and the sum or all our exposure to that brand is expressed in in that moment of recognition. Our perceptions can run the complete gamut of emotions, ranging from honest, cynical, trustworthy, bold, global ….to deceitful, uncaring, methodical and unsophisticated. The greater our exposure to a brand the greater the sum of our experiences upon which we respond to a brand. This emotional response is well described in “Blink”, the Malcolm Gladwell book about “The Power of Thinking without Thinking”.

The word brand, more often than not today, enters our consciousness in the context of popular culture and is also considered the domain of corporate culture. As a result the term has little currency with smaller audiences or in non-mainstream situations. This is why the term “brand” is not well understood by small businesses. Small brands tend to have small exposure and small audiences …for small business this does not appear to be a sound investment strategy, since most small businesses have limited funds and a shorter window on their Return on Investment (ROI). Let’s face it …if a preponderance of your audience does not know who you are - there will be little if any emotional response to your brand and as a result little appetite for investing in long term strategies.    

So what about  your brand if you are a small business, only a small audience know who you are and you often do not have the history or financial ability to create awareness of your brand for larger audiences. What do you do? This is where great creative and unexpected exposure of your brand (social networks or events) coupled with a long term marketing strategy can have a significant impact, in creating a brand and awareness around that brand. Brand awareness and the emotional response are different brand characteristics. Awareness speaks to audience recognition and the emotional response determines how we feel about a brand.

If you want to grow your small business you need both the short term plan - and, a long term plan that grows audience/customers and create a [positive narrative about your brand. If you don’t plan you will have no control, over what your brand represents. Remember that most large companies or organizations started as small enterprises!

The great thing about a long term brand strategy is that it does not necessarily demand significant investment initially.  A brand awareness program that invests a modest amount each year in marketing and social networks consistently over time can grow a brand and its audience.  A brand strategy can only be effective if you have a plan and you stick to it. Kind of like Morgan Freeman describing archaeology in movie, “The Shawshank Redemption”…it’s the study of time and pressure.

One of the important influencing factors in managing your brand is control over the narrative about your brand, through great creative – making your brand memorable though unusual promotions, decidedly different partnerships in the community, creative sponsorships, creative ads, character driven social media programs will help grow audiences (keep in mind the word audiences equate to customers in this equation). Each step ads to the brand and that brand must be directed by a long term plan. The plan helps describe what your brand represents to audiences. The plan will help define how your brand is perceived …ultimately transferring to your products a feeling of warmth, excitement, reliability, economy, etc. - the list is as long as the list of human emotions and often combines many different emotions to create a strong brand.  

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