CBC hosted an online Dragon’s Den event in 2011 in which thousands contributed to a poll about the state of small business in Canada. Among the surprising findings was that 29% of small businesses do no marketing at all. I’d bet dollars to donuts that no one in that demographic can articulate what their brand is either.
Unless you start from a brand foundation (which is primarily about putting your brand into words and then translating those words into visual and auditory clues) your marketing activities become one-off ventures. Ads tend to be undifferentiated from the competition, if not flat-out copies of what everyone else is doing. It can be so difficult to know where to start that it’s often easier to do no marketing at all.
Establishing a brand foundation will provide you with your meaningful differentiator, core messages, an understanding of your target audience’s needs, and the images, colours and other aesthetic elements you need for your communications. It will help focus your efforts on the current offer you're making rather than on inventing each piece from scratch. You save time and money and your brand value increases through consistent communications. Soon, your identity will become as recognizable as the face of a friend in a crowd.
That’s the theory and it’s a sound one, used successfully by organizations of all types and sizes, around the world. What we have encountered, however, is that not all organizations put it into practice — even though they’ve made a substantial investment precisely so they can develop clear, consistent communications that are on-brand.
Why is that? The reasons have been hard to tease out of clients, but over the years, these are the 3 main ones they’ve offered:
#3 We haven’t totally bought into the whole brand-based communications theory itself.
#2 We haven’t totally bought into our brand foundation as it’s been expressed.
Just about every time, reasons #2 and 3 are the result of bringing senior people into the process at the final approval stage. They may have a profoundly different view of what their corporate brand or promise consists of. Usually, however, they believe their strategic plan is actually the brand foundation. Some CEOs feel that their corporate information (capabilities, features, history) is their brand foundation. And there are still those who believe that branding is about placing a logo on the building, trucks and letterhead.
#1 We feel a little funny saying we’re all that.
And that comes down to — drumroll please — Fear of our own Differentiation. Clients have told us that they fear being seen as organizations that are Too full of Ourselves (or of something more odious) — by their competitors no less! Often, they justify their fears by saying we’re too small a community here, that this may work in bigger places, but can’t work in Yukon.
While it is common for people to fear being different, of standing out from the crowd (and especially in smaller communities), an organization that knows its place in the world, knows the people that matter to them and knows what promise of value they make to those people, wants its difference to be noticed. They are the ones who, when they get cold feet, hold them to the warm fire of their brand promise.
Build your brand foundation, be bold about using it, then see how much easier and better your marketing efforts become.
Looking for more reasons to put your brand into action? You can read my entire e-book on the ROI of branding, and how to keep yours growing.