Branding and marketing used to be subjects that were only really talked about by big businesses or branding and marketing professionals. It didn’t concern the average guy in the street and sole traders or even small business owners didn’t really care for it too much. Lots of sole traders and small businesses owners and more than happy making a monthly salary and don’t particularly want to concern themselves with becoming the next McDonalds or Apple. This was fine in the past, you could no doubt make a huge success of yourself, relatively speaking. But things seem to have changed, both online and offline which makes me question, should all of us business owners focus more on becoming a brand in the sectors we operate in or should be just continue to focus on the key products and services we provided?
Offline Brand Dominance
It is no secret that the traditional UK high street is in decline. Walk down any high street in any small town across the UK and you’ll see shops boarded up where small businesses just can’t compete anymore. If there are any independent businesses remaining you can virtually guarantee that they’ve been there for a long time and have an established enough customer base to keep them going. Whilst you will see a lot of people out of business you’ll also notice that the shops which do remain seem to have one thing in common, they’re large stores and ultimately BRANDS. But why is this? Is it because they have bigger budgets so can stay in business? Perhaps they’re product is significantly better than the average trader? Or is it just because they’ve built their businesses and their brand that they can trade on based on their reputation alone? One thing is for sure, the UK’s shopping centers, market high streets and retail parks are dominated by the major players and recently, we’re starting to see this same pattern appear online too.
Brands Dominating Online
For the past 15 years, the web has been a level playing field in terms of business. A big, multinational company would have the same opportunities as reach to a guy just starting out from his garage. It was completely fair, unbiased and you really could achieve overnight success. Quite literally, you could build your website, do a bit of promotion and the next day you could be raking in thousands of pounds worth of revenue providing you knew the right promotional methodology to adapt of course. Whether your promotional budget was £50 or £50,000 you could compete and it was skill, talent and ultimately your product/service that would win out, not how well known you were or how big your brand was. Unfortunately for us small business owners, that has now changed and changed dramatically.
Search for any common/well know product or service on Google and you’ll see the top 10 results as you always have. But, these days, they’re dramatically different. Gone are the independent traders, gone are the garage/bedroom start ups and gone are the thin affiliate sites (thankfully). What has replaced them is exactly what’s replaced our offline shopping world, big companies, big brands and big budgets. You could argue that this is a good thing as you’re more than likely able to find what you’re looking for as a consumer, but from a business stand point it’s made it notoriously difficult to compete. So what is left for us? Our high street is no longer visited. We have no budgets to move to the shopping centers. The retail parks are reserved for the major players and now even the Internet leads towards brand dominance. So what do we do? I guess the only answer is to become a brand ourselves.
Becoming A Brand
Becoming a brand is actually easier than you think. I’m not talking about turning a local chip shop into McDonalds overnight but as far as establishing a clear identity goes, it’s relatively straightforward. I recently saw a post from a web hosting company who had consolidated several of their independent brands into one holding company/website which given the space they’re in and the level of competition, I guess it made sense. Lots of people are following suit also it seems. You’ll often find that people are now adopting new strategies and placing the importance of growing their brand recognition at the top of the tree rather than worrying about other traditional marketing techniques. I guess if you want to compete online than this is something you’re going to have to consider.
To become a brand today, online you need to make sure your presence matches across all of your outlets (the places where customers find you) and that your brand is distinguishable between you and your competitors. It also helps if you have a good product or service too! Think about your domain/company name. Can you get the matching @company twitter handle? Can you get fb.com/company/ – these are common outlets and your brand should carry across all of them with no dilution of leakage. The next comes your name. Is it a name which is going to get mixed up with someone else or is it so common that people talking about it or searching for it won’t get you any credit? You need to have something unique to you that can’t be confused with anything else but easy enough for people to remember and recall it on demand. Quite the challenge I realise. If you address all of these factors you’ll be well on your way to defining your brand. Couple the uniform naming conventions with a good corporate identity (logo/branding) and a website design that is both professional, says what you do and looks stronger than your competitors and you’ll be all set. Of course you then need to get your customers to see your product or service but I’ll save that for another post.