Can Small Businesses be Brands?

You walk into Target. Stroll around. Look down at your list. “Advil”. Turns out you’re near the right aisle. Then comes the moment of truth. Do you choose “Advil” or target brand. You know they’re identical, but you still choose Advil and pay double for the 100 caps.

That is brand value.

How much did it cost Advil to get you to choose its name brand over the generic? The answer is billions of dollars, a whole lot of marketing expertise, millions of customers and plenty of time.

That is what brand value costs.

And if ‘brand value’ is the ROI of branding, and ROI is the reason we all get up in the morning, then is it possible to brand a small business?

The answer is – you’ve guessed it, no and yes.

No, because the language of branding is the language of big brands.

Smaller brands simply can’t afford to pay for the reach that big brands need to enter the brand value dialog.

Yes, because for small brands – brand value is defined by expression of their personalities.

In simple terms, smaller brands generate their value from their magnetism. The brand value can’t be measured in pure ROI terms because there’s no generic reference point. But if people find a smaller brand attractive then its brand value is that “personality”.

Where does that personality come from?

Design, strong copywriting, quality advertising, good customer relationships, the right demographic positioning, and most importantly a product that delivers real (rather than perceived) value.

In short, creating brand value for smaller businesses is completely different to branding for large companies.

Small business branding is about the fundamentals of your business rather than perception. The bigger the brand and its reach, the more important the role of mystique.

Attempting to capture big brand mystique when you’re still at the little guy stage is putting the cart way, way, way before the horse.

For small businesses branding is about getting the foundation right. If you build all that (and it ain’t easy) maybe they’ll come. And if they do, you might be lucky enough to be the name brand at Target that people choose because they don’t trust the generic.

The word “Brand” actually has two different meanings. One is for the big guys, the other is for the little guys.

But I think we’ve tended to conflate the two, to the detriment of small business branding. Perhaps we need to add the prefix – mini – for small business branding, because it really is very different.

And more important. The top 100 global brands make all the noise, but ironically, in a world where small business drives most of the economy – it’s the little guy branding that really counts.

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