The term “brand” gets thrown around a lot these days – “personal brands” run rampant on social media, for example. But for a business, branding is far from a frivolous matter. In fact, it can financially cripple even the most established organization.
Contrary to popular belief, effective branding does not have to break the bank if executed in a savvy way. By determining where to splurge and where to save on your branding budget, you can achieve desired results for your business for a price tag you can afford.
So, how is this possible? This article will address:
Branding Versus Marketing
While branding and marketing are cousins of sorts, they are by no means identical twins. Many people tend to use the terms interchangeably, when each plays a critical role in business.
Branding is the big picture view of a company’s identity and credibility, while marketing is series of functions carried out to actively promote a product or service. In this way, “brand” is a noun and “marketing” is a verb, and not just in the grammatical sense.
Marketing may drive sales, but branding builds recognition as well as customer loyalty. Branding that is truly effective will establish a powerful, unique presence in the market that not only attracts loyal customers, but retains them as well.
Customize According to Size
The level at which your brand will compete against other businesses plays a large role in determining the small business funding you may need for your branding budget. There are several distinct levels of expenditures, although organizations do not have to become locked into any one level.
Creating corporate identity collateral — or ground floor branding — is not truly branding, and cannot replace branding strategy. Elements such as business cards, stationery and a website can support a branding strategy, but branding does not end there. While these items are certainly important pieces, they do not complete the strategy on their own.
Corporate identity collateral is to branding strategy as organs are to the human body. Organs are an essential piece of our biology, but they do not make up our holistic selves on their own. Without additional elements like the skeletal system and veins, the body cannot become whole and functional.
And in order to utilize collateral effectively, it is important to understand the difference between brand identity and brand strategy:
In order to avoid confusion, it may help to keep in mind that brand identity incorporates tangible items, while brand strategy focus on intangible concepts. Both play vital roles in effective branding.
A safe bet for small to mid-size businesses is to take branding to the second level, which typically demands 15 to 20 percent of annual income. The dollar amount fluctuates according to each company’s income. And small business funding resources can help support costs in this range with services like small business loans and business advances.
The beauty of this particular budget tier is its flexibility. You can choose how much working capital to allocate to branding experts, as well as the percentage to retain for other business costs. You can even change the numbers from project to project, selecting the amount of expenditures most appropriate for each.
For example, your company logo – even for a refresh – is one piece that should take priority in terms of budget. After all, your logo represents the most important asset of your company’s identity and is perhaps the most visible manifestation of your brand. It is also important to make investments grounded in research. Building a website without understanding who it should attract and a strategy to get traffic to it is not a wise investment of revenue regardless of how beautiful it may be designed or how well the copy may be written.
The loftiest level of branding spend is really reserved for the big players or companies who want to make a statement within their industry. It is necessary for these companies to invest a significant amount of working capital because they are subject to constant scrutiny from customers and the media alike. The stakes are too high to skimp on any aspect of their branding strategy.
A brand analysis is an essential splurge. It involves conducting external research on your market in order to determine both how your company is currently performing against competitors, as well as tactics to improve its performance now and in the near future. In a business landscape where customer engagement is everything, it also highlights opportunities for capturing market share. Leveraging research results, a well-executed brand analysis provides guidance for capturing market share from competitors, as well as carving out new, untapped markets.
Beginning or continuing branding efforts without an analysis is like navigating through a forest at night with no flashlight. Investing revenue and time blindly like this rarely produces desired outcomes.
A brand analysis is important enough to warrant reserving part of your budget to conduct, even if the budget is tight. If you still feel you absolutely cannot afford a brand analysis, you may want to look into a business advance and similar options to fund this important element of branding.
Do Not Step Over a Dollar for a Dime
Fortunately, the Internet offers a vast marketplace in which to shop around for creative talent like designers and copywriters.
While it may be tempting to hire creative talent on the cheap, keep in mind the prominence of your branding collateral. Think about how many potential customers will view and judge your website, for example. The last thing you want is to pay any amount of money, regardless of how small, for shoddy work. This includes work that represents your brand in a manner your target audiences will not find attractive or compelling. In fact, settling may even cost you more money in the long run, if the quality is so poor that you need to hire another creative to repair the damage.
While it is not necessary to go broke from retaining top tier talent take advantage of the large online talent pool by performing your due diligence and choosing creatives that charge a fee that you feel best suits your needs.
Reputation is Everything
As we stated earlier, the success of a brand depends in large part on establishing and reinforcing its trust and credibility. For this reason, a negative online reputation in the form of unfavorable reviews can wreak havoc on a brand’s strength. It can unravel years of hard work in mere moments.
In some scenarios, online reputation management is a marketing tactic. However, when considered in the context above, it becomes a priority in any smart branding strategy. Hiring an experienced reputation management firm may seem costly upfront, but proactively guarding against reputation threats is often less cost prohibitive than cleaning up the damage after the fact. The fees for this service tend to vary according to each company’s individual reputation needs, so it is important to get a customized view of potential costs from each agency you consider.
For example, developing plans to address various situations before your brand is in the limelight can:
Keep it Fresh
Branding is not a one-time project. For example, you should not leave your company logo to collect dust upon completion of its original iteration. All branding collateral should evolve alongside your organization, as its success rests largely on its ability to promote and retain engagement among customers and potential customers. Therefore, it is always prudent to allocate a percentage of working capital for your branding budget. Resources like small business funding are another option available to help you avoid the pitfalls of an aging brand, and to ensure that your brand matures along with your market and your audience.
Branding is a key driver of company growth and market dominance. Yes, it is a different animal than marketing; but much like marketing, keeping it fresh and relevant is very important. And given its critical role in the strength and longevity of your business, a savvy branding strategy pays dividends on any costs incurred.
Learn more about how small business funding can be tailored to your business branding needs.