About a year ago, I was in a conversation about how to spend money when starting up a company. The two others in the conversation thought that conserving money and only spending on a better product/service, once you get clients, was the right approach. I disagreed and advocated spending most of your money on marketing and branding. They thought I was crazy.

The reality is that I’m right! The problem is that the vast majority of people have no idea what or how important branding and marketing are and feel lost when discussing it.

Let’s be clear on both. First, marketing is drawing prospects in to experience your company. There are many ways to do this and companies should always use multiple channels on the SAME audience. Yes, multiple on the same. Frequency and niching is everything. We are bombarded with marketing all day long and have become almost numb to its effects. So, one needs to hear about your company’s product/service many times from different sources until it connects.

Therefore, when a lone advertiser approaches and says, “Advertise with me”, unless it’s part of multiple channels, your answer should be NO. But, what if you have very little money? Then pick a very small niche and inexpensive methods, such as: flyers, Facebook, networking events, etc… It’s always better to touch a smaller audience multiple times. An example might be, if you have a budget to send out 6,000 mailers. Instead of sending it to 6,000 people, send it to 2,000 people three times (preferably with a slightly altered message). If you can niche who you are sending it to, then you can focus the message.

Example 1: 6,000 mailers that say:

“Everyone loves my widgets.”

Example 2: 2,000 mailers (3 times) to ONLY attorneys that say:

“Attorneys are using my widgets to increase their hourly billing.”

Example 2 will be far more effective – especially the 2nd and 3rd time that they’re seen.

In addition, if you can send an e-mail or get them to log on to your website or Facebook page, or see them at a trade show, that’s multiple channels. Very good!

Good operations/service will usually keep clients, but unless you get them in the first place (via marketing) you can’t keep them! Good operations/service is therefore secondary. Everyone knows of companies that have a mediocre product or service, but great marketing and they make a killing! In addition, we all know of great products/services that went out of business.

OK, next is branding. Branding is NOT your logo! The next time a graphic designer tells you that they do branding, just smile and nod. The odds are they do logos – NOT branding. To be clear, branding is the EMOTION or REACTION that someone gets when they interact with your marketing and operations. That includes your logo, but it’s just one part.

The critical aspect of branding is NOT necessarily being high-end. It may be, but it’s not required. What’s required is a consistent message. Walmart is NOT high-end but VERY consistent and it works. I completely believe that I’ll get the lowest price on EVERYTHING at Walmart.

I’ll give you a very simple way to start thinking about brand. NOTE: There are much more detailed and valuable ways to do this via professional branding firms. This is down and dirty.

First, think about what you want your prospect/client to feel/think about when your company enters their mind. Is it fun, smart, elite, safe, best price, luxury, comfort, love, competence, dependable, etc…? From there you can begin. All aspects of your brand should somehow wrap around this. If you’ve picked comfort, then your logo should exude that feeling or an emotion similar to calmness. You company colors should be comfort colors, your office space/store front should be comfortable. Your employees should be very welcoming and dress comfortably, etc… Your marketing material (paper and online) should reflect this image too. That congruent message will work. That is your brand.

To use Walmart again, the stores are plastic and paper. The floor is basically kitchen tile. The associates are dressed casually. The focus is on price, everywhere. The service is, at best, mediocre. It’s perfect for the brand – a consistent message. People know what they are getting.

So, why should YOU spend time and money on brand? Because your brand validates your pricing and your marketing message!

We all pay more money for the brands that we value. If you are the most comfortable widget around, your brand is congruent with that message and says comfort, and I want comfort, then I will pay more.
In addition, if your brand is consistent, then I will feel more confident that you are exactly what you say you are and I’ll be more apt to say yes and pay your price. I walk into a store and know that the ACME brand is good, so when I see a product that I like, I just buy it. It’s ACME!

Not just that, consistent powerful branding will help diffuse negative situations and miscommunication. When people believe in your brand, they will give you the benefit of the doubt when their experience doesn’t match. I know that ABC brand has quality goods, so when I end up with a lemon, I think that this is obviously a one-time event and I go right back and get another ABC brand widget.

This idea works for individuals either in sales or in operations too. Your personal brand is the same. What emotion/reaction do people get when they interact with you? Your clothing, presence, language, tone and body language have an effect. If you maintain a congruent message of: intelligence, dependability, creativity, speed, competence, etc…then your prospects and/or co-workers will be confident in you and be more apt to trust you, say yes to your requests, and say yes to your price (or salary). Your image within an office is often more important than your actual value! Surely, you’ve seen this case many times.

Please understand that if you are in a slump, having a hard time, just starting up or just want to grow, your marketing and branding (personal or organizational) are critical and are the FIRST things you should be working on.

“So much depends on reputation – guard it with your life”.

-Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Good luck!

Larry Sharpe
Your Neo-Sage