DIY doesn’t a great brand make for small businesses

It looks like most small business owners have a DIY attitude when it comes to brand building.

A new American Express Small Business Services survey says 36 per cent of business owners are interested in expanding their brand but don’t know where to start.  A substantial 86 per cent of small businesses still choose not to capitalize on the resources third-party experts offer, i.e. invest in their brand.  With over one quarter of firms flying solo in the development of their business’ brand.

Well, it seems not much has changed since 2007, when I collaborated on the first Canadian study of Small Business & Brand in 2007 with HP.  Why?  Here are a few reasons:

  • Return on Investment – I’ve seen a lot of small businesses spend a lot of money on brand tactics for an unclear return.
  • Technology companies are often product-driven and don’t know how brand will add value to the business, so it becomes a lower priority to invest in.
  • Brand is a sufficiently intangible aspect of business that small businesses don’t know how to assess the value in making the leap from thinking it’s important to actually investing in brand.
  • Technology companies may not know how to assess brand experts or their offering.

Ultimately, I believe it’s because small firms are unsure of how brand will drive their specific business objectives – growth, value, competitive advantage?   Truthfully, the reasons to invest in brand and size of investment needed are unique to each business.  And so it’s a valid question to ask.

When is it mission-critical for a technology business to engage outside experts to help with your brand?

  • Your company is moving beyond the beta stage to a full consumer launch.  To your customers, you want to look like what you want to become.
  • Your potential client base is corporate.  A differentiated, sophisticated brand identity and brand communications can reduce perceived risk for larger companies to do business with you.  Find brand experts who have worked with corporate clients to get the sophistication you need.
  • Your current brand doesn’t reflect the differentiation or your competitive advantage.  Engage with brand experts who are skilled in helping you to stand out in the competitive landscape to find — and express — your unique differentiation.
  • Your brand identity is out of step with the sophistication of your newest products.  Ask your customers/employees if your brand identity and communications really reflect what you have to offer.  Engage a more sophisticated design team, one that has experience with products or services in your customers category.
  • You are having trouble recruiting the kind of talent you need to grow your business. Your brand image may (incorrectly?) be signalling that other aspects of your business aren’t advanced enough to attract high caliber talent.  Bring in a brand consultant to connect your brand with your business growth goals, including recruiting.
  • Your exit strategy depends on having a strong brand. This is the long-term strategy. Find brand-building experts who can help you to develop a strategy, and bring it to life over time to add value to your business for acquisition.

The bottom line?  As with any aspect of your business, learn enough to be an informed customer – and find the right outside experts to help you at your stage of business. Your brand may be too important to your business success for you to remain with the other 29 per cent of DIY Branders.

Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester is a Leadership Coach, Brand Communications consultant and W100 Business Owner. A perpetual idea generator, entrepreneurship cheerleader, and wanna-be geek, her clients include Novell, PlateSpin, Mozilla, HP, Tenscores & Polar. She writes about Leadership, Communications, Entrepreneurship and Women in technology.

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