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Effective Branding Strategies for Small Businesses

Updated on September 15, 2010

Procter & Gamble increased its ad spend by $1 billion in 2009. Yes, you read that correctly. Giant corporations are constantly plugging away at planting brand names plus benefits into the collective consciousness. It’s an arms race of advertising budgets.

Even then successful branding is difficult. In any one market segment, only two or three brands are top-of-mind among consumers. If you think about cars you may imagine a vintage Ford Mustang speeding down the highway, hear Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” theme song, then take a moment to consider the reliability of a mid-90s Honda Accord. Despite the best efforts of marketers, everyone has a melting pot of perceptions, official branding and personal experiences inside their skull.

So can a small business owner make in impact? Actually, you can. Unlike P&G, you don’t need try to appeal to everyone in a ham-fisted attempt to rake in billions. What you are lacking in cash you can make for in finesse. Individuals have the opportunity to personalize communication and target consumers with pinpoint accuracy.

Volvo emphases safety.
Volvo emphases safety.

Focus on One Benefit

As a former employee at a local magazine, I cringed every time a small business owner insisted on packing their ad with several benefits or services. Sadly, the approach only succeeded in making the ad easy to ignore. It is understandable why such phenomenon persists. In your world the product or service being offering is a huge part of your life. To the consumer, it plays an insignificant role yet just may get them to where they need to go.

Tony Antin`s classic book “Great Print Advertising” taught me that headlines need to practically read themselves. Remember that people are constantly barraged by marketing messages and in order to cope they ignore as much of it as possible.

If you offer a number of services, don’t change a thing. You don’t however have to constantly plug them all equally in marketing materials. Find out what you are already best known for and make that strength even more powerful. Focus on it across all media you use: such as blogging, podcast radio ads and lawn signs.

Be Patient and Persistent

Household names like Nike and McDonalds weren’t built overnight. Out of any marketing activity it is branding that requires the most patience. Choose that one key benefit and get ready to run a marathon.

Marketers lust for quick results and with good reason. You need to be certain your expenditures are benefiting your business as well as the bottom line.

A small newspaper ad may be costing you thousands but not getting you phone calls. I’ve heard disgruntled business owners talk about scenarios like this time and time again. Of course the newspaper will assure you that it takes time to make an impact, which is true to a degree. Selling ads is top priority, while assisting you to improve the effectiveness of the campaign is usually neglected. If you are running a lousy ad increasing spending will always bring poor results and merely burn a whole in your wallet.

If you are like 99% of business owners out there, you can’t afford to use traditional advertising to build your brand. Instead you need to look at creating a presence on the Web as well as alternative methods to get the word out like signs, stickers and cheap giveaways.

You can learn a lot about branding from Dr. Ellie Phillips.
You can learn a lot about branding from Dr. Ellie Phillips.

Stand for Something

Businesses that can harness the power of one key benefit (aka unique selling proposition) have an advantage over the pack. The message is now clear but it still isn’t captivating until you “stand for something.”

Don’t be tempted to make the quick sale with greasy salesmanship. That business model is dead due to the back button. By displaying trustworthiness and credibility you win diehard fans that support your efforts every step of the way. That means long-term sales.

It’s better to get this lesson across by citing an example. Let’s take a look at someone who is succeeding at utilizing this method online.

Dr. Ellie Phillips has done a fantastic job of branding herself online by offering free dental advice. First off, free professional advice is tough to come by on the web so it stands out immediately. She takes the time to answer a massive volume of questions about oral health and makes recommendations based on an easy, inexpensive method for daily tooth care. It’s clear that she is genuinely concerned about the dental health of low-income individuals, and people strongly react with gratitude because of it.

The self-proclaimed “internet dentist” suggests that people use readily-available products that work, whether she sells them or not. Ellie makes mention of her Zellies’ xylitol mint and gum products when relevant to the discussion. In addition, she pulls references from her book, noting the chapter that best applies to the topic at hand. Her graceful approach to selling only gains her more credibility which is rare.


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    • American_Choices profile image

      American_Choices 5 years ago from USA

      Very well done hub. If I might add in that small businesses need to appear big but as you mentioned they cannot advertise in the same channels. The Internet channel with a focused niche is the most efficient use of valuable time and money for the small business.

      Great examples. Very well done. Voted up and useful.