Branding Consultant for Your Small Business
4 reasons why you don’t need them and one why you do
I will guide you through some of the popular misconceptions about branding that I faced throughout my career. Those are the thoughts of startupers. Some of them changed their minds. Others stick to their beliefs... And to low revenues.
Then we’ll see how a branding consultant can be a good use for your money. Spoiler: it’s not about drawing pretty pictures.
Top reasons for not hiring a branding consultant
1. “Don’t need the branding at all. I work in the B2B market, where everybody knows everybody. There’s a limited number of clients. They know all the suppliers by heart. They know what to expect from each supplier. They are making decisions based on the previous history of business relationship. Moreover, my competitors don’t bother with branding at all.”
That’s a nice and cozy status quo. If you are sure that the market will remain stable, that’s the way to go. The problem is, you cannot be sure. Maybe Amazon is working on automating your sphere while you’re reading this. Perhaps, there will be a newcomer on the market that will push hard using modern marketing tools. Maybe, technology or legislation changes will kill your current market pushing you to move to a different sphere or geography. Can you resolve any of those challenges without a good brand? Probably not.
2. “Cannot afford this. I’m investing in the areas of my business that bring me cash. I’m not quite there yet to spend on nice-to-haves.” If you want to talk only money, think of the following:
- The perceived value defines the price for your products and services. Branding is a convenient tool to communicate the worthiness of what you’re selling.
- Selling your business, you can raise much more cash based on brand capitalization.
- Don’t even bother to pitch for venture capital if you don’t have a brand.
3. “Will hire a freelance designer. I did my research. They ask $10 per logo on Fiverr. Why should I overspend?” Okay, we’re solely touching on graphical part of branding here. You can become a one in a million lucky person to save on a good logo. Alternatively, you may end up in the company of 999’999 clients who got randomly generated icon. The challenge is not about drawing symbols. It’s about data-driven analysis, consumer research and well-structured brief that you send to your designer. Bear with me, we will talk more about this later on.
4. “My cousin can do it for me. She went to an art school and painted like a pro. For sure, she can put together some squares and triangles.” I wish this was a joke. Here you get the same sandwich of risks as with a freelance designer. It is also topped with the sauce of complicated conversation when you don’t use your cousin’s design.
Like any other important business decision, branding approval should be well thought through. And it’s not about the process of selecting icons according to your aesthetic preferences. We believe that startupers benefit from working with strategy consultants, who bring some science into the creative process.
The role of a brand strategy consultant
Brand development is a grounded process which roots back to the good old days when marketing was taken seriously. The fourth industrial revolution may have changed the routine of marketers, bringing new tools and opportunities. But the ground rules remain the same, and they are well described in fundamental books. My favorite is still Marketing Management by Philip Kotler. The #1 reason to hire a consultant is to streamline the thinking process. Many agencies “reinvented the wheel” and created their vision of good old frameworks. This is fine, no judgment meant. It’s just vital that those frameworks guide you through the following path.
1. Consumer. Everything always starts with whom you imagine being interested in your product or service. You need to consider the demographics (age, geography, income, etc.), psychographics (values, social activities, attitude to your product category, etc.) and the journey (what happens before, after and during consumption of your product). Five years ago, segmentation was the right buzzword. Now it’s consumer personas. I suggest you download our template to get you started with understanding what it is and how to craft the personas for your product.
Then you need to define the consumer need. Or consumer pain points as we call it now. These are the perceived or even unconscious issues that your consumer is experiencing from one side, and your product can resolve from the other. The fact that your Grandma thinks you developed something great is not one of them, unfortunately.
2. Unique selling proposition. This is an uber-important statement. It explains what makes you unique versus all the competition. Every person in your team needs to know it by heart. It should be crisp and simple to understand. This is a statement that you would like both your Grandma and the New-Yorker journalist to use when describing your product. This is something you want encrypted in your branding and communicated to the consumer by all means possible.
3. Market. This is your competition. It can be direct when they sell an identical product or supplementary when they are serving the same need differently. Branding-wise it’s essential that you understand the rules of the game in your market. The two fundamental pillars of the strong brand are relevance and differentiation.
- Relevance means that your branding is understood by the customer and communicates the values that the customers are sharing.
- Differentiation means that your brand has to stand out.
The challenge is to find the balance between the two. The common mistake of young startupers is to differentiate to the point when a consumer cannot distinguish your product category. To avoid this situation, you need to examine your competition. Observe all the channels you can. Try their product, talk to their support, subscribe to their newsletters. You’re the best but treat your competition as intelligent people. Try to understand the logic of their communication patterns.
4. Points of parity. After examining your competition, you will see that despite being unique, you have a lot in common with other organizations. This should not discourage you since it’s totally fine. It is important though that these points are not cornerstone for your branding.
Let’s say you’re in the market of farmer honey. All your competition is claiming 100% natural product. You may have this reassuring claim somewhere on the package or mention it in brochures or press releases. Make sure it’s not a part of your logo, slogan, brand name, etc.
5. Values. Take your customer’s description from the step 1. Think about the values that these people have and might expect from a company in your market. Think of your values. How would you like for your business and yourself to be perceived by stakeholders? Do these lists have something in common? That’s the perfect match you should be searching for your business values set.
6. The tone of voice. Based on the selected values and customers description choose your tone of voice. Do you want to be official and reliable, self-confident and determined, or upbeat and friendly? There’s no right answer. Make sure it is aligned with previous steps on this list.
This list is non-exhaustive and may vary depending on the nature of your business. A good branding consultant has to gather the inputs at least on these topics before they start talking to any designers.
Marketing tips on how to use your branding
I want to leave you with a couple of pieces of practical advice on what to do when you have your beautiful brand ready.
- Flexibility and consistency. Hopefully, you have the brand book with specific guidelines for each channel. If you don’t – here’s a rule of thumb for you. Keep your messages and visuals consistent across all channels. Adjust the tone of voice to the channel. Thus, you should be saying the same things on your corporate website and in Facebook messenger slightly differently. You may allow yourself a slightly more playful language in the later.
- Don’t change too often. Branding and rebranding projects are a fancy thing in the marketing world. It often happens that whenever a new marketer comes in charge of the organization, they start with rebranding. Don’t do that unless you have enough data-supported evidence that your current branding is holding you back from further growth.
- Develop the branding before you start to scale. This is a good advice for many reasons. When you start scaling your business, numerous surprises will arise preventing you from having a healthy 8-hour sleep. There's no chance you will find enough resources to engage in a philosophy session digging into marketing basics at this stage. Moreover, your existing customers would be able to better recognize you and provide a good reference to your service.
- Don’t go into Make Logo Bigger madness. There are still some good rules applicable to graphic design. Download our free template to instantly check if your designer is doing it right.
This analysis brought new business insights to 97% of participants
Good branding is the subject of consumer and competition analysis, not a creative breakthrough. If you decide to hire a branding consultant, ask them upfront about their approach to brand development.