Saturday, August 18, 2012

Your Brands Brand You! Marketing Secret 18/101 from the Serial Entrepreneur

How to Make Brand Selections for Your Small Business

Many of you have a retail enterprise, and you have been making brand decisions since before you opened.  Even some who are in the services have branding decisions.  Orthodontists use various brands of braces, for instance.  And both retail and service companies sometimes choose to make a major brand decision through becoming a franchise. 

We live in a culture where brands rule.  We are far more likely to trust a national brand than we are a local business.  In many cases our brand relationships were started before we could read, and have spanned decades.  My family buys way more Dodges than other brands, and that has been true for over 70 years.  We don't buy GE, because they were a competitor to my dad 60 years ago. 

This means that when someone is seeking a new relationship with a local supplier, they are very likely to shop you by brand, or judge you by the brands you carry.  From a marketing perspective, your brands may define you more than your signs, your people, your ads, or your reputation.  So the question for this marketing fundamental is: have you evaluated your brand decisions from the perspective of how your client is making a decision about you?

There are many considerations that go into a brand decision.  Some appropriate, some not so much.  In my experience in watching business owners for over 40 years, the decision commonly comes down to:
    The brand bias of the owner or buyer
    Which sales rep has won the confidence of the owner/buyer
    Which company is offering the best credit facility
    What kind of exclusive is offered
    Does the company protect prices
    Does the company police internet sales and prices
    Which brand can provide next day shipping for free
    How demanding is the brand regarding floor space, percent of sales, etc.
    Are better brands even available
All of the above are important and useful in making the brand decision.  And many of them have marketing ramifications.  But they all miss the fundamental issue.  What is your client or your ideal client looking for?  Does the perception of the primary brands you carry meet or exceed the expectations of the client you are currently attracting?  If there is a disconnect between your brand assortment and your client base, which do you change?

So, as mentioned several times in the first 17 of these marketing fundamentals, the brand decision should start from the question:  What is my goal and strategy, and how will the tactic of brand selection get me closer to those goals?

Next you want to determine if you are taking advantage of the brands you have selected.  As part of that question there is also the issue of whether a product brand should outshine your store brand.  In the bicycle business, many shops proudly wore the Schwinn brand as part of their store name. That was a fantastic strategy until Schwinn went bankrupt and changed their distribution model. Now that branding in the retail store was worthless or worse.

On the other hand, the bicycle industry now has a long memory of that sad day. As a result, brands aren't displayed prominently at all on signs, websites, or other advertising. This is a huge mistake.

In house brands created by single stores or even small chains can be very effective. However, the decision to buy packages or products with your store brand should not be done haphazardly. If the product is substandard, you get a double black eye since you have personally branded it. 

If you are currently carrying one or more lesser brands because of territorial restrictions, you should consider an aggressive campaign to secure the brand you really want.  It might take years, or require you to show that you are the better choice through outstanding results with your existing brands. Sometimes it might even pay to move your location to a place where the territory is open.

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