As a business advisor/marketing coordinator for the ISBDC, I often have the privilege of working with brand-new businesses (as well as some existing firms) on their marketing strategies and promotional materials. While I enjoy both types of clients, when it comes to branding I prefer interacting with the start-up clients because usually you are working with a clean slate. You can start from the very beginning with a blank canvas and build the startup’s brand piece by piece in a logical fashion that somewhat resembles putting together the pieces of a puzzle. If the initial branding process is done well, all the pieces fit together in the end to present a unified and unique brand image that will compel customers to do business with you.
With many existing companies, however, I encounter all kinds of business branding, many of them unsuccessful attempts, which is why the business owner is seeking help. When beginning to work with these small business owners on their marketing strategies, for their initial appointment I ask them to bring samples of all of the marketing-related materials they have used up to that point. What I usually find is that there is ineffective or inconsistent branding.
For example, on their business cards—which often appear to be created using templates from one of the online printing companies offering special introductory pricing—there will be a standardized logo or graphic image chosen because it supposedly represents the type of industry the client is in. The logo typically is not unique to the company because dozens of other like-minded firms have chosen the same graphic for their business cards; so, in other words, the business card likely will get lost in the everyday paper shuffle because it does not stand out from the other generic cards.
But that’s only the beginning of the problem. Upon reviewing their handouts, brochures, advertisements and signage, you would never know they all represented the same company. In addition to there being no consistent logo, often times there are different colors and a variety of typefaces used on each individual item, so the various marketing pieces look like representations of several different companies and not necessarily the one that supposedly is being promoted. (Not to mention the fact that there is no consistent verbal message among the marketing collateral). How confusing that must be for the consumer!
Another recurring problem is that do-it-yourselfers often pull an image or a graphic off the Internet to use on their printed promotional materials. That’s a big mistake for many reasons. First of all, Internet images (unless secured from an online company that specializes in high-quality graphics and photographs) typically have a much lower resolution than the quality required for printed pieces. That means the photographs or graphics will be blurry or have jagged edges when printed—not the kind of image you want portrayed of your company! Furthermore, if you copy an image off the Internet, how do you know it is not copyrighted? You don’t want to get your company in trouble by using someone else’s work—and you don’t want to just use any random image that either is not the look called for in your company’s branding, or an image that is part of some other company’s branding—creating additional confusion.
When working with ISBDC pre-venture or start-up clients, however, there usually are not any preliminary marketing materials completed, so no pre-conceived notions of what the branding image should be. We discuss what types of products or services their business is going to offer, what kind of an impression they want their company to make (i.e., friendly, classy or sassy, traditional or cutting-edge), what colors and kinds of graphics will best represent that type of business, and, by a process of elimination, determine what the “look” should be. We often develop prototypes and have the client take the proposed images to their friends and family to get their opinions and feedback on which of the examples best conveys their intended message.
The look should reflect the brand or purpose of the business (the heart and soul of the company) and not be just any old thing grabbed off the Internet. It should be uniquely yours so that when a customer looks at your marketing materials or advertising pieces, there is no confusion that the ad or brochure (or website) is talking about you! And lastly, it should be of the high quality that you want your company to be known for.
So remember these tips the next time you start thinking about branding, or consult with one of the ISBDC business advisors or a branding professional who can steer you in the right direction. For it’s your company reputation that’s at stake and you only get one chance to make a good first impression!