If You Don’t Brand Your Business, Someone Will Do It For You

During a small business entrepreneurship course at a community college, the instructor had class members work together. She handed out sheets with well-known logos. There were no descriptions, just the artwork. Students were told to form teams, choose several logos and then state who the company was and what their brand represented.

One team chose Harley Davidson, Nike, and one other company. Most of us are familiar with Harley Davidson, the company known for its motorcycles. These aren’t just any motorcycle. When you think of a Harley, you know it’s a bad boy muscle motorcycle and it’s pricey. Those who ride them have their own unique look as well. Harley Davidson expanded their brand into a highly successful clothing line. Their clientele–primarily white collar businessmen including doctors and lawyers– like to cut loose on the weekends.

Nike is so well known they no longer have to use the words Nike on the brand label. If you see the swoosh, whether on clothing, or shoes, you know you are looking at quality Nike sportswear.

These companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defining what they sell and who they sell it to. None of it just happened. Someone once wisely said, “If you don’t brand yourself, someone will do it for you.” These words hold great truth.

The mom and pop restaurant that serves up fried foods and offers inexpensive diner seating will be branded for tasty, albeit perhaps unhealthy food and inexpensive prices rather than a classy dining experience. The sign shop with the word fast in its name but that continually delivers products after a lengthy wait, will be branded as not so quality or fast by its disgruntled customers.

How well have you established your brand? If someone asked you to explain it what words would you use to describe it? If someone quizzed some of your customers about your business, what would they say about your brand? Does your idea of it and your customers’ match up? Often we make the mistake of thinking we have a clearly established brand and that we know what it is while the public has a completely different take on it.

Developing a brand requires intentionality and hard work. It can be a real challenge for start up businesses. Entrepreneurs often don’t have thousands to spend on branding so many end up developing their brand themselves. The second challenges newbies face is reigning in their business so it’s cohesive and manageable.

Your brand is a work in progress. As you define it, I suggest you do the following. First decide what your passion is. What is it you love to make and sell? Second, decide if there is a market for it. Third, reign it in so the inventory isn’t too vast or varied. Lastly, figure out a niche market. Once you do this, you will have a much more focused brand and will be on track for defining your ideal customer.

Realize that it can take years to establish your brand. Years ago actors on Sesame Street used sang a song called “one of these things is not like the other” during which kids were asked to choose items that didn’t fit in to the rest of the ones displayed. Keep this in mind as you define and refine, filtering out products that should not be a part of your line. The better you are at doing this, the stronger your brand becomes.

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