You’re not going to like this. No one ever does. But setting a budget for marketing is always a difficult task. Business experts and academics, all smarter than I am, have, in the past, advanced formulas and prescriptions for creating budgets appropriate to a company’s size and its marketing challenge. I have no idea if any of those recipes work. The Small Business Administration notes that a business with less than $5 million in annual revenue should allocate between 7-8 percent of that revenue to marketing. Furthermore, they suggest splitting those resources between brand development (websites, blogs, collateral) and promotional activities (campaigns, events, etc.) But what they don’t explain is how they come to that figure in the first place. Why is 6.9% too little? Why is 8.1% too much?
From time to time, someone will ask me whether they really need to worry about branding their company. It’s usually asked by the leader of a B2B enterprise that markets to a select few customers and where the sales relationships are one-to-one, very personal. If I’m basically selling to my golfing buddies, goes the reasoning, why do I need to spend money on a logo or a website or whatever? Well, that may be true but improving sales is not the only advantage to having a brand. In fact, there are eight economic advantages to developing a strong brand. See link at the end of this article.
A variation on the question is: Do I really need a personal brand? The reasoning here is: The people I work with know who I am so why should I have to formalize it in any way? But personal branding, as a deliberate activity, sprang from the need to be noticed in the first place. It is difficult to gain recognition in a working world where people have been commoditized. Bankers, lawyers, accountants, carpenters, nurses – anybody – seem interchangeable on the surface. It’s not till you get to know people that you appreciate their strengths and weaknesses. I wrote about a perfect example of personal branding in A Brand Of One. Again, there’s a link at the end of this article.
But how to answer the original question? The best way to determine if you really need a brand is to first review what, exactly, is even able to be branded.
Jay Gould is a noted businessman, a turnaround specialist who takes on troubled business lines and brings them back to profitability. He’s worked his magic at Newell Rubbermaid, Graco, Pepperidge Farm and, most recently, at American Standard. Gould is first to say that his successes come, in large part, from “viewing all … decisions through the Brand Lens”. What is the Brand Lens? It is the lens through which you view your brand positioning. It’s nothing less than a vital management tool that helps you make the correct strategic decisions – every time. Use it to “future-proof” your business.
In our branding workshops for startups, I show a slide that expresses how branding requires a focus on three aspects of your business: strategy, marketing and operations. Strategy, to build a strong brand platform with a unique and differentiating brand promise. Marketing, to communicate that promise effectively. And operations, to consistently deliver on the promise. In effect, we show how true branding demands the efforts of the entire company. I go on to break down the three categories, detailing specific tasks and activities within each one. Under operations, the first thing listed is effective leadership. The last is accountability. Right now, the news is reporting on two branding calamities – one, in which leadership appears to be doing everything right and one, where leadership is doing everything wrong. I’m thinking, of course, of Samsung and Wells Fargo. Each is suffering through a branding disaster. Both brands will emerge from their respective ordeals with some wounds to lick. But one brand, if it continues to handle things well, will recover fairly quickly. The other may have dealt itself permanent damage.
Want to kill the festivities at your next party? Ask for a show of hands. How many in the room think there will be an economic downturn in the near future? You’ll see a lot of hands go up, however reluctantly. You’ll also see a lot of moods come down and you’ll probably be asked to leave the party. Don’t expect to be invited next time, Debbie Downer.
China. North Korea. Syria. Terrorism. The less-than-inspiring election in the US. The fact that Wall Street is still too big to fail and still operating with very little adult supervision. There is quite a bit of instability out there and just about anything could set off another recession. That’s bad news for all of us but it should be especially alarming for any business, B2B or B2C, that has been neglecting its brand(s). Weak brands suffer disproportionately during a downturn. When budgets get tight, decision makers and purchasers start looking for two things: Safety and bargains.
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