Tag: Small business branding

The Biggest Problem in Branding


Part 3- Becoming the Real Deal

A few years back, my daughter worked in visual merchandising at a big box department store in Chicago. I will leave the store unnamed, although I am quite sure you have been there or at one of its affiliates. I asked her one day, out of curiosity, how a big company goes about communicating its mission internally to its employees. “Quite unsuccessfully in our case,” she answered. “Our mission statement glows from every computer screen, but the employees just make fun of it.” Despite the continual glowing of the visual reminder, the mission failed to glow from the hearts of anyone whose task it was to make it come true.

And there you have it.

The biggest problem in branding is not the cost, although it does cost something. It is not the time, although it requires much thinking. It is not the internal management required to make the brand images consistent, as important as consistency is.

The biggest problem in branding is making Brand happen.

It is obvious that it is just as hard for the large company to carry out its intentions as it is for the small firm. Wherever the mission and vision of a company meets or exceeds the expectation of the customer, you create magic. But wherever mission and vision depart from the actual customer experience, you have the antithesis to business at best, and potential toxicity at worst.

Entrepreneurs start off with good intentions. Many understand the power of brand, and craft a well-defined mission, vision, culture, and story. But as they grow they tend to pay more attention to sales quotas than they do the customer. In doing so, they bypass the heart of marketing, and the pulse weakens.

What is this like? Let’s imagine a man named Jim takes on one of those reality show challenges to win a large sum of money. All he has to do is find a romantic muse, get married, and inspire his partner to say that he is the perfect husband at the end of one year. If he is successful, he will win a million dollars. But, if she does not claim he is the best husband ever? He will have to pay back every expense plus finance charges. If he takes the goal seriously, Jim will work hard to keep his muse amused. He will go out of his way to be everything she needs him to be, albeit with dollar signs in his eyes. He would study the behavior of good husbands. He would study his partner’s behavior, and make long lists of her likes and dislikes. He would check his calendar to determine all the right dates to send flowers. He would plan breakfasts in bed. He would plan to say the all the right things, and do all the right things, at all the right times.

But, six months in, his partner begins to feel as if something is up. She may not know anything about the contract, but senses something is off-kilter. Jim is a little too perfect. He has no sparkle in his eye, and no spontaneity–his words are a bit too scripted. She can’t quite put her finger on it, but the relationship feels a bit, well . . . . cheesy. Of course. It is cheese. It is not a relationship. It is all about Jim.

This story may seem a far-fetched example, yet many businesses do marketing in the exact same way. In the reality show of business, this exact scenario has played itself out so many times that consumers are now suspect of anything that smacks of an advertising overture. When a company only seeks a sales quota, and sees its customers only as a package of behaviors–as someone to convince to ‘click here’–it will not be long before that customer describes the relationship as plastic. Customers want real passion. They would rather experience serendipity than scripts. They can better endure anything–even a screw up–than a fake company.

There are a thousand ways to build real relationships with your customers. Knowing what your customers need and want. Staying true to your core values. Providing real value that you know is your best work. Setting up systems so you can deliver with consistency. Doing what you say you are going to do. Making it easy to do business with you. Respecting the customer as intelligent and worthy of your time. Being genuinely excited about helping them achieve their goals. By ensuring your customer has experienced your company in the way you planned for them to experience it. And these are just a skim from the top. 

A wise entrepreneur will craft their customer’s experience from start to finish. But business is not theater. It cannot be an illusion of real relationship to obtain a sale. It must be the real deal.

Are you looking to create real relationships with your customers? You cannot fake it. Truth will prevail. Experience is hard to argue with.  How do you help your customers best?

Put your customer first, and you will become the Real Deal.


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

Which Comes First? The Company or the Brand?

becoming the real deal part 2

Part 2- Stepping Up

Does a brand make a company valuable? Or does a valuable company make a brand? If you take a look at Forbes List of the Most Valuable Brands, it is obvious that 100% of these entities have made a major investment in design. Each entity is a carefully coiffed company–with a look designed to turn heads and to create an experience.

“Of course,” you may say. “They are large enough to have the money to invest in their branding in a major way.”

But how did they get the money to invest in the company in a major way? Did design increase trust to impact their bottom line? Or was the company trustworthy from the start? It is certainly a chicken and egg question. But whether design is causation or simple correlation, I challenge anyone to make it to the top of such a list without it. If Coca-Cola needs design to get to the top, then it would be quite presumptuous to push the design budget to the back burner for any size company.

One thing is certainly true: a company’s design reflects its management and vice versa. Herein lies the trouble. It is common for startups to begin business by investing in everything but design and branding. This leaves a fabulous product without representation. Those who pull back little realize the peril of poor design. A business that is sending the wrong message–or worse yet, no message at all–is no business at all.

Why do entrepreneurs withhold the branding budget? Many misconceptions exist:

My company does not need design–we are too small. This belief is common among entrepreneurs. Planning your identity and business design is like laying the philosophical cornerstone of your business. It is like breathing life into a body, and giving it a soul. Before putting pencil to paper and beginning any design, an experienced graphic designer will ask many questions. They will want to know what you want to do, who you want to do it for, and why you need to do it. Clear answers to these questions are the bedrock of your marketing plan. Serious marketing research backs any good design. It only looks simple. Without clearly identifying these answers, you have no base from which to launch your efforts, and no hoop to confirm success.  No business is ever too small to invest in this kind of thinking.

Professional design is too costly. What if you have a fabulous product, but your design says ho-hum? Think how costly such misrepresentation could be! Count up the sales lost to miscommunication and misunderstanding! Next, think of how costly it will be to print several campaigns only to find out they connect with no one. It would be easier to roll down your window on the way home from work, and just throw your money out. Doing so would save you a lot of time too. There is nothing more costly than poor design–or no design at all.

Design will make me look bigger than I am. To clearly identify your market and speak to that market is to increase your chance of success. Too many sales can be a problem, yes, but one ripe with choices. You can always say no to a sale. You can raise your prices. Who would not like to work less and make more? You could also ramp up your game. George Lois once created a campaign for Tommy Hilfiger, early in his career. It is hard to believe he was once unknown. One week after launching the ads, Tommy was on the Johnny Carson show. His competitors asked, “Who does he think he is?”  Tommy did not yet know the answer. But he stepped up to meet his destiny:

“. . . it also drove me into such embarrassment.  I rolled up my sleeves and worked harder than I ever thought I’d work.  I knew there would be only one way to prove the naysayers wrong, and that would be to come out with amazing clothes, so I literally rolled up my sleeves and worked like an animal making sure that every button, every zipper, every button hole, every color, every fit, every fabric was to perfection.  George turbo-charged my success, and then it just took off.

Did the branding make the man? Or did the man make the brand? Perhaps we will never know. But one thing I do know. The branding and the commitment to that branding brought out the best in Tommy. It challenged him to become all he could be.

Good design is a result of good thinking. It is always an investment–in your company and in yourself. I will continue to make the bold claim that design will supply a good ROI. “Of course,” you may say again. “You have a vested interest to say so. You are in design.”

My answer? Invest, test, and prove the return! Will the real Brand please step up to the plate? Step up to the work of creating a product that will knock the ball out of the park, and then create a brand that will reflect all your company is, and all that you are–one that tells the real story of all your product can do.

See the results for yourself.

Have you ever conferred upon your business the mission and vision it deserves? A business without a brand is like a body without a soul. Are your graphics simply a placeholder until you find more money or a better opportunity? You may never have that opportunity. Even a ship captain invests in a bottle of fine champagne to christen his vessel with a name before its maiden voyage. Your business is also a vessel, carrying its identity and its messages to a specific destination. What message is your business carrying? Is it intuitive where you are going?

 Say what is real. Yes, it is scary to launch and scary to commit to the journey. It does not mean you will never miss the mark.

 It means you have the audacity to become The Real Deal.


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 


Strong Brand, Strong Stand

the shopping cart before the horse

Part V of V: The Shopping Cart Before the Horse

All this month we have been talking about how new Entrepreneurs can get the shopping cart before the horse. It is so easy to do. Entrepreneurs can booby-trap their own success, by:

In Part 1-Trying to increase revenue before providing more value.

In Part 2 Trying to sell your product before you believe in it yourself.

In Part 3 Investing in your business before investing in yourself.

In Part 4 Trying to succeed while ignoring essential tools.

In today’s final post we will tell the Tale of Two Startups:

Tom’s Story

Every time Tom had his friends over for dinner, he received glowing 5-star reviews. His friends said, “You know, you really should open a restaurant! This is fantastic!”. And Tom does love to cook. So on a wild hair day, he cashed out his savings and invested in equipment and real estate. A month before opening day, most of his start-up cash was gone. Because of this, he had no ability to decorate like he wanted or invest in an identity and advertising. But he was not worried. If his food were half as fantastic as his friends said it was, he would not have any problem getting people in the store. He was certain his classic menu would appeal to everyone. He would skip the logo and the website for now, and invest in those things later when he made some real profit.

The next week, a rush of people came in to check out the new restaurant in town. He was excited and encouraged. But after the first month, traffic slowed to less than adequate. Tom decided an inexpensive brochure from the local quick print shop would help, and hit the next chamber meeting. But six months later, he was still struggling to get people in the store. He tried a very different but a better-looking brochure. With only a little response, he had to lay off staff. Tom decided that advertising does not work and decided to stop advertising altogether. As a result, instead of providing a nice place to eat, the restaurant ate him up instead.

Dave’s Story

Dave also relished good friends and good food. His specialty was making people feel welcome. His friends also told him on a regular basis that he should open a restaurant. And on a wild hair day, Dave also cashed out his savings. But––Dave was determined to begin his restaurant in a different way than the way most restaurants start out.

He started by planning the ultimate experience. He knew that personality and ambiance would provide the ultimate brand. He researched other restaurants in town–not to copy, but to figure out how to be different and better. He invested in a graphic identity and brand style guide that communicated this personality and set the stage for expectation. It was as good as done.

After creating the style-guide, every decision was easy from there. From this Brand vantage-point, it was clear how to create an atmosphere where young professionals would want to bring their friends and hang out. Even choosing the decor was easy. It either matched the style or it did not. He knew a great location that was already swarming with young professionals. He researched the price point they would be willing to pay. He then structured his recipes with a balance of flair and profit, topped with a spark of lagniappe.

Opening day, the store fit the vision and the plan inside and out. Everything matched the perception he wanted to achieve. Friends told friends. The waiting line on Saturday night wound outside the door. Because he had invested in branding first, his Visual Voice was consistent across his print collateral, website, interior, and brochures. He looked credibleand his customers had confidence and expectations of a good meal before they came in the door. His performance answered their expectations. And when it came to a choice of where to go out to eat, people started to choose Dave’s place.

The Moral of the Story

When you Advertise before you Brand, you get the Shopping Cart before the Horse. Nothing you do builds on any prior effort, creating minimal if any return. Every advertisement is like starting over. This is why advertising does not work. If your advertising is yielding minimal return–“Stop. Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200.00.” Back up and start with your Brand. Branding builds upon your vision. It creates an experience. It answers your customer’s questions. It solves their problems. Branding helps your messages resonate with the right customer. Begin with everything that touches the customer. When you have a strong Brand, you have a strong stand. Your advertising builds momentum. The return increases exponentially because it is memorable and consistent.

Branding is not just a first impression or the logo above the door. Branding is the way you take the whole journey. Brand first, and prepare yourself to be pleasantly surprised.


Why do we, a graphic design / and advertising company, care about the way you run your business? Because no matter how beautiful your external graphics, they will never be stronger than your internal management. If your management is strong, so are your communications. Since entrepreneurs are famous for getting the cart before the horse, all this month, we have been discussing five of the most common ways that entrepreneurs are hitching their horses incorrectly. Since this is the new millennia, we have updated the idiom. The vehicle of commerce is now a shopping cart. Either way, wooden or metal, horses still do not know what to do when the cart is in front. Our desire is to help you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.