If you’re a small to medium-sized business, lets say under $6 million in sales, ignore branding initiatives and tactics, and stick with direct response marketing tactics that make your phone ring. Ok maybe don’t ignore branding completely, but let’s keep branding simple and put the emphasis on direct response marketing tactics that grow cash flow. Positive cash flow is one of most important “keep your eyes on the ball” type cliches for any small to medium-sized business. Chet Meisner, author of The Complete Guide To Direct Marketing states, “…building [brand] image and making a sale are at strategic odds with each other.”
What do I mean by branding?
- Developing your logo and brand image–while you need to do this, don’t overspend in this arena. Hire a graphic designer that you feel can translate your vision of the brand into a logo, graphics, and packaging, but I certainly wouldn’t hire a branding company. Some sites quote numbers for this task as high as $25,000 – $40,000 for a small business…ouch!
- Writing nice prose for your marketing literature…this might make your English lit professor happy, but it won’t make the phone ring. Make it effective, not pretty. Develop ad content with the basic components of effective direct response marketing.
- Spending advertising money on tactics that create lots of awareness, but don’t necessarily drive people through your doors or make the phone ring, which would include such things as radio and cable TV spots. Most small businesses can afford cable TV spots as they can cost as little as $10-$25 for a 30 second commercial. I ran cable tv commercials years ago for my own retail store and I found that it created quite a bit of awareness, stroked my ego, but didn’t make the cash register ring like a postcard or PPC advertising.
Consider these facts:
Fact 1: You don’t have the budget to drive an effective branding campaign, and until you’re a public company nobody is going to care about your brand, especially not your bankers. What you should care about, and what your bankers care about is your cash flow and making the phone ring. The brand will come later, and in the meantime your brand is defined by the personal relationship you develop with your customers.
Fact 2: Branding tactics do not make your phone ring. Pretty fonts, nice advertising prose, fancy graphics, radio spots, cable tv, all can be effective at creating awareness, but are not typically the most effective direct response marketing tactic.
Fact 3: A brand doesn’t mean anything if the cash flow of the business is not strong. How many multi-billion dollar branded companies went bankrupt during the Great Recession? Did General Motors’ multi-billion dollar brand save it? How about Lehman Brothers…and those guys were bankers. What about Business Week…a 92 year old magazine sold for a prayer. Do you think that would’ve happened had the cash register been ringing a little more frequently?
By all means I’m not saying to kick branding to the curb entirely, you need a well designed logo, consistent use of fonts and colors, just don’t spend much money on tactics that primarily create awareness and make things look pretty. Your emphasis should be on direct response marketing. This means the design and layout of your advertising is solely focused on generating leads–once you’ve closed the customer, then you can worry about branding. For print media this means writing effective headlines, features and benefits of your products, an offer, sense of urgency (expiration dates), and calls to action.
Don’t let branding drive your marketing and advertising decisions until the equity on your balance sheet is clamoring for you to take your company public or your bankers are calling you to find out if you need any money.
So ignore branding, and spend your advertising dollars on tactics that are specifically focused on driving people to your door and making your phone ring.
For additional resources on writing effective headlines and copy, visit Brian Clark’s Copyblogger site. For a thorough study on direct marketing check out Chet Meisner’s book, The Complete Guide to Direct Marketing.
What’s your take on small business branding and direct response marketing?