Who Are You?

Create a strong brand identity to make sure everyone knows.
Magazine Contributor
9 min read

This story appears in the September 1997 issue of . Subscribe »

What do you think of when you think of Jaguar? Luxury? Style? Exclusivity? A strong brand identity?

The people at Jaguar and its advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather Direct, hope you think of all these things. To help ensure that you do, they've recently developed a targeted, integrated marketing campaign for their first new sportscar in 20 years--the XK8. Every promotional piece, from the point of advertising through the point of sale, reinforces that message through a consistent look and feel and consistent language.

Nina Gramaglia, a partner at Ogilvy & Mather Direct, explains how the campaign is used to strengthen brand identity. "You're continually reinforcing the message to the consumer and the individual you're trying to speak with by sending a consistent message through a variety of media," she says. "Each medium really has something different to offer the campaign. The advertising allows you to generate the message in very broad strokes, to get out the new theme, to generate awareness. By following up with direct mail that's still on that same theme, you can reinforce the awareness of the changes that are going on. It's the more in-depth information that gives the consumers specifics and educates them."

The elements of the campaign continue to tie in throughout the buying experience. "When the customer gets to the dealership, there's more literature there to reinforce what they've already seen," she says.

Jaguar's methods are impressive, but they may not, at first glance, seem applicable to small-business owners. Think again.

Small businesses can benefit from the same wisdom the "big guys" use to continue growing bigger, according to Sheila Paterson, co-owner of Macro International Inc., a marketing consulting firm in New York City. Before joining forces with her business partner to form Macro, Paterson spent 25 years working for one of the world's largest advertising and marketing companies, where she created brand identities for major international products.

"When I went into my own business, I found the principles for marketing the world's largest brands were just as effective for making small businesses successful," Paterson says. "As a matter of fact, they have to follow these principles to be successful."

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What's in a Brand?

Why brand? "Effective branding will always make your marketing dollars work harder for you," Paterson says. "At Macro, we define a brand as your name, a graphic image associated with your company and what your company does. We put it all together into what has been known in the advertising business as a `unique selling proposition,' or USP."

To strengthen your brand, you need to consider:

1.The name. The name of your company or product plays a major role in establishing brand identity. Paterson suggests the following criteria for a really great name: It should be short, easy to pronounce, easy to understand and unique. And the name should, if possible, express a benefit. Why is a great name important? "Every study shows the relationship between what we call `top of mind awareness'--the first brand that comes to mind in a certain product category--and sales," Paterson says. "The higher the top of mind awareness, the higher the sales. If you have a name that will generate awareness, it will give you a significant leg up."

The name "Reliable Roofing," Paterson says, is a good example. "There's an immediate implied benefit," she says. "You feel very comfortable about calling a company called `Reliable Roofing.' "

2. The graphic image. "A graphic can really help get a visual image in the minds of your customers about who you are and what you do," Paterson says. Consider the strong visual impact of the Coca-Cola logo and bottle.

3. The USP. The unique selling proposition (USP), according to Paterson, "will take your name and your graphic and what the business does and express it as a benefit in the minds and hearts of your customers." Every USP should be 10 words or fewer and should answer the question: "What do you do?" It should express the answer in the form of the benefit you'll give your customer.

It's not easy, Paterson warns. And it's not just a clever slogan. "Yes, it should be memorable," she says. "But more important, it's got to be able to answer the question `What are you going to do for me?' "

A New England bed and breakfast impressed Paterson with its USP. In an effort to increase business, the owners decided to use a sign to communicate what was unique about their bed and breakfast. "This is a typical marketing problem that any company faces," Paterson says. "How do you make your business stand out? This business did it with four words: `Delicious beds; Delicious breakfasts.' Those four words captured the unique benefits associated with that particular bed and breakfast."

Paterson's business also has a USP. "We're offering marketing advice, and there are many people out there doing the same thing," she says. "Our USP is `Creative solutions for impossible marketing problems.' "

Small Companies With

Jonathan Nolan is a marketing vice president for Resort Sports Network (RSN) in Portland, Maine. "We're primarily a cable-television business," Nolan says. "What we do is create programming that goes out to a collection of affiliated TV stations at 56 resorts in the United States."

Over the past 11 years, RSN has developed into a well-recognized and successful brand within its industry. "We've been able to consolidate the viewership of a whole pile of small, local cable-television stations into one recognizable, national name," Nolan says.

The RSN brand name is strengthened through TV programming at affiliated resorts across the country, in addition to the cable networks and a newly developed Internet presence. "RSN is not only the TV programming that you're looking at when you get to the resort," he says, "but it's the way you access the resort over the Internet for all the information you need to make travel plans. We want everybody to know that, any time they want to go to a resort, RSN is the place to go for all the information they need."

Can a small company develop a strong brand identity? Nolan thinks so. "The way we've done it is that RSN becomes synonymous with the key information people need in our vertical niche," he says. "We look at the branding of RSN as a consolidated approach. You may have seen RSN on television, on the Internet, in various print forms--all with a similar message. If you want to go to a resort, you think of RSN."

Raj Khera is the president of GovCon Inc., a business Web site that provides free access to otherwise expensive information, such as the Commerce Business Daily, a list of large government contract opportunities published by the Department of Commerce; government regulations; databases--anything that helps government contractors win more contracts.

The GovCon site, launched in September 1995, is used by tens of thousands of people across the country, Khera says, and gets 3 million hits each month.

How did Khera develop such strong brand recognition? "We really pushed the whole brand name `GovCon,'" he says. "Everything we do has something to do with GovCon: The site is GovCon. It's on our business cards and our stationery. We hold GovCon seminars. We're constantly sending out press releases. We try to have the name everywhere we can."

How Can You Develop a Strong Brand?

Whether you realize it or not, if you're in business, you already have a brand. The issue is how identifiable--and memorable--that brand is. To make your brand effective, you need to clearly identify the purpose of your business, and frequently and consistently communicate that purpose to customers and potential customers.

"Ask yourself, `What am I trying to communicate?' " Khera recommends. "What identity do you want to convey? This will be different for everybody. A plumbing company is going to be doing something very different than a computer company. You have to start figuring out who your audience is and what kinds of things you can do to stay in front of your audience and keep your brand name associated with your company."

Everything you do will reinforce--or detract from--the brand image you're trying to establish. A clear concept of what that image is, and consistency in conveying it, is critical.

"If you can develop a logo that translates into what you do, that's where you should start," Khera says. "Then everywhere you mention your company--business cards, letterhead, envelopes, stationery, a Web site--has your logo associated with it. That reinforces your brand identity." But, he warns, "It's very important not to scrimp on your stationery or letterhead. If you project the image that you had 1,000 business cards printed for $20, that's the brand identity you're going to be carrying with you. If you look small, you'll be perceived as being small. There's nothing wrong with that if that's what you want to project. But if you want to be taken more seriously and thought of as a stable company with top-notch professionals on your staff, then your whole image has to be behind that."

The dollars you invest in establishing your image will serve you well when you put your name before your customers. And those dollars can be maximized by careful communication planning.

"Develop a marketing plan that centers around the kinds of things that project your image over and over again," Khera says. "This includes press releases, advertising and your product name. It's very important to be consistent. To have a constant presence, you need to stay in front of your audience."

The two keys to establishing and building a strong brand are developing a unique and specific identity, and communicating that identity consistently and frequently.

Can small businesses brand? Yes they can--they're doing it every day. And when they're successful, they don't stay small for long!

Contact Sources


Khera Communications/GovCon Inc., 2400 Research Blvd., #250, Rockville, MD 20850, www.govcon.com

Macro International Inc., 100 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10013, (212) 334-4300

Resort Sports Network, P.O. Box 7528, Portland, ME 04112, (207) 772-5000

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