I had the opportunity the other day to chat with a friend who is a brand marketer for a national brand. During the course of our conversation, I was struck (again) by the same-ness and at the same time, the different-ness that comes with branding a national vs. local brand.
At its core, branding is about developing a message and sticking to it. That is the same regardless of the size of your business. You have to find a way to represent your business in the public’s eye – and hopefully, that representation is well received by your target audience.
The single biggest difference is, understandably, resources. And the discrepancy in resources is most notable in research budgets. National brands have the resources to conduct research on who their customers are, what their perceptions of the brand are, and how both change throughout the branding campaign. Local companies often don’t have the luxury of the costly research studies to find out the statistically valid behaviors their clients participate in, who their customers are, and why they like them.
But because, local businesses have one huge advantage that national brands don’t—you actually know their customers! You know who walks through your doors every day, you know what they like, what they don’t like, and why they chose you (or at least you should!) That’s something national brands simply don’t have, they’re selling product through many different resellers all across the nation or the world. They have a good reason for having to hire someone to tell them about who is buying their product. But for a local companies – there’s not really any reason to spend $5,000, $15,000, or more, learning about who your customers are. If you really don’t know – it’s time to get out and start talking to your customers.
Even regional brands can and should employ this technique over spending money on research in this economy. It’s a little dated, but Robert E. Hall’s book The Streetcorner Strategy for Winning Local Markets spells out how and why making this effort is critical to success. If you have some time, it is worth the read – it is definitely one I go back to on a regular basis when I need a little direction.
There are of course, other differences, ordering 100’s of signs vs. 1 or 2, big television production budgets with top flight placements, entire departments devoted to a presence on social media, and the need to prove ROIs to picky CFOs who guard the bottom-line vigilantly. But the remainder remains the same. Large or small, branding is about knowing who you are, who you serve, and speaking it consistently and often.