Question: How does a small business brand itself? Is branding the same thing as marketing?
Answer: Branding your firm is a crucial part of your overall marketing strategy. Establishing a brand involves defining your company, knowing exactly what niche you serve in your industry and convincing your potential customers that your product or service is the only solution to their problem. The smaller the enterprise, the more important branding is because small firms tend to have fewer resources and lower marketing budgets.
If you have established a strong brand, you will not have to do as much marketing to have an effect on potential customers.
"The truth is that branding has to occur before any other kind of marketing: advertising, public relations, Web marketing, identity and so forth," said Rob Frankel, a branding expert and author of "The Revenge of Brand X."
Once people are aware of your company and are convinced that yours is the only solution for them, they will stop shopping elsewhere.
"The clearer your brand message, the more likely people are to tell others about it, including why it's the only brand to buy. That's how you turn users into evangelists. Your advertising, public relations and other marketing efforts run more cost-effectively because the message gets through much more quickly and memorably.
"That's how branding works," Frankel said.
Unfortunately, he said, most companies don't spend much – if any – time on brand strategy development, thinking they'll do fine if they can just make potential customers aware of their products.
"The result is that they spend five or six times the marketing money on marketing that has no brand strategy, so it simply doesn't work," Frankel said.
More information on specific branding strategies, along with case studies, is available free at Frankel's website, http://www.robfrankel.com.
Getting Your Product Widely Distributed
Q: I'm a former UCLA pharmacologist who has developed and marketed an herbal anti-hair-loss lotion overseas since 1999. But I haven't been able to get my product distributed widely in the United States. Can you offer some suggestions?
A: Launching a product is a challenging and costly undertaking. However, it's not impossible.
"Your product could potentially be introduced through several unique venues, giving it multiple opportunities to succeed," said Dave Lavinsky, president of GrowThink, a Venice marketing firm.
One possibility might be natural food and nutritional supplement stores, such as Whole Foods Market and GNC.
"These are places that traditionally carry supplements and herbal remedies," Lavinsky said.
A second channel for you would be hair salons and spas.
"Virtually all high-end salons offer select products for sale to their clients," Lavinsky said. "An herbal anti-hair-loss lotion could be of interest to some of these businesses. Ideally, you should target salons serving an older clientele."
Another strategy would be for you to target physicians who treat hair loss, such as dermatologists and endocrinologists.
"Ideally, you would want to present doctors with product case studies and statistical findings," Lavinsky said.
Do some research on hair loss, how many people it affects nationally and what kinds of annual sales figures current products achieve.
Don't forget about selling your product directly online.
" 'Hair loss' is a popular Internet search term," Lavinsky said. "Over 100,000 people search this term each month on Yahoo alone. Setting up an e-commerce website and advertising [at search engines] on hair-loss-related keywords could bring in a significant flow of buyers."