RAZOR BRANDING BLOG: Branding for the Entrepreneur

Branding for the Entrepreneur

To be a successful entrepreneur in today’s world holds many challenges, which is evident by the rise a fall of businesses each day. Some explode onto the scene quickly and fade, while others thrive as they develop strong brands that stand the test of time. The ones who succeed, either by luck or by design, have come to an understanding of the importance of strong branding and have successfully implemented it into the fabric of their business plan.

Sure, there are many variables in the success or failure of a business, but more often than not, it rests in the lack of brand awareness, or more importantly, a lack of understanding and appreciation of the importance of branding. But before we even begin to discuss branding, we have to first define what it is. To start with, let’s discuss what it is not.

Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, states it best when he says, “First of all, a brand is not a logo. Second, a brand is not a corporate identity system. And finally, a brand is not a product. A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company. It’s a gut feeling because we’re all are emotional, intuitive beings, despite our efforts to be rational.” Neumeier goes on to state. “A brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.”

Based on this definition, all businesses have a brand whether they like it or not. The problem is, few businesses take into account the depth at which their target audience connects with their brand on a daily basis. While businesses can’t control this process entirely, they can help to influence its outcome by developing branded touch points to support the brand promise at all times.

Many small businesses and start-ups feel that branding is just for products or big companies. The truth is, branding works for any industry regardless of size or location. Corporate giants such as Coke, Cisco, Nike, GE  and Disney, have each mastered the branding game by developing brand equity on a global level. This brand equity describes the value their customers place on their brand name. That value breaks down into terms that are often emotional, like, trust, reliability and security, and is true for both consumer and B2B companies.

According to Mia Pandey, a featured writer for brandchannel.com, “Branding is already gaining currency as an important issue in B2B markets and is certain to become an increasingly important factor, as industrial companies seek more ways to differentiate themselves and build a more holistic offering based on both rational and psychological motivators.”

And while millions are spent each day to deliver their message to the masses, the same branding techniques can be utilized on a local and regional level without breaking the bank to do so. A great example of this is the downtown Lafayette restaurant, Tsunami Sushi.

If you were to ask five random people in Lafayette to name the best sushi restaurant, chances are, most if not all, would say Tsunami, regardless of if they have actually been there or even like sushi. The reason for this is brand advocacy, or word of mouth advertising, which is a direct result of brand loyalty. The question is, what is it that inspired this loyalty and advocacy? Was it the food, the service, the atmosphere or something else entirely?  Chances are, it’s all of these things and more.

What Tsunami did right was establish their focus from the very beginning by defining their true point of differentiation. 

According to Michele Ezell, co-owner and founder of Tsunami, “We knew from the beginning that we wanted something different, something that at the time Lafayette did not have. We also wanted to create a place that offered more than just great food and service, but also provided an escape from the daily grind.”

Whether Ezell intended for it to be, she had just described her promise, and from this promise, her brand was officially born. 

Now, obviously there is a multitude of other elements that went into developing the Tsunami brand over time, but by establishing their focus early on, Michelle and her partners were able to base all future business decisions on the essence of the brand. Many of these decisions would lead to the development of brand touch points such as the location, the décor, the menu, the staff selection, the uniforms, the music played and even the name of the restaurant itself. By properly managing these touch points, Tsunami was able to build a road map that led its consumers toward a specific brand experience.

Please note, none of the branding elements I just mentioned for Tsunami had anything to do with a logo or advertising. This is not to say that logos and advertising aren’t important elements of branding. They are, but to start and end there would be like going on a date with the best looking guy or girl in school only to realize they had the I.Q. of a tomato and the personality of a rock.  Sure, it would be great at first, but eventually you will want more.

Businesses with well-defined brands will find that they have increased market share, preferred status with customers, increased valuations, reduced employee turnover and often a very well-defined culture with employees aligned around a common purpose.

So whether you’re an entrepreneur or a business needing a brand overhaul, take the time to ask yourself a few questions before spending money on marketing that may or may not work.  A few of these are: what emotions does my company evoke? What differences may we authentically claim? And most importantly, why should we (the public) even care? Once you have the answers to these, you will be ready to build a brand that has focus, harmony and connection within any category and in any market.


Michael Russo

Creative Director

The Russo Group


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