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Don’t ‘over focus’ on brand building

I came across a passage in a book recently that struck a chord with me regarding marketing. The book, The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times, pointed out: “Generally, our perspective is that much of a company’s investment in marketing is a waste — particularly for young companies that feel pressure to ‘build


brands’. One of the dot.com era’s biggest flameouts, Pets.com, invested tens of millions of dollars building a brand when it had a shaky business model and little source of competitive advantage. Its ‘sock puppet’ is still widely recognised today, but the company shut down more than six years ago.”

A Time and a Place

The example is an American one, and it was a very large business, but the lesson for small businesses here is important. Building brands, and more importantly the story behind the brand, is absolutely important, particularly in an environment where we are suffering from an increasing information overload. But there is a time and place for everything.

At start-up stage, I would advise companies not to ‘over-focus’ on ‘brand building’. They need to think more about ‘bread and butter’ marketing, which is selling. I have the impression from working with early stage start-ups, that branding and marketing are sometimes used as an excuse not to engage with the marketplace and sell. In a lot of businesses, there seems to be a complete disconnect between marketing and sales. No wonder. Marketing is taught at universities, while selling isn’t. Which of those two (marketing and sales) do you think is more valuable to a start up? Isn’t it strange that we keep educating students in entrepreneurship without the most crucial skill at start-up stage; which is selling?

“Woolly Marketers”

So my advice is to fire your ‘woolly’ marketer, save yourself a lot of money, and go out and sell. OK, maybe don’t be that rash. But make sure you’re not over focusing on the brand and neglecting sales as a result. Understanding distribution, channel, social media and the design of a future-proof business model are also critical – and perhaps even more important than branding and sales (but that’s another article). 

I have had the pleasure of working with one of best communications wizards in Europe. His BITS methodology has reconnected the building of a brand with the purpose of building a brand, which is selling. Every instrument is checked against the effect on sales. So much so that their model can guarantee a ‘return on investment’ before a campaign starts.

The focus of BITS is on developing the ‘not-to-copy’ message (which is the story telling element) as the core, and only investing in campaigns that sell. Outside of branding and selling; what is your ‘not-to-copy’ message?

If you are interested in this topic, post a question on www.smallbusinesscan.com and I will get him (the BITS guy) to answer. Hopefully it will get a discussion going on selling, marketing and which comes first.

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