When your budget is modest, you need every dollar to work hard. You need focus.
An intentional brand provides this focus. Brand magnifies your marketing and product investments, so that your impact is both broader and deeper.
Any business with longevity endures because it brings something truly different and needed to its audience. Your brand strategy brings that uncommon thing to center stage, so everyone in your company readily sees it and uses it and reinforces it and lives it.
Many people hear “brand marketing” and immediately think “traditional advertising.” Since traditional advertising is expensive, most businesses wisely do little or none of this tactic. Unfortunately because of this association, some leaders dismiss brand as something that they cannot afford. In reality, an intentional brand strategy can make expensive advertising less necessary. Brand gives you resonance regardless of the volume at which you can afford to shout.
When you articulate your brand strategy, you define your focus. This focus magnifies every investment of time and money. Your brand strategy pinpoints the thing you bring that most matters to customers so that you can optimize for that. You can do more with less, making every dollar and every hour work hard to grow the business. In other words, when your attention isn’t scattered across multiple competing priorities, you aren’t spending money in areas where it’s not effective.
A small but hyper-focused budget enables you to compete with businesses with larger, but less focused budgets. David Aaker said in Aaker on Branding, “It is possible or even likely that a $5mm budget behind a brilliant idea will be superior to a $20mm budget behind a mediocre idea.” Because brand strategy brings focus, it concentrates your spending. Focus magnifies the output of your scarce resources.
Koru CEO Kristen Hamilton shared with me after we’d created her business’s brand strategy, “The thing that's cool about brand is if you do it right, you spend less money. Because it doesn't cost money to be really clear on what you stand for.”
It is not only in advertising where you will spend money more efficiently. Your investments in R&D, supplier choice, strategic partnerships and distribution channels will also gain more for your business when it is laser-focused on your particular strength.
Say you run a local bakery. You have $1k/month to spend on marketing, and 3 hours a week of precious people time for innovation. You spend your scarce marketing dollars on flyers, window arrangements and photography for Instagram posts. You spend your innovation time in the kitchen trying new recipes and formats.
Without focus, you “spray and pray” with your investments. If you are a general local bakery with nothing distinctive about you, $1k/month and 3 hours a week for tinkering will achieve a low ROI. Your marketing will compete with all other stimuli grabbing the attention of your audience, and 3 hours a week tinkering with no focus leads to little traction.
But if your $1k/month and 3 hours a week is focused on the one resonant and distinctive thing about your business, you magnify the impact of each of those dollars and each of those hours spent.
So get very intentional and specific. Perhaps your bakery is one that:
Let’s pick the birthday cake focus. With Instagram posts focusing on birthday cakes specifically and consistently, the audience will remember because of that specificity and repetition, yielding a strong return on your marketing investment. With all innovation efforts focused on birthday cakes, rather than on general improvements, your birthday cakes get better and better, as you get more and more known for them, which then fuels you to get even better and more known for them. That recognition begets features in local magazines and on morning news shows, which magnifies your message at no added expense to you. That is the power of focus.
If you want to scale your business, and if you hope that it endures beyond you, then identify your focus through the lens of brand strategy now. This will fuel you to capture value today, and scale beyond your current state.
Lindsay is a Brand Strategist and Founder of Ironclad Brand Strategy, which builds brands using an exacting and analytic method. Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered a deep appreciation for the executive charge: to create sustainable value. Ironclad advises companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, IMDb, T-Mobile and Starbucks. Lindsay holds an MBA in Business from the University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business.