Stop Making Excuses and Start Building a Great Brand

When you hear the word “brand” do you automatically think of large, established consumer companies?  Organizations with huge marketing budgets, big footprints, and sexy products?  Do you wonder how a start-up or small business with limited resources or how a business-to-business company selling a complex or technical product can build a strong brand?

It might seem that your situation is different and you might blame your lack of resources, your “unique” business model, or some other restriction for not focusing on your brand.  But your challenges really aren’t that unique.  Others like you have adopted a different approach, applying commitment, discipline, and focus on building a great brand.  And they’ve reaped great benefits.  Here’s how.

“We’re too small” is a common refrain among business leaders who believe that brands matter only for big companies.  People who write off examples of brand-building successes, saying that large marketing budgets are what made those bigger businesses so strong, fail to recognize that many great brands, including Starbucks, Nike, and Apple, started their brand efforts when they were resource-constrained. From the very beginning, these companies were driven by a bold mission and attracted new customers by appealing to those who shared their values.

More recently, sweetgreen, a fast-casual restaurant chain, was founded by three students in a 560-square-foot retail space — but they didn’t allow a small start to confine their big ambitions. They set out to create a brand that would make a positive difference in their communities.  In addition to serving up savory salads made of fresh, locally sourced ingredients in sustainably designed buildings, sweetgreen hosts an annual music and lifestyle festival called “sweetlife.” It also teaches thousands of elementary school students about healthy food every year and partners with other socially minded organizations to offer healthy living programs.  In a few short years, sweetgreen’s revenues have grown to more than $50 million, proving that when it comes to building a brand, size doesn’t matter.

Some business leaders think price sensitivity prevents their customers from establishing brand preference. They believe customers in their category make purchase decisions solely on price – brands don’t play a role.

Restaurateurs display this mindset when they continually rely on price promotions to create news and drive traffic. But some companies, including Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack, and Buffalo Wild Wings, have thrived without competing on price. They’ve managed to increase the influence of non-price drivers on purchase decisions – factors like experience, service, and brand personality. They’re competing with a different value equation and winning by infusing their brands with perceived value.

Another common excuse for opting out of brand-building is the presence of larger, better-resourced, more aggressive competitors.  You might think your brand-building efforts are doomed, so why bother, right?!

Walmart is probably the fiercest competitor most companies ever battle and yet the grocery store chain H-E-B has taken on the mega-retailer and won.  A couple of years ago, Walmart entered San Antonio, Texas, with guns blazing, announcing plans to bring its legendary low prices to the market. But H-E-B, which had long enjoyed a near monopoly there fought back.  It leveraged its  manufacturing plants to keep its prices competitive with those that Walmart achieved by strong-arming its suppliers. Moreover, H-E-B used its brand differentiation to keep Walmart at bay.  They developed unique private label items that were tailored for Texas taste — and their customers stayed loyal to their hometown favorite.  H-E-B shows that great brands face stiff competition with respect, not resignation.

It’s easy to see how brand-building works in categories such as sporting goods, fashion, and luxury products. It seems harder in those where products seem boring and unemotional. But PIRCH, an appliance, plumbing, and fixtures retailer, proves that brands have a place in unsexy categories, too.

Granted, a refrigerator may be more personal and relatable than industrial equipment or a technology platform, but the leaders at PIRCH could have used the same excuse that other hard goods companies do and designed their stores with a focus on features and functionality.  Instead they saw an opportunity to make their customer experience and their brand more exciting and creative.  From the “Baristas of Joy” who greet customers with offers to make handcrafted espressos, to the quirky signs like “The Demystification Station” that help customers navigate all the features and technology of their products, to the working shower heads that can be fully tested (by appointment; bathrobes provided), PIRCH has transformed the typically laborious process of shopping for home fixtures, with its tedious discussions about dimensions and delivery charges.

The opportunity is to make “boring” products inspiring and fulfilling through a unique brand personality, design details, and extraordinary customer experiences. ACME Brick did it with construction products, Google did it with a search engine, and Evernote did it with a note-taking app. Now PIRCH is doing it with home appliances.

Brand-building works whether your organization is big or small, new or old, out-spent or under-resourced, price-sensitive, differentiation-challenged, or economic cycle-impaired.  So, stop making excuses and start building a great brand!

Learn more about building a great brand in Denise Lee Yohn’s the new book, Extraordinary Experiences: What Great Retail and Restaurant Brands Do – available now.  Blending a fresh perspective, twenty-five years of experience working with world-class brands including Sony and Frito-Lay, and a talent for inspiring audiences, Denise is a leading authority on building and positioning exceptional brands. Denise is also the author of the bestselling book What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles That Separate the Best from the Rest (Jossey-Bass).

Updates for Small Business Yelp

The pioneer of aggregate critique collection, Yelp continues to be the hub of how consumers judge businesses. The higher the rating, the better chance you’ll get new visitors. To date, it remains the most influential site for customers. This means that every one-star rating yields up to a 9% decrease in sales. What this means for you is that you need to be on top of your Yelp page, monitoring and responding to reviews. Recently, Yelp released a whole host of updates through their Yelp for Business Owners app, giving you, the small business yelp user even more power than before.

Master the Profile Pic

Before you can actually start posting on Yelp, whether as a business or individual, you need a profile pic. Though the requirement might seem a bit draconian, it is in place to scare away as many trolls as possible, considering many only target easy to sign up for sites. This new app makes the process much easier, allowing you to pull photos from your phone. As soon as the photo is up, you can then tackle the reviews.

Why reviews? The reviews are your reputation. If too many bad ones pile up, you’ll be a company people avoid rather than flock to. Responding to the reviews is a great way to connect with your customer base to learn what works and what doesn’t, opening the doors to improvement. The first step, however, is actually seeking them out.

Picture Your Business

It used to be that Yelp photos could only ever be uploaded while at a computer. Luckily, this outdated and restrictive mode of updating is no longer an issue. The new app lets you add business photos from your phone as well. Be it more great pics of the interior or happy customers, those businesses with a selection of photos find themselves with customers that spend more time on their page.

Protect Your Page

Any page is subject to spam, not the least of which is Yelp, a high profile site. Though their team is great at preventing as much harassment as possible, they simply can’t catch everything. When you come across a flagrant violation of the site’s guidelines, you need to get rid of it fast. With their new app, you now have a flagging feature. With one tap, a picture, review or message is noted as a potential removal. The Yelp team then reviews the issue and deletes it if need be. This simple feature makes managing your business’ reputation even easier.

Yelp for the small business is no longer a day long hassle that seems to never end. With their current roster of updates, it’s clear that they are ready and willing to change with the times to remain a viable source of information for both the public and businesses at large. Don’t let this resource go untapped.

The Myths and Truths About Customer Reviews


The diversity of voices and opinions that create authenticity and ultimately value in a business’s online reputation.

In evaluating a product or service, consumers want to hear from more than just its ranters and ravers. They triangulate on the truth from many points of view.

This quick video takes you through the 5 Myths About Customer Reviews and introduces you to a Review Funnel that can help become a positive marketing channel for you.

The Cost of the Unhappy Customer

It seems like the first instinct now when you’re dissatisfied with a company is to post it on social media. According to Vision Critical, there are large costs associated with an unhappy customer.

Take a look and see how that unhappiness  has reach and influence fueling it.

Are You Ready for Event Season?

By Giles Cassels

Event season is here! Are you ready?

Do you have everything in place to:

  • Set up and send out invitations to potential attendees?
  • Provide a simple, smart online registration experience to get commitments that will stick?
  • Collect payments for your ticketed event during the registration process?
  • Track your success against sign-up goals in real time so you can optimize your outreach?
  • Efficiently collect payments and donations at the door and during your event?

If you answered “yes” to all of the above, congratulations! You are on your way to a well-attended and financially successful event.

If you answered “no” to a few of those questions, don’t worry. You still have time, but the time to act is now. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that your event is successful.

Send impactful invitations. Capture valuable data.

Online event planning services make it easier than ever to create and send great invitations that will build the kind of excitement around your event that drives attendance. Whatever type of event you’re hosting, you can work with a variety of customizable templates that make creating attractive, eye-catching, and informative invitations quick and easy.

You can send your invitations via email and have them direct potential attendees to your online event registration page where they can provide you with a firm RSVP. You’ll want to make sure that your registration is easy to complete, gives just the right amount of detail, and collects just the right amount of information.

By having people register online, you can easily track responses, measure your progress, and collect valuable data about your attendees that will help you measure success and optimize future events.

Collect payments during registration for greater success

If your event is one that requires payment to attend, you may want to make it a part of the online registration process. This gives your guests the chance to pay (using PayPal) while they’re already providing their information.

Including a payment option as part of your online registration process not only makes it easy and convenient for your guests, but it can save you time and headaches that come from trying to collect money later. Pre-paying makes it even more likely that the folks who registered for your event will show up too.

Gather payments and donations at the door and during your event

If you’ll be collecting payments or donations as people arrive or throughout the event, you might want to consider using an innovative mobile payment technology like PayPal Here. These easy-to-use credit card readers that connect to a smartphone or iPad, let you swipe a guest’s credit card and then email their receipt.

You can even have folks moving through the crowd at your event, collecting donations from guests at their tables or as they mingle. Imagine, you make a call for donations, and the money starts flowing in immediately. Not only that, but the funds you receive will usually appear in your account in just minutes.

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