While many small business executives state their belief in the importance of branding and identity, a surprising amount miss the mark. When proper branding can have the largest impact on their company and its survival, they either choose to skimp on it by just having a logo created or worse, working counter to any identity at all. In some of the worse cases, the branding – or lack thereof – is so diabolical to the product offered that it actually taints the product. There are examples from all different sizes of companies showing where companies that are consistent across the board on identity excel and companies that seem to have no clue remain stagnant or disappear entirely.
Proper branding doesn’t just provide a logo for your letterhead or website – it provides a clear communication of the company and its values across all connection points. It should certainly help convey what you’re offering is, but it should also enable clear guidelines for how you actually do your business. Consistent identity informs your staff or perspective employees what you’re all about from a day-to-day and ethics basis when related to communications and even the design of the offices. And, it doesn’t even have to do with imagery alone. In the case of Zappos, they laid their identity foundation when they made clear that customer service comes first. That identity persists even after their phenomenal success led them to be acquired by Amazon in 2009. That unique and established identity enabled them to continue as they were and not be rolled into Amazon outright. You can read further about this in a Mashable post by Ben Parr soon after the deal was announced. Ultimately, it was not just about the logo or the business, but the entire brand, business and culture.
Just the other day, I experienced a small example of how consistency of brand is so important on a small-scale. In this case, it was about how a small restaurant was able to change the taste and perceived value of its food by changing the decorations – and not for the better.
This restaurant used to have stark white walls and clear tables. Just recently, they added the strip of wallpaper, lace tablecloths and placemats that sort of match the wallpaper strip. From this look alone, you would think the style of food is down-home cooking, comfort foods or maybe Italian if you want to stretch it. Either way, it does not seem like the sushi restaurant that it actually is. As a relatively frequent customer, I was shocked to see the decor change. To me, I would rather see stark white when it comes to Japanese food and this was so off to me that I wonder if they changed ownership and the quality of the food is going to suffer.
To be honest, the food didn’t taste as good as usual – and I wonder if that was because of the visuals. As with anything, all of the senses play a part in the experiencing of the product. In this case, the sense of sight colored my sense of taste. My hope is that they work through this and change it back to what it was.
In the same way senses affect everything, just because you put out a great product doesn’t mean you can skimp on the office space or the characteristics of your staff. Having a clear and consistent brand and identity makes it easier to convey what you want – rather than leaving it to your customer’s or partner’s imagination. Without strong adherence to consistency, it will prove to hurt you in the long run.
So, when you are small or just starting, the establishment, sharpening or even changing of identity is that much easier since you wont have to touch so many people and places to pull it off. Therefore, it is that much more cost-effective to do so at the beginning of your company’s life cycle rather than later when you’re trying to round the corner to ultimate sustainability at whatever cost. The vision that is created by clear and consistent branding is that much harder to disappear - don’t skimp on that vision.