The Brand Umbrella

freedigitalphotos_umbrella gold coinsFor years, I’ve found it amusing to see a handful of all-over-the-map restaurants selling everything from pizza, donuts, espresso and chop suey…all offered on cluttered signs as part of the same menu!

Although I find it funny, even absurd, someone within these businesses must assume a strategy like this: “If I have everything anyone could possibly want under one roof, customers will have no choice but to give me their business.”

Not surprisingly, this is a flawed strategy. I never see many customers around these places. Why would anyone go out of their way to get their pizza and morning coffee from a business that specializes in neither? These businesses lack a Brand Umbrella: a central, unifying theme that holds their business identity together. Unfortunately, many businesses present themselves to the world in the same unfocused way as these all-over-the-map restaurants.

Could you be confusing your marketplace with an unfocused message? If so, you may be losing business because people do not clearly see the benefits you provide or how you differ from your competitors.

Why Branding Matters

A Brand Umbrella holds your entire slightly famous marketing strategy together. When done effectively, brands enable you to:

  • Differentiate yourself from your competition
  • Position your focused message in the hearts and minds of your target customers
  • Persist and be consistent in your marketing efforts
  • Customize your services to reflect your personal brand
  • Deliver your message clearly and quickly
  • Project credibility
  • Strike an emotional chord
  • Create strong user loyalty

Small business branding is about getting your target market to see you as the preferred choice. It’s not just about what you do; it’s about what you do differently from everyone else.

Get Focused

Effective Brand Umbrellas are created around a distinct market niche. A niche gives your marketing message a natural, sharp focus. The more you specialize, the easier it is to create and sustain a powerful Brand Umbrella, and the more your market will see the value of your services because you speak directly to their unique situation.

Avoid sending an unfocused message in your marketing by bundling disconnected themes, items, offerings, and services together. To do this, you risks sending a message that you don’t do any activity particularly well (a jack of all trades, master of none).

Identify your niche category or the overall industry or consumer segment you wish to serve, and create your Brand Umbrella with an eye on what members of your prospective niche have in common.

Develop a Positioning Statement

Imagine you’re in an elevator with a potential customer, and you have 30 seconds to answer his question, ‘What business are you in?’ Your positioning statement is a succinct promise to the target market that you will provide them with the benefits they care about the most. Capture that promise in a very short space and in a very compelling way.

Here are some examples:

  • We are an accounting firm specializing in nonprofits in Houston.
  • We are an all-organic grocery delivery service.
  • We help professional service firms attract more clients.
  • Our design firm specializes in refurbishing Victorian homes.

Keep your positioning statement short, focused and easy to remember. If you can’t explain your positioning statement in one sentence, you’ll have a hard time getting your fellow rider in the elevator to remember you after you’ve reached the lobby.

Use positioning statement everywhere—your business cards, website, answering machine, email signature and networking meetings. It’s a centerpiece of your Brand Umbrella.

Take Stock of Your Message

Start with your web site, which is where most prospects now go to learn about your business. Take a mental step back and try to see your business as an outsider.

Does your homepage speak, both rationally and emotionally, to your most ideal prospects? Does it sufficiently explain what you do in terms that are meaningful and relevant? Do you have a descriptive tagline that summarizes your business solution?

In an age of information overload, if you make prospects work to understand your business, they will click away. Avoid cluttering together too many messages, products and offerings. Make it easy for visitors to get their minds around your Ultimate Benefit.

Market Intelligence

Even if you have been in business for years, you need to stay up-to-date with market research to understand where your market niche is going. Today, business moves quickly and change is a constant. Ongoing market intelligence ensures that you understand the inner world of your target market so that you can adjust your core message as needed.

Market research can help you understand your potential customers, the likelihood that they’ll buy your products and services, why they’ll buy them, and how much they’ll pay. Market research can also help you evaluate your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, thereby providing one of the keys to dominating your niche.

Some no-cost methods include using Google News alerts (a free service). Read articles in trade and consumer publications, and surveys by business associations. And subscribe to newsletters that influence your niche.

By exploring as many sources as possible, combined with a commitment to ‘get out there’ and connect with people, you’ll find the information you need to make your Brand Umbrella a compelling, effective foundation for entire business.  


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