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Archive for the Strategy Category

Small Business Branding from Costco…Aisle 12

Small Business Branding from Costco...Aisle 12

When small business owners find out that I’ve spent a great deal of my corporate life at large companies, they all say the same thing.

“You don’t understand.

We’re too small to have a brand.

We don’t have time for strategic plans.

We don’t do that.”


Truth be told, they don’t understand.  Most of the business rules that apply to multi-national, multi-tiered, multi-billion dollar businesses also apply to small and mid-sized businesses.  And yes, even to start-ups.  Here are the Big Four:

  1. Mission statements matter.
  2. Meaningful core values matter.
  3. Respecting the market and your partners matters.
  4. Living 1 , 2 and 3 above creates your brand foundation



I went to Costco yesterday after a long hiatus. I walked through those doors and I swear I heard angels singing and harps playing.  Heaven!   Not only did I save $300 on my new eyeglasses and $75 on the Vitamix 5200 but the store was clean, Costco employees were all quite professional and well spoken … and I got a huge frozen yogurt for $1.35.  In many ways, Costco hasn’t changed in the last few years.  But, what does this have to do with small business branding.

First thing to understand is Costco’s mission:

“To continually provide our members with quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices. In order to achieve our mission we will conduct our business with the following Code of Ethics in mind:

Obey the law
Take care of our members
Take care of our employees
Respect our vendors”


Many people believe that missions and strategy and core values only live on paper.  There are billion dollar companies who do just that.  Sad, but true.  But, those who take the time, thought and energy to create mission statements and core values that are meaningful to the company and the market put themselves in the game.  Those who have the focus and discipline to live and breathe their mission and values are far ahead of the game.  They will build a firm foundation for their brand, an operating code for employees, differentiation from competitors and a connection to their customers.

Brand Yourself to Differentiate Your Business!

Brand Yourself to Differentiate Your Business!

Branding YourselfMarketing yourself is a great way to differentiate your organization and build your business’  brand.   Are you looking for the key differentiation between your business and the hundreds of others that your customers can easily find?  Then look no further than the essence of “you”.

As a small business owner, you may just be one the the biggest determinations of your business’ success.   There may be hundreds of other companies like you out there.  But, there aren’t hundreds of  “you”.  Branding is all about finding the unique, meaningful differentiation in your business.   Could that be you?


It has never been easier to locate people or suppliers in your industry, who are capable. Search engines and social networks allow us to find capable people and check them out, without even picking up a phone.

Your capabilities
So, if you are relying on being capable, as a way to build your business, you are going to find yourself consistently fighting to get noticed. You will find yourself consistently having to justify your fees. You will find yourself consistently having to compete against all those other capable people and businesses. You will find yourself unable to look to the future with confidence.

Of course, it is essential for you to be capable. However, that’s not even the baseline any more, now that prospective clients can find 10 capable alternatives on Google, in seconds.

Being more than capable
Fortunately, although there are thousands of people, perhaps millions, who are capable in your area of expertise, there is only one YOU.

You are unique.
You have a unique set of life experiences.
You have a unique personality.
You have a unique mind.
You have a unique way of solving problems.
You have a unique set of contacts and resources.
Focusing on what makes you uniquely valuable, is what allows you to rise above your competitors and grow a successful business. Learn how to provide a great service, then learn how to do it your own, unique way. The only place someone can get your unique service… is from you.

No more competition. No more fee sensitive clients. No more poorly suited clients.

Just clients and customers who ‘get’ your unique way of doing things and value you!

From by Jim Connolly

If You’re Not Your Own Worst Enemy, Who Will Be?

If You're Not Your Own Worst Enemy, Who Will Be?

15875809_sOne of the most dangerous things you can do in business is to fall in love with yourself.  You sit behind your desk and pat yourself on the back.  You’re just so smart.  You know it all.  Isn’t it true that no one else really understands the business as well as you do.  Isn’t it true that your competitors just copy everything you do?   Isn’t it insane how ignorant your customers are?   Ahhhh!  You are the font of knowledge… the queen of all that is good… the all-seeing and all-knowing.  HA!

Right about now is when the sky opens up and the supreme order of life showers rolling gales of laughter upon your kingdom.  The harsh reality is that you are not your business.  Your business cannot sustain itself without a network of employees, partners, customers, and competitors.  It’s your relationship to this network that truly differentiates your business potential. Do you respect them?  Are you willing and able to learn from them?  Are you able to read between the lines and develop insights into the market?  Are you create enough to weave new solutions from your learning?

Once you start thinking you are the infallible genius who predetermines the success of your company, your industry and your customers you open the door to a slippery slope.  But, here’s the harsh reality.  The next great idea will not spring forth from inside a walled off mind.  The seeds of that next great idea are likely to come from your customers or employees.  Or perhaps it’ll come from a competitor or a completely different business.  Maybe it’ll come from that movie you saw over the week-end or a trek through a local park.  The most genius thing you can do is to open your thinking to the world.

Don’t think that you know it all.

Don’t believe that you are the best at what you do.

Don’t think that you’re the only one who can do what you do.

Don’t believe your own press releases.

DO keep an open mind.

Branding? We Don’t Need No Stinking Branding!

Branding? We Don't Need No Stinking Branding!


What is a brand?

Here’s a hint.  Don’t check Wikipedia.  Their definition (and many others) is wrong!

Wikipedia: “Brand is the name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”  However, they go on to include the following in their definition – “name, logo, tagline, graphics, shapes, colors, sounds, scents, tastes, movement, and customer relationship management.”


We don’t know what a brand is…but we can’t afford it!

I hear it all the time.  “We’re a small company.  We don’t have money to brand our products.  We don’t do branding.  We don’t need it. “  Too late folks.  If you’re in business and interact with anyone in the real or virtual world, you are branding.  You may not be doing it intentionally and you might not be doing it well…. But, you’re branding.  In fact, I’ve seen people who are developing great brands without even knowing it.


A few years back, I was working with a multi-billion dollar multi-national.  Markets were changing faster than we were and, although the company was involved in a broad range of products, they were largely known for only one.  A conclave of key executives met to develop a new strategic plan.  I was new to the organization but surprised that branding wasn’t part of the plan.  I raised the issue and was quickly shot down with “we really don’t have the money for big ad budgets”.  Heads were shaking with the smirk of “she doesn’t get it”.  In spite of explanations that I was talking about branding and not advertising, I was unable to change the group’s thinking.  I must admit I was pretty shocked that this highly regarded organization didn’t get branding.


Brands live everywhere

On Day 3 of the meeting, I made my last impassioned plea.  When countered with the “we don’t have money for big ad budgets”, I responded.  “Brands exist without advertising.  When Sam the Salesman meets with the buyer of Mongo Mart and spends an hour explaining the new fru-fru technology … that’s branding.  When Rita the Receptionist gives an astoundingly warm welcome to each person who crosses the threshold of our corporate offices… that’s branding.  When Carlos the Customer Service Rep helps someone figure out what’s wrong with their product…. that’s branding.  And, when Cheryl in Collections screams at a customer who’s past due … that’s branding.   Our brand exists at every touch point in the company.  Brands do not just live in logos, brochures and advertising.  Brands live in people.  The way we interact with the world defines our brand more deeply and more honestly than any advertising will.”  I took a deep breath and sat down.  I turned around to sit down and heard the applause of 150 executives who, only days ago, thought I was crazy.  Life was good.  We refocused the corporate brand from the inside out and then embarked on one of our most successful advertising and branding campaigns.

Brand is evoked by the things you do, the way you behave and how those actions are perceived.  Although you can create symbols and messages that communicate what you believe to be your brand, you need to be true to who you really are.  Advertising, PR and social marketing can communicate a brand.  They can’t change the reality of your brand.


Brand is the world’s reaction to the perceived truth of your company.

It is created and re-created every day by everyone affiliated with your organization.  It evolves with the intention communication of advertising, PR, social marketing and even product development.  It is ever changing.  Nevertheless, in this world of transparency, your brand cannot live as a figment of someone’s imagination.  Branding done right can help shape your future in a consistent, persistent way that ads, tweets, press releases, logos, videos and Facebook pages cannot.


“If you ever have the good fortune to create a great advertising campaign, you will soon see another agency steal it. This is irritating, but don’t let it worry you; nobody has ever built a brand by imitating somebody else’s advertising.”
David Ogilvy

Why Woody Allen isn’t a Marketing Consultant

Why Woody Allen isn't a Marketing Consultant

woody allen

Marketing is changing more quickly today than ever before. To be good at what we do, we need to be ahead of the curve. But, you can’t discount those old, time-proven lessons.

Some time ago I worked with a Marketing Communications VP who loved quoting Woody Allen – “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” He lived and breathed that credo. And, as the person who (loosely) controlled the budgets on our biggest ticket expenses, we spent a lot of time and money showing up at trade shows, conferences, in magazines and on television. There wasn’t much thought about why we were spending that money and time.  And there was virtually no thought about what we were trying to achieve.

The time came to launch the company’s first website and we had our obligatory launch meeting. There was clearly a rush to be the first in our industry to launch a website. It was OK if didn’t have clear objectives. It was OK if we didn’t have half of the information we needed. It was OK if we didn’t figure out how to integrate all of our businesses. We had to compromise because, “80% of success is showing up” and we wanted to be the first to “show up”.

The site launched. It was good… but far from great. We were the first but it really didn’t matter to anyone. Our customers didn’t care. They wanted to use our site for decision-making information. Some customers left our site wondering why such a big company would be so haphazard with their site. Well, I could tell them why… because we thought the most important thing was showing up.  And, about 3 weeks after we launched our site, one of our competitors launched theirs.  It was a far, far better site than ours.  Although we were the market leader (by a long shot) they took over the position of thought leader.  They were the beacon of light, the font of knowledge, they danced a thousand glittering factoids on the head of a pin… and looked good doing it.  In our rush to “show up” we plumb forgot to be good at what we do.

Last week I was visiting a new consulting client to talk about a few marketing projects. Within the first few minutes I hear, “Facebook and Twitter are so big, I think we should be in social media.” I ask what they expect to accomplish. Then comes the answer that has echoed in many businesses, “Everyone’s doing it.” We just need to be there.” Please say it ain’t true. The ‘showing up’ mantra has just ‘deja vous-ed’.

Too many businesses are just focused on ‘showing up on social media. There are tens of thousands of static corporate profiles on Facebook, tweetalicious tidbits of company-centric news being sent to people who don’t read them, blank blogs and insipid instagrams. Conversations and customer generated messaging is what the internet was really designed for … and we haven’t even begun to see the full power of the new multi-level messagingSM. But, just showing up is not enough.

Poorly conceived ideas. Insane creative with no clear objectives. Self-indulgent marketing. These things were always wasteful…now; they could be permanent scars on your company, your brand, and maybe on you. It used to take millions of dollars to get a new idea (stupid or smart) into the market. Now, it takes minutes. Your energetic burst of creativity could be permanently etched into the elephant-like memory of the internet…and the impressionable minds of your consumers.

Now, perhaps more than ever, the basics of “good” marketing apply. The first steps still include a thoughtful, insightful, clear marketing plan. Communications still need to sync with objectives and brand positioning. The most successful marketers will figure out how to apply the old marketing rules to the new world. Many already have. What is certain is that just showing up is not enough.

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Susan is a marketing leader who understands the creativity required to insure enduring success. She is smart, innovative and committed to getting it right.

K. SharpeC.E.O.Sharpe Partners

How We Can Help You.

We are marketing consultants based on Long Island, NY. Over the past 20 years, we've built fierce market leaders in a broad range of businesses - from tiny start-ups to global Fortune 500 companies.  Our experience spans multiple industries from consumer electronics to financial services and from food services to photo.  We're looking forward to talking to you to see how we can help take your business to the next level.