At the April 12, 2017, installment of Webolutions’ Executive Roundtable series, 26 private enterprise and nonprofit executives gathered to discuss the topic Creating a Successful Brand.

The group was split into two small groups, selected to maximize diversity of perspective.

One question at which both groups arrived organically was, Can a small or medium-sized business have a “brand?”

Moderators John Vachalek, Webolutions Founder and CEO, and John Brackney, Webolutions Director of Public Policy and Community Engagement, defined a brand as a memory bank of associations. A successful brand, then, is a memory bank of positive associations between what a company stands for and moments of happiness in people’s lives.

Big Company Branding Discussed

Big companies were used as examples to prompt the discussion. These included Chic-fil-A’s overtly fundamentalist Christian mission statement and conduct, Starbucks Coffee’s advocacy for refugees, Southwest Airlines commitment to friendliness and “love.” Disconnects at this level were also discussed, including United Airlines’ recent struggles, and having to fight one’s way through a credit card pitch at Sears for the privilege of purchasing a pair of socks.

Attendee Branding Examples

Parallels were immediately drawn from first-person experiences of the companies and organizations represented by the attending executives. One executive spoke about how she had positioned her brand so far into a luxury category that profitability suffered from loss of available lower-margin but higher-volume business, and repositioning became necessary. Another offered his company had “lost its way,” from focusing on a high-demand and heavily profitable niche. When market developments forced a downward turn within that niche, he tried to pivot into other sectors, only then learning his brand was too weak within them to acquire market share.

“It’s not about cutting through the noise,” said one attendee, “it’s about reaching the right people.” Valor Christian school and Cherry Hills Country Club were mentioned as local organizations with clear brand identity. “They don’t try to be for everyone, but you know who they are, and if they’re for you, you know it.” An attorney noted that her professional appearance—wardrobe, voice, approach, methodology–was a personal brand choice, borne of how she sees herself, and that it had helped her define her market. She now has a successful practice, retaining clients who dress, speak, act, and see the world as she does.

So, What About Small Company Branding?

Can a small business have a brand? Both groups agreed it is essential to purposefully embody what the business or organization stands for. This is especially true for those whose marketing efforts must be targeted locally, or with specialized offerings. Perhaps even more so when a business’s identity is an extension or embodiment of an owner’s personal belief system.

Specific takeaways included:

  • Authenticity in marketing is not a choice. Social media and ubiquitous access to all information gives the buyer a clear picture of who you are, and the degree to which your actions are congruent with your statements.
  • Good brands attract the right people, rather than trying to reach all people.
  • Constant, purposeful evolution is essential. Executives must make continuous brand development a high priority.
  • A positive, well-defined brand identity attracts the right people in every facet of business. Happy and engaged employees generate happy and engaged customers.
  • The world, and the customer, is constantly changing. Identify what your brand stands for. Pursue that goal. Tell that story. Customers who share your passion and values will come.

Lunch was catered by Tony’s Market. Attending were:

John Brackney – Facilitator
Chris Coberly
Heidi Culbertson
Kathleen Fortenberry
Bob Golden
Shiloh Kelly
Sue Kenfield
Dr. Lee Weisbard, DDS
Elizabeth Lewis
Michelle Lyng
Mike Maloney
Ishmail Nassardeen-Buckley
Barb Nasser
Ellen Penrod
Ashlie Reynoso
Steve Roper
Neal Rosner
Rick Roundy
Peter Sherwin
Becky Takeda-Tinker
Hilary Taylor
John Vachalek – Facilitator
Jon West
Robin Whitelaw