Branding Strategies for Small Business – a Conversation with David Brier
When David Brier speaks, I listen!
David Brier isn’t your run-of-the-mill Branding/Marketing expert.
David doesn’t believe in creativity for the sake of creativity. David subscribes to Ogilvy’s mantra of: It isn’t creative if it doesn’t generate sales.
I reached out to David, and he was generous enough to spend some time with me doing a Q&A about branding strategies for small business.
Here are some of the questions that were covered in the call:
What is branding? How is it different than marketing?
Is branding something that small businesses should worry about?
Where should someone start if they want to rise above the noise and defeat their competition?
What about social media? Is it a usual part of a brand strategy?
What are some of the biggest mistakes small businesses make when it comes to branding?
Once a business owner has developed their brand now what? How do they communicate it to the world? The branding agency birmingham can answers all these questions.
Have a branding question? Want to know more specifics about how to crush your competition? Leave your questions in the comment section at the bottom of the page, and I’ll do my best to schedule a follow up call with David Brier and get him to answer your specific questions.
Below is the transcript of our Q&A.
Wayne: Hey everyone. Thanks so much for taking time to be a part of this call today. I’m very excited about our guest today on the call. I really look forward to hearing his thoughts and having his guide us through the process of creating a brand and strengthening our brand. And, more specifically, how that directly will impact the bottom line of your business and my business. Today with us David Brier. David is a brand strategist, an award winning designer, fast company expert blogger, and a very in demand speaker. His award winning designs and branding has graced the business and cultural landscapes for the past three decades. For clients such as the New York City Ballet, Tower Reality, Estee Lauder, Revlon, Legacy Chocolates, Trump Towers, New York City Skincare Expert, Joanna Vargas, and many other clients. David seems focused on carving distinctions for clients and steering them clear of clichés has earned him well over 320 industry awards and recognitions.
His passion culminated in his writing and designing, the first ever show and tell book of it’s kind on branding entitled, “Defying Gravity and Raising Above the Noise”. A book that has had the rare honor of having Steve Jobs, as well as Donald Trump amongst it’s owner. In addition to being an astute designer and innovator, David is first and foremost, a practical strategist, who provides the blueprint or brand voice, to ensure that his clients do not blend in to the deafening in today’s Media. Thanks so much for being with us today, David.
David: My pleasure. Thanks, Wayne.
Wayne: So let’s dive right in. For those who haven’t heard of you before, can you give us just a brief overview of who you are, and what DBD International does?
David: Well, very simply, I’m a native New Yorker. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and now I’m living in the Midwest. Often times when people hear that, the first question they ask me is, “What the heck is a native New Yorker doing in the Midwest?” And I tell them it’s part of witness protection program and that tends to move the conversation forward.
Wayne: That’s the end of after they here that, huh.
David: Yeah, exactly. At that point they realize that to ask anything more, they could be threatened, putting their life in danger. Essentially, what happens, with regards to what I do on a slightly more serious note, is that clients, businesses today truly have two sides of either heaven and hell, really. One is that there’s greater opportunity to get the word on what they do than before. They have incredible avenues, they have the ability to create blogs, communications, messages, YouTube, and various avenues, lots of channels. On the flip side, there is an increasingly deafening amount of noise polluting all those channels, because not all of those are going to quality communications. So where one might have previously had a very limited amount of competition, now the competition is many, many, many, many more choices. To the point where if one were look at the landscape today, what one sees is that, you and I when we’re buying something, that we are as prone to taking free advice and recommendations from complete strangers. If you look at Amazon, wherever it says customer who bought also bought, well that’s you and I taking advice, and basically getting a referral from someone we have never known, may never know, might not even have the same lifestyle as. But, yet, that’s having an impact and an influence on what choices we make to actually buy. So the whole branding landscape is a very, very interesting dynamic today. Which makes the whole need for defining what a company is saying, and the way it’s saying it, even more important than ever before
Wayne: Let’s take one step back. How do you define branding? What is branding?
David: I will define branding with four words. Because you will a gazillion books in the business of section of wherever you buy books, you’ll find a gazillion books on branding, marketing, etc., etc., laws, principles, breakthroughs, and all these things. And after reading quite a few of those as well as authoring my own book, I really narrowed it down to four words. Branding is The Art of Differentiation. That’s really means when a consumer is buying something, and it doesn’t matter to me whether that consumer is buying something in a store, or buying something online. Or, someone in a business that’s deciding to something, I don’t care whether it’s business to business, or business to consumer, that doesn’t matter to me. Because at the end of each side of the transaction, there’s a person who’s making decision. So what one is dealing with is, how am I, the person making a purchase decision, how am I knowing that this thing is the right item for me, and for my needs? Whether they are personal needs, whether they are business needs, whether they are entertainments needs, or whatever. How do I really, really know that? And the way that is achieved is through a series of disciplines that collectively make up this thing called a brand. And it’s how people know your company, it’s how people your business, and what it stands for. Not only stands for but it what it stands against. Some of the most powerful brands in the world are based on what they’re against. You look at Apple, Apple is against the factor of everything just being status-quo and technology being, actually, in the way. And it was about making technology work for the people, rather than making people work through used technology. And so, very, very clearly, that’s what it’s against. You look at the whole movement with regards to hybrid cars, they are against polluting the environment. If you look at Dyson vacuum cleaners, which completely reinvented that industry, and they were against an inferior product, that basically had remained unchanged for, I don’t know, how many ever decades. Vacuums cleaner just kind of remained unchanged. So the whole point is by using that and understanding that, one than gets to understand, “Well. okay. This is actually different than all of these other things.” And when you carve that difference, as a brand, people now can understand and embrace it. And if you fail to actually drive in that point of difference, the consumer will do it for you. And the way that do it for you, if they cannot tell any difference, they then say, “okay. Which one is cheaper?” They will default, because they are craving a difference and that is why branding is so key. You fail to brand, you now leave yourself, basically, being determined, your value is being determined by the price tag associated with your product.
Wayne: Right. You’re making the decision to become a commodity, is what you’re doing.
David: That is totally correct. And that’s exactly right. If you are deciding, we’re not going to brand, you have right there made the decision, we are going to be commodity, and we will now be driven by price. At which point, if you’re in the pricing war, then you’re going to lose. Because you’re going lose margins and then you don’t have enough. They’ll refuse you as valuable, you’re expendable and someone is going to come along sooner or later and say, “Why should all this be the same?” Someone is going to innovate. If you don’t innovate and carve out a point of difference, someone’s going to do it.
Wayne: So for the people listening who would think, “Yeah, branding sounds great. I mean, certainly a great concept but I just have a small business. We’re a relatively small company, maybe even a start up.” What do you say to somebody like that who has that mentality that, “We’re too small for branding.”
David: Well, the bottom line is, the only way that any company, organization, is too small for branding is, essentially, if they, honestly, the only way that a company, that’s someone’s is going know you is by branding. The only way that you’re too small to brand, you could a littlest differences, doesn’t even matter if you take little bitty steps. It might be the way that package something, it might be the way that you deliver something. Every element, collectively, combines into what are the experiences that you and I have with that company? Is it good? Is it average? Is predictable, or is something beyond what I actually expected? Did it change my expectations? Does start to redefine how things are? One can do it in a very incremental matter and then you get one thing and now you say, “Okay. Good. We do that a little bit better than everybody else. Good. How do we know raise the bar again? How do we improve it even more and do it even more and do it even more?” We’ve taken start ups that, had they not invested in doing those steps upfront, they wouldn’t of seen the growth that they saw. I guess that’s the flip side of this, is that if branding and doing those necessary steps for branding is seen as an expense, like, “We cannot afford it.” It’s the wrong mentality. They have to look at like, that is your cost of doing business, that is your cost of sale. And I had to educate a new company, probably about seven years ago. A new company had started up, and the husband had come front he corporate side of the world, working for one of the big blue chip type fortune, whatever, companies. And it was interesting, I had to educate him into, no this is not an expense, this actually your cost of sale. And I, literally, sent him out to do a field trip. I said “I want you go to this store and I want to buy anything in that store. I knew how the store viewed their customers and tell them that’s it’s a gift for somebody and just stand back and watch.” And he went ahead and did that. He, at the end of that 20 minute exercise. he called me as he was walking out to his car and said, “David, I think I’m starting to get it.” I could have talked until I was blue in the face, but until he saw it for himself, what was the difference, and then he understood that their effort that they took to make that package memorable, that was cost of sale. They could have said, “No, that taking to much time. We’re not going to spend seven minutes to box up something. But that seven made the difference of a loyal, a very, very, very loyal customer base.
Wayne: So what do you say to somebody who says, “Okay. Look, I understand the importance of branding. What you’re saying is making sense. But where do I start? I mean, how do I get started in standing out from the crowd and not being viewed as a commodity?”
David: Well, the first place that we tend to start is, one has to step into the shoes of their buyer. Because they have to realize that no, it doesn’t matter how, if the greatest reinvention in the world. It’s not the factor that it is great or isn’t great, it is the factor that branding is that bridge, between someone who knows nothing about you, to now understanding how you’re different. It is that bridge, and that’s it’s function. And so one has to now step into the eyes of the consumer, of your buyer, and say, “Okay. How many different choices do I have, as the buyer, to solve XYZ problem?” Whether it’s something that might be a piece of equipment for a computer, or it might be something for the home or it might be for cleaning something, or it might be sport’s wear, or it might be car. It could be anything under the sun. It doesn’t matter, because there are many, many choices. And right now, today, unless you’re entirely creating a brand new category, they are solving that problem, or addressing that need in some way. So you need to know, okay, how are they doing it? Are they happy with it? Are they unhappy with it? Is it working for them? Is it just sort of an okay, like, a necessary evil, like, well, they don’t really like to do it, but they do it because they know it’s good. What’s the actual environment and once you start to understand that, you can start to see where the opportunity is. So it’s really having that starting point, you know, where to begin.
Wayne: It really boils down to truly understanding and knowing your potential buyer, and really understanding what they’re looking for. Their needs, their wants, their desires, and what’s available in the marketplace. Is that pretty much what you’re saying?
David: That’s a lot of it. And, once you have done that assessment, you then have to look at, well, now there are channels of communications. That’s your initial raw broad stroke. After that you have say, well, what are the channels of communications that we have to reach different people? There might be online opportunities that nobody thought of before. There might be different opportunities, that maybe make the actual produce itself part of the people who are passionate about what you’re doing. An example, Jones Soda. Instead of going after the big, you know what, we’re going to create the big soda, the soda to go up against the Coca-Cola’s of the world and the Pepsi’s of the world, that would have been a very stupid way to go about it. So what they did is they found that there were extreme sports enthusiast and there was a culture that went with extreme sports enthusiast. So they created a brand of soda, that was totally, absolutely a voice of that community. And they made a killing. They are incredibly successful. They even took their different customers who would submit photographs, that they then became the photographs that they would use on the labels, themselves. So they made the actual customer, such an integral part, they made a voice, that product became a voice of the customer. And it was brilliant, because they found a particular area that wasn’t being addressed. Rather than going broad stroke, they looked, what’s the opportunity. Who’s maybe being under serviced, under valued, under appreciated? And how could we do it better? That’s one example.
Wayne: So, kind of shifting gears just a little bit, and kind of talking around this topic now. But what are some of the biggest mistakes that you see small businesses making, when comes to 1, identifying their brands or coming up with a brand strategy? What are those mistakes that you typically see?
David: Probably one of the biggest ones is when they think, well, there’s really nothing new about we’re doing so we’ll just do it cheaper. To me that’s just plain old, you know, if your really, truly are not doing anything that really is servicing anyone any better then rework it. That would be, that’s one big mistake. That other mistake is going ahead and creating a truly revolutionary, or at least a new category of service or product. And yet trying to describe it with the same exact terms and descriptions, as your competitors have using for 5, 10, 20, 30, or 40 year. Which makes impossible for the customer to actually say, “Oh, this is different.” All they see is, “Oh, another choice on the landscape.” And that’s the decision that every company has to make. Do we want to simply be another choice, and let them to sort of mentally figure it out and work out the differences? Or, do we want to do our job here, and use language that defines who we are, that separates us from the crown? That makes it really rather impossible to ignore, and do it a way that people can go, “Wow.” That gets them kind of excited. People do enjoy brands that actually have some fun. It’s really knowing your sweet spot, because if you’re using clichés in your branding, you are promoting your category not your brand. That you can take to the bank. That is something that anybody who’s listening to this, if they just know that one fact, it can totally change how they approach branding and marketing. If they’re using clichés in their branding, they are promoting their category of stuff, which includes all of their competitors, they are not promoting, specifically, their brand.
Wayne: And what would be an example of a small business that does that? So when you reference cliché, what do you mean by when they use clichés to market or brand their business? Any examples that come to mind?
David: You could say, well, “breakthrough”, “next generation” “state of the art”. These are kinds of terms and phrases that have been so overused that they’re meaningless at this point, they don’t mean anything. Let’s look at one example, just as a case in point. Not everybody is aware that when Apple came out with the iPod, not the iPad but iPod, the MP3 Player, it was about the third or fourth MP3 player on the market. There had been, for a couple years, there had been MP3 Players. But Apple came out with it, they created a very nice user experience, in terms of the click wheel. It was cool, it was easy to carry, but it was how they drove the message home. Instead of talking about, and here’s the big mistake, here’s just a very everyday example. Anybody in technology, the biggest mistakes they tend to make are they always talk about themselves, which is also a common branding mistake. I’m going to talk to you about me. When actual fact, the world class brands talk about you and they talk about me, in terms of the buyers, They talk about us and our values, what’s important to us. Well, Apple, when they came out with the iPod, if you recall, all of their ad’s were these 30 seconds ad’s. They were TV commercials with bright colors and you have rock and roll bands, and dancer, and all you had was the black silhouettes with the bright colored backgrounds and then all had were the ear buds and white silhouettes and the little rectangle hanging on their waist. And it just went on and closed with, and it didn’t talk about how many gigahertz, which would’ve been talking about the technology and all that stuff. It didn’t talk about how much, you know, what went into it. Was it solid state? It didn’t talk about anything technical. All it said were these very few special magic words. It said the iPod logo and then it simply said, “A thousand songs in your pocket.” And that separated it out from all of the other wannabes. And even when you take a company as big as Microsoft, that years later they tried to get a piece of the MP3 marketplace, when they came out with Zune, I think they had tried for 7 to 9 years to make Zune something that people would embrace. Zune was there answer to the iPod. Very few people have heard of it. I can guarantee you it never ended up on anybody’s Christmas wish list, say, “Oh, can I have a Zune?” No, no, no, they wanted an iPod. And so when a company that big with pockets that deep can make such a stupid mistake, that they didn’t even use branding, the art of differentiation, to do it. That’s why they ended up closing the Zune product line, and terminating it. Because they failed, simply because they didn’t do the right steps. So that’s why, that’s a lesson in showing the small companies can make it. Because all they have to do is they have do it smarter, not bigger. They don’t have to, because the big company like Microsoft blew it, and they have pockets deeper than anybody. They couldn’t do right because they didn’t understand branding.
Wayne: Let’s shift over a little bit. What are your thoughts on social media? I know right now, it’s kind of the buzz word in the media, the buzz word in business and marketing. And lots of small business owners are kind of jumping on this whole social media bandwagon, using it as a tool. What are your thoughts with regard to utilizing the social media to promote a brand, or to help build or identify your brand?
David: The basic thing about social media, and I will cover this when I’m actually in Louisiana and we’re doing this. I’m going actually cover this, because it’s something that people really need to understand when we’re doing the seminars that we’re going to be doing. The thing about this is that social media is a channel, of communication. People have thought that, there’s has been milestones in business, there was a milestone when the fax machine first came out. That was going to change things because there are those of us who have been in the industry long enough that know that. Well, the only way you would get a contract out, or you would get a promotion, is you had to pop in the mail. And that could take anywhere from two days to a week. And the fax machine came and that was breakthrough, somebody could have a message and transmit it in five minutes. Of course it was black and white on thermal paper but, you know, okay, whatever. And that was breakthrough and then there was overnight shipping and all of that. And each of these are supposed to totally revolutionize industry. And then of course, there was the Internet, where everybody and their mother did horribly, bad websites and terrible things and such. All expecting that the Internet was going to be this golden goose. Then you end up with something like social media, which again, like each these previous examples, is simply channels of communication. What you must do before any of those things matter is work out the branding aspect which is why should anyone care. Why should anyone care? How is this going to increase the quality of my life? How is this going to make things better? How is it going to make what has been acceptable, up until now, meaningless, because this has entirely changed the game? If you can’t truly answer those questions, it’s a waste of energy to really go into social media because all that you end up doing is you end now communicating to more people more effectively than ever before, the ability to relay the fact that you have nothing to say.
Wayne: So it’s really, from the way that you’re explaining it, it’s nothing more than a tool just like running radio or in television spots, buying a billboard. It’s a method or channel of communicating a message to your potential audience, and without first truly understanding what you’re audience wants. What other messages they’re being bombarded with everyday, and, like you said, what makes you different. What makes you a fascinating choice. And it ends up, you spend a lot of time doing the same old, same old.
David: That’s correct.
Wayne: Well, in closing out, if you don’t mind, tell everybody, first of all, a little bit about your book. Then if you would, go into where people can learn more about you and about your company.
David: Absolutely. Well first of all, our website where people can visit, they can go to www.risingabovethenoise.com. It’s risingabovethenoise.com, no spaces. And if they go there, there’s a few things they can take advantage of. One is they can subscribe to actually getting updates to our blog posts and case studies and such like that. They can also get, I wrote a free Ebook, which is called, “The Lucky Brand”. It covers, basically, the 10 ways to sort of outsmart, outpace, and out maneuver the competition. So that you really, it’s very, very simple. It was intentionally written in very succinct, little chunks with an action step. So there’s really 10 tips and 10 action steps, very simple, very applicable, and it’s totally for free. You can just go to risingabovethenoise.com and do that. Also, if you were go to the website, you would see, if you scroll down, you’ll see on the lower right that there’s a hardcover book called, “Defying Gravity and Rising Above the Noise”. It’s a hardcover book, it’s 11 inches by 13 inches, it’s hardcover, it’s full color throughout. Each copy is literally made to order, and so one click on it and order their own copy. It’s a great read and as you mentions, Steve Jobs and Donald Trump each had their copies. It’s very, very humbling to know that, along the various list of people that have their copies of the, in Steve Job’s case, obviously had had, this copy of this book before he passed away, which is great loss for all of us.
Wayne: And that’s where? On your website, risingabovethenoise.com, is where people can reach to you. They can contact you for your services as well as, I think you’re available as well for speaking events at various functions, and that can all be found on your website. Is that correct?
David: That is totally correct. And I look forward, I absolutely welcome anybody if they have questions, if they are interested in knowing more, they are more than welcome to Email me through that site, and I will definitely, personally respond. And I hope to see various of your listeners there when we come to Louisiana because I think it’s going to be great. I know it’s going to great, and it will be a great opportunity to get some face to face time with the various business owners and business leaders, who help them take their brands to their next level.
Wayne: Yeah. Well, we’re definitely looking foreword to it so. Thanks again so much for your time today, David, and we look foreword to seeing you in the near future.
David: Absolutely. Looking forward to it, as well.
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