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STAY LOCAL | Vol. 17, No. 5, March 11, 2010
(Stay Local)

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Branding Out

by Sean Boone

Expert Gives Insight On Making Name For Local Businesses

OK. You've got a business. You've got a product.

But do you have an image?

When it comes to marketing a small business, there really is nothing more important than finding a way to distance a product from the competition. That's why many experts say that creating a marketable "brand" should be placed as a top priority, particularly in a shaky economy.

"The road to success for any business is constantly changing. There is more competition in every category," says Michael Mendelssohn, founder of The Mendelssohn Group, Inc. in Gulf Breeze. "No matter if you are a plumber or a plastic surgeon--you have increased competition.

"To compound the situation, it is harder to reach preoccupied consumers that are distracted by thousands of messages coming at them every day."

Mendelssohn is an advocate of the BrandsFormation approach, which helps businesses market their brand for a better return in profit. The IN spoke with the marketing expert to see what it is that makes a profitable business and to gather a few secrets to creating and maintaining a brand in a small market such as ours.

IN: What is behind the BrandsFormation system?

Mendelssohn: BrandsFormation is the system that can help anyone take their good, small business and transform it into a great local brand. As a BrandsFormation Company, The Mendelssohn Group works to do that. If you're an owner-operated small business who'd like to increase your impact with a more disciplined plan, we take a small monthly salary to help you uncover your powerfully-unique idea and strategy, then we help you execute it.

IN: How can small, independent businesses compete with big-box stores?

Mendelssohn: Focus, strategy, commitment and courage. Small business forgets that every Goliath started as a David at some point. Marketing icon Jack Trout shared a gem of a secret with my founding partner Chuck Mefford. "The small business owner really has the advantage," Trout pointed out, and "the fact that David does not have to deal with the Goliath Wall Street, big business, and complicated board politics is the winning advantage. Small business is nimble, can stop, turn on a dime, learn and implement effective principles of branding just like the big boys."

The real questions to be asked are, "When I mention your product or service to people, does your company come to mind first?" "Do you own mental real estate in the minds of people?" That's how the big boys became bigif you want to compete with them, you've got to know how to play their game.

IN: What are some of the mistakes that business owners make when trying to brand their businesses?

Mendelssohn: Number one: Investing advertising dollars without knowing how you will measure your return on investment (ROI). You must be realistic and ready to answer two questions. First: How much money do you spend on advertising? Second: Are you getting a good return on investment (ROI) with your ad dollars?

I think I already know the answer for most, because I've asked those same questions thousands of times to small business owners, and heard their loud and nearly unanimous response--"we're frustrated!"

Number two: Microwave mentality is the desire for "instant" advertising results. Isn't that consistent with the prevailing feeling of our culture? Microwaves aren't fast enough, even with the ability to produce a fully-baked potato in minutes instead of an hour. We'll stand impatiently by the microwave as it cooks in one-tenth of the time. It is with this same impatience that we manage our businesses.

Look at it like investing. There are those known as day traders. Their philosophy can be described this way: investors counting on short-term results, and often anxious to make changes.

They jump around, looking for quick profit--buying and selling all day. Most advertisers are the same. "Let's try this. No, let's try that. No, here's a new thing." They jump from print, to radio, to direct mail, always looking for a quick fix, a quick pay-off. It's our demand for instant gratification that's the deal-breaker. Wouldn't you like to do better?

Look at someone like Warren Buffet. When the big IT boom was on, he was questioned for staying out of it. After the whole thing collapsed in the dot-bomb debacle, people were calling him a genius. He exemplifies the long-term philosophy: investors with long-term strategies are likely to remain confident and stay the course.

IN: What's your Differentiating Idea?

Mendelssohn: Find something you do very well and build your reputation around it.

Don't try to be all things to all people. You undermine your product or service if you try to be everything to everyone. That's the lesson of the Burger King story. They bounced back when they quit that effort, and went after their core fans.

Dramatize your Differentiating Idea. Ask, "How can I bring my message to life?" Build it around the question every consumer is asking, "What will your product or service do for me?"

Words are what get stuck in the mind. You are on your way if you can own a single word or a short phrase in the minds of people.

Even if you are selling a product that is purchased emotionally, you must give people a logical reason, a rationalization, for why they "need" it. Nobody really "needs" a Rolex or a Mercedes. The person who buys one feels much better about themselves by focusing on the "quality workmanship" of their emotionally-driven purchase.

How are you going to prove your Differentiating Idea? Hard data? Research? Surveys? Testimonials?