Brains, Not Bucks: Branding Your Business

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

If you have ever bought a home (a painful process for most people, and for various reasons) you may have chuckled at a recent TV commercial for Ditech. Picture the pudgy loan officer abusing his naïve homebuyers . . . until they see the advertisement for Ditech. Don’t you love to hate that guy? Arent you gleeful hearing the lazy banker wail, “Lost another loan to Ditech?”

For small business owners, however, this commercial has a dark edge. With millions of dollars to spend on clever TV advertising, Ditech has made itself a household name. In the process, it has damaged the credibility of every local lender, good or bad.

For the honest business owner struggling against a competitor with deep pockets, this problem is very real. After weeks of pursuing a name brand player, even the Cleveland Indians have gotten similar news when the player has admitted he was more comfortable going with the Yankees. We have all thrown up our hands and lamented, “We cant afford to brand our businesses. While Davids slingshot may have beaten Goliaths size, how can my pennies match my giants dollars!”

Regardless of who your customers are, you must be seen. You must build credibility, and you must broadcast a growing reputation. But with media advertising so expensive and risky, many owners just quit trying. Giving up has the following consequences:

  • Your cost of finding customers stays high in terms of money, time, and energy.
  • Without a recognized brand, your sales force has to wade through unqualified leads and close business you would rather avoid.
  • Your referral network struggles to define who you are and why someone should call you. Worse yet, your lack of branding does not reinforce their assertions.

So, with the great need to brand your business, what can you do on a shoestring?

  • Be unique. Seek out and define your Best and Highest Use.® Know what you do well, what you like doing, and what you have been paid by customers for doing.
  • Refine and refocus what you do, who you do it for, and what pain or opportunity it resolves for your customer base.
  • Consistency builds credibility. A brand is ultimately a promise that is kept over time. Whether you have unlimited funds or empty pockets, what you say is what you must do.
  • Take some time to think about, write down, and find ways to articulate what your company does well. You know more about your business than your customers do, right? Branding involves communicating what you do well in a way that attracts the customers you serve best. Everyone wants to hear a good story.
  • Once you have a message, convey it through any and every affordable means. This includes electronic resources, ink on paper, at live gatherings, and through any other venues you can find. Having once checked into a hotel that had a free drink coupon taped under the toilet seat with the tag line, “Look under your potty to get a free toddy,” I ask you, how far is too far?

When it comes down to it, you can have brains, bucks, brains and bucks, or none of the above. Look closely at your adversary; how many of those big firms have more bucks than brains?

Here are my nominees for the Large Business Branding Hall of Shame:

  • Kentucky Fried Chicken. From trying to downplay the “fried” label by rebranding the chicken as “KFC” to repositioning the chain as “health food,” the company has sacrificed both identity and credibility.
  • Amway. After spending millions to become a household name, Amway removes its name from most of its advertising. Why? The name was hurting sales.
  • Professional Sports. Despite holding a monopoly on the world’s top choice of entertainment, the NBA, NFL, and MLB advertising campaigns fight the inappropriate behavior of all those who profit from them.

How about brains over bucks? My choices for the Small Business Branding Hall of Fame:

  • Ron Popiel and Ronco Products. Inventor and self-marketer of the Diceamatic and the Pocket Fisherman, Ron Popiel has turned a tiny budget and some wacky ideas into a household brand able to open pocketbooks for decade after decade.
  • Red Adair the Oil Well Fire Fighter. As a small businessman, the great Red Adair became the go-to guy for oil companies and countries that needed a daredevil to save them millions of dollars and gallons.
  • Boston’s No Name Restaurant. Built on a rat-populated wharf, this restaurant remains a fixture for the budget-conscious fish lover despite having neither a sign nor a name.

Never, never doubt the power of a brand. And remember, nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM. The key is to become well known and known well, starting in your own small or mid-sized circle. Articulate and communicate your brand and follow through with your customers. You may be surprised by what your brains can do with little money.

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at (412) 973-2080, by email at, or on the web at

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