Building Better Brands Without Millions of Dollars or Cute Polar Bears

building better brands

Do you have millions of extra dollars lying around to play with?


Okay. Glad we’re on the same page. All the Scarface wannabes out there can feel free to stop reading right now.

So you don’t have millions of dollars lying around. Or if you do, you’re at least smart enough not to stack them in your Miami mansion and snort cocaine out of them.

You can’t compete with large, Fortune 500 companies that toss millions of dollars into brand advertising. You can’t compete with Coca Cola’s polar bears. No one will ever think your ads are that cute.

Thankfully, you don’t have to…

Does Your Business Have an
Image Problem?

Perception is reality.

This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Some of the most notorious conmen in the world have used this to rip off people for millions. And people have used it for good, too. Psychological studies have shown that something as simple as assuming a “power pose” can actually increase your confidence over time.

Whatever image you’re putting out online, people are judging it. Especially in a world that’s replete with scammers, spun content, and Angelfire sites promising untold riches in less than a week.

People don’t give you the benefit of the doubt online. You might be able to make a so-so first impression on someone in person, see them again, and win them over. But not online. They’ll click away to one of your competitors’ sites fast enough to make your head spin. One and done.

It makes sense to judge businesses by their image too…

I mean, who would you rather buy a new stereo from? The guy beckoning you into an empty alley with a wide-brimmed hat and a cash only policy, or a big box electronics store like Best Buy?

You Can’t Afford to Look Unsuccessful

So you want to be credible like Best Buy. You want people to trust you without hesitation…

But you don’t have Best Buy’s marketing budget.

You can’t afford to look like a business hobo – even if you are one. Conveying an image of professionalism and current success is one of the most straightforward ways to new opportunities, customers, and a higher tax bracket.

You can’t be careless with your image. If you are, other people are going to define your business for you. This is the last thing you want.

Hopefully you’re already thinking and acting like a winner. So you might as well look like a winner too.

But how can you do that on a tight budget?

How do you make sure your brand is appealing?

Don’t Pay Fancy Brand Consultants Yet

The first thing you need to do is stop worrying about your brand.

That sounds weird, but bear with me for a second.

When you’re working with a smaller budget, you should be spending most of it on “core” business activities. Things like finding more leads and customers. Publishing engaging blog content. Building your email list. And most importantly, doing everything you can to blow your current customers away.

Building a brand is important, but it’s not a core business activity. Fancy brand consultants will disagree with me I’m sure. But if you put a gun to my head and forced me to spend a few dollars – dollars that mattered to me – on getting another customer or building a brand, I’d pick the customer every time.

You aren’t Coca-Cola (yet). You aren’t Apple (yet.) But you can, with amazing business acumen, many years, and some luck, turn into something like them.

You can only even think about growing your business to that level of success if you’re smart with your money now.

Then you can build golden swimming pools and dedicate fat stacks of cash to develop your brand.

Business First, Brand Later

How do you move forward?

Stop worrying about picking the perfect domain name. Stop worrying about getting a logo that “pops.”

Get started, and rack up your small wins. Find customers, over-deliver to them, and repeat. You’ll get better at it over time and turn it into a system.

Then, something almost magical will happen:

Customers will start coming to you.  People will tell their friends about you. Buyers will become repeat buyers, and your bank account will grow.

How did this work? Didn’t every business professor tell you that you had to spend time and money upfront to build a brand? You skipped that step! Something must be wrong… maybe you don’t deserve success.

Except you didn’t skip that step at all. You weren’t aware of it, but you were building your brand all along. Just putting your head down and getting to work is enough to get things started. Giving customers what they want – and doing it better than your competitors – are the seeds of an irresistible brand.

Various “unsexy” activities will help you get there. Building better brands comes from doing this kind of stuff:

  • Being reliable
  • Delivering enough value to make customers feel like they’re getting a huge bargain
  • Selling genuine solutions to problems and frustrations

That’s what it takes to separate yourself from the cesspool of mediocrity. Doing it over and over again, getting better at it, and doing it for a long time will really make you stand out.

I think conscious branding has its time and place. It’s important to express something that captures what you and no one else can do. There are cool strategies you can use to make yourself memorable down the line.

But when the budget’s tight, it’s business first and brand later. You’ll figure it out along the way. And your idea of what your brand should be will probably change over time. Don’t force your brand; let it develop organically. Then you can nurture it once you 1) know what it is and 2) have room in your budget.

Make a name for yourself as someone who consistently delivers. Then, once you free up some cash, you can hire a fancy web designer and logo guy to consciously craft a brand to make yourself truly unforgettable.

What Do You Think?

As long as your website doesn’t look like absolute garbage (which it won’t if you just buy a domain name and slap on a basic WordPress theme), nothing’s stopping you from finding customers and making them happy.

Do that first. Then you can spend more time and attention on building your brand.

At what point should thinking about your brand come into the equation? At the very beginning? Somewhere in the middle? Or somewhere else? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Leave me a comment below and let me know.

Photo Credit: FR▲NCK JULIEN via Compfight cc