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iBrand: - Creating Excitement In The Perception Economy

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By John Waiveris - November 2004

There is a major change going on in your market. It doesn't matter what service or product you provide; the cost of production is dropping. At the same time, the business of creating perception is getting smarter. It's time to enable your small business to compete. It's time to learn about branding.

"The first task of branding was to bestow proper names on generic goods such as sugar, flour, soap and cereal, which had previously been scooped out of barrels by local shopkeepers." - Naomi Klein - No Logo

THE WALMART EFFECT - The Cost of Production Drops

Hundreds of years ago, the local blacksmith had to keep a fire going all night. Tools were made by hand, and there was no such thing as a disposable lighter. You probably knew the man that made your ax.

The industrial age caused a rapid change. Skilled craftsmen were replaced by nameless workers in factories. People in South America started calling machetes "Collins" because they all had it stamped on the blade (a factory in rural Connecticut). Economy of scale pushed factories to get bigger and shipping to get cheaper.

Next, computers enabled companies like Walmart to squeeze every last cent out of a production line. We can buy pickles for pennies more than the cost to produce them. (Thus putting local shops out of business.) Businesses compete by using ever cheaper methods of production usually by outsourcing to other countries.

On the other hand, we're losing the real human connection. You probably don't know the person behind the cash register (if there even is someone). We research purchases online and take advice from strangers. Forget branding, are you surprised that people are paid to "write opinions" to post online?

"Familiar personalities such as Dr. Brown, Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and Old Grand-Dad came to replace the shopkeeper, who was traditionally responsible for measuring bulk foods for customers and acting as an advocate for products" - Ellen Lupton and J. Abbot Miller - Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design page 177

iPods and Aftershave: The Business Of Perception Heats Up

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On the other hand, how can Apple can take a near commodity, a portable music player, and turn it into a $300-$500 object of desire? (Remember in the 1980's, a Sony Walkman cost less than $100.)

"The iPod economy is worth more than $50M" - Business 2.0, October 2004

Is there any question that a Dell or HP could be just as good? It all comes down to the image. We buy the Apple because it makes us "feel" something. Besides, you can plug it into your BMW...

"In June, BMW began offering the $149 part, which connects an iPod placed in the glove compartment to the car's audio buttons. While the system is far from perfect...BMW has sold thousands of units." Business 2.0 - October 2004 page 154.

Or, maybe it goes back to the famous "1984" superbowl commercial. It aired only once - but has been celebrated by a fanatical following. In a cinematic scene borrowed from George Orwell's novel, a woman boldly throws a hammer through a giant video screen. The "status quo is shattered" and dull gray gives way to a colorful Apple logo. (Ask a Macintosh owner if they can name the director...)

"So the role of advertising changed from delivering product news bulletins to building an image around a particular brand-name version of a product." - Naomi Klein - No Logo (page 6)


While competing with corporations can be tough, the first step is to accept the fact that your business has a "brand" too. All you need to do is align that image with your unique strengths and make it memorable.

1) Identify and communicate your deeper cause. What got you excited to start the business? You still need to provide a good service, but set out to make change in the world and people will be happy to help.

2) Write down qualities that your business represents. Include things such as products offered, style, stores/office atmosphere, the way employees dress, value and economy, attitude toward customers, etc. Focus on the feelings generated.

3) Make a list of all experiences people have with your brand and make sure they match the image you want to present. This includes everything including business cards, phone message, the sign out front, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the brochures you hand out, etc.

4) Be an enthusiast and use the business to get people together. For example: a liquor store can run wine tastings, an art gallery has openings, a bike shop has group rides, etc. Don't just wait for people to come buy your product. Help them meet a bigger need.

5) Find ways to reach out and pull people back. A website and brochures are important. However, fliers, newsletters, mailings, and seeing people in person keeps the momentum going.

Lastly, remember that clients ultimately choose whether or not they want to do business with us. Treat them as friends, do your best to see that their needs get met, and stay flexible to keep your head above water.

"It's always been done that way." - the most damaging phrase of all times.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

John Waiveris writes articles about online and small business marketing. For more information visit www.invisiblegold.com or call (860) 285-0172.
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