Building a Brand Identity

Posted: March 15, 1999 by Sutton Landry in Marketing, Planning, Startup

Classic Cincinnati Post column from 1999

Several years ago I had the pleasure of working with a client who, like many others throughout the years, was interested in opening a sandwich shop in Northern Kentucky.  Like most other prospective small business owners, he was short on capital and long on ideas.  But in this particular case, unlike most others, those ideas were shaped by experience  —  valuable experience gained from working for the best fast food franchises in America.

Because of my client’s experience  —  and an acceptable amount of  cash and  personal collateral  —  we were able to put together a business plan that led to an SBA guaranteed loan to launch the sandwich shop.  Shortly before the scheduled opening, I dropped in to see how the shop was shaping up.  At first, I walked right by it, because I was looking for something else.

What I had expected to see was the typical mom and pop urban sandwich shop:  quaint, cute, and clearly a small business venture.  What I saw instead was what appeared to be a brand new chain or franchise food operation:  with a clever, yet descriptive name and first-class commercial graphics, signage, furnishings, fixtures, and menu boards.

When I walked in the door, I found my client conducting a pre-opening training session with his employees, all of whom were dressed alike in embroidered golf shirts, black pants, and caps embroidered with the store logo.  We sat down together and I told him how surprised and impressed I was with what he had done.  He explained that he had simply adapted what he learned from opening new fast food franchises and applied those same principles to his own operation.  He also explained that his ultimate goal was to create a brand identity as powerful as those of McDonald’s or Wendy’s.  He was simply trying to accelerate the process by incorporating as many aspects of quality and consistency as possible into his business from day one.

This was my introduction, at the small business level, to the potential of branding, which we  tend to think of as being the exclusive province of large companies, the Disney’s and the Nike’s of the world.  But my client was living proof that didn’t necessarily have to be the case.  Small businesses also have an opportunity to create a brand identity for themselves, other than the usual unfortunate one, Brand X.  And in creating a brand identity,  they have the opportunity to reap substantial economic benefits in the form of increased sales and profits.

Because I knew the details of my client’s financial situation, I asked him how he had managed to create such a striking looking operation on such limited funds.   The answer was by the usual kinds of hard work:  planning, budgeting, and shopping around.

My client saved money on the things that wouldn’t be visible to the customer, by buying used kitchen equipment.  He paid top dollar for artwork and logo design and average to slightly above average prices for furniture and fixtures that would make an impression on the customer.  He spent a lot of time searching for suppliers who would provide him with the consistent quality of product that he needed.  And he invested in pre-opening training so that a customer’s first experience would be a good experience.

Plan and budget carefully, create and promote an identity consistently, and deliver an excellent product or service consistently, over and over and over again.  This is the formula for creating a brand identity, for big and small companies alike, if they have the determination and discipline to follow it.

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