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Branding and the Smaller Business

by Keith Thirgood and Helen Walter

You all know that the big guys invest big bucks in marketing their brands. Whether it’s Pepsi, GM or FedEx, everything they do goes toward making their brand irresistible to their target market. Without deep pockets, what’s a smaller business to do?

There’s plenty of advice out there. Most of it contradictory. Many advisors will tell you, “Forget branding, that’s only for multi-nationals. And even multi-nationals shouldn’t be doing it!” These folks preach the mantra of direct sales. For them, every piece of marketing must lead directly to a sale, or it’s not worth doing.

And then there are people who’ll advise you that what you must do is build a brand. They say only with a strong brand do you stand any chance of success. They show you examples of large companies successfully implementing brand strategies. They use these well-known successes to prove the value of focusing exclusively on brand building.

I believe the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

As a small business you need direct sales. You can’t wait for brand building to begin providing income, a year or two down the road. Few of us in small businesses have the cash to last that long without income. 

However, if you don’t work on building your brand, you’ll be forced to continually feed the sales funnel.

A strong brand encourages customers to seek you out. A strong brand is easy for your clients and people in your network to refer to others. With a strong brand, you need no longer rely exclusively on being proactive marketers. Your market will begin to come to you. 

How do you achieve that balance between branding and direct sales?

I don’t think the two sides of the equation are as antithetical as they’re made out to be by their respective proponents. There’s no reason why everything you do in your direct marketing, cannot be done in such a way as it adds to your brand. 

Many boosters of direct marketing for small business would have you believe that you should eliminate everything from your marketing that does not directly lead a prospect to the sale. Logos, graphics, wording that is not directly sales related, and even attractive layouts are often called superfluous eye candy. You’re ordered to ruthlessly eliminate them. They’re all considered elements that get in the way of your prospect’s inevitable march to the sale. 


The bare-bones, benefit-laden, frankly breathless copy of many direct marketers is the antithesis of brand building. But it doesn’t have to be.

Many of the tools used by graphic artists, advertising agencies, and others involved in the branding arena can be used to take the hard edges off many direct marketing approaches. In the process, many of these branding techniques will actually improve the results of your direct marketing approaches. 

You need to look at the nature of your business and your industry to see if long-term branding will be of value to you. Some industries are naturals for direct marketing and the brand will always be secondary. However most businesses, in most industries, will find that combining branding with their direct marketing efforts will pay off big time in the long run.

Article by Keith Thirgood and Helen Walter, Capstone Communications Group. To contact Helen or Keith, visit or call 905-472-2330 between 9 am and 5 pm EST.

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