Remember: Substance Before Style

It’s interesting to think about how many small businesses get suckered into “branding” themselves before actually doing anything. The sad part: I was one of them. I had incorporated my first company many years ago and was feeling great. Nevermind the fact that I didn’t have a single sales prospect yet — I had to have a business card and other sales collateral. A few days later, I was a couple of hundred dollars poorer with boxes of shiny new stationary sitting on my doorstep. Suffice it to say, that business never went much further than that.The lesson: Building your business creates the brand. The unconscious process of forming your brand comes out of unrelenting passion, not unending spin.

Ever heard of Starbucks? Contrary to what you may have heard or thought, Starbucks never sought to create a brand. Instead, the company passionately sought to create appreciation for a better tasting cup of coffee. It was, in fact, as basic as that.

Starbucks was too busy sourcing and roasting the highest-quality coffee beans to think about branding. Starbucks was too busy educating customers on how and why they should appreciate a stronger, bolder, more flavorful cup of coffee to think about branding. Starbucks was too busy creating a comforting and welcoming place for people to exhale than to think about branding.

Last week, I met Ryan Moede with Viget Labs (a web strategy firm based just outside of Washington, DC). He told me that before they accept a particular client, the Viget team asks themselves if they’d ever become employees of the client company. Unless the answer is yes, they won’t proceed. Rather than taking just any work that comes their way, they’re relentlessly focused on building their business with the right clients — the branding inevitably follows.

So, the first thing to do is to start ignoring all the “professionals” out there that advise you to spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on “creating” a brand for your company. Instead, focus your efforts on being the best at what you do — the brand will follow.