“I want my small business’s brand to be as prominent, recognizable, and simple as Nike’s logo.”

Creating a brand with the appeal and instant familiarity of a major brand like Nike is often at the top of the list for every small business I work with. But it’s more of a challenge than many entrepreneurs anticipate when starting their branding project.

Large companies like Nike have a major advantage over small businesses when it comes to getting the word out about their brands. That advantage is Brand Education, and it makes how small businesses create and extend their brands a completely different ball game from the way larger businesses typically approach brand growth.

What is Brand Education?

Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve never heard of Nike (I know—it’s difficult, but just pretend). You don’t know anything about the company or its products. You’ve never heard “Just do it”. Next, pretend that you’ve run across the “swoosh” logo in an ad or on a website. Would you have any idea that it’s affiliated with Nike or that the company makes shoes and sporting goods? Or what it’s supposed to mean?

The fact that you know the swoosh logo on sight, that it’s affiliated with Nike, and that the company is involved with sports are all factors influenced by Nike’s giant brand education initiatives. Nike spends millions each year on advertising, which is a route that small businesses can’t afford to take—at least not on a monumental scale.

Nike also launches many different advertising and brand campaigns, so that it can cast a wide net, attracting as many people who may be interested in its vast array of products as possible. But a small business may only have the resources and energy to create a single marketing campaign. Many small businesses make the mistake of trying to cast a wide net, when it would be much more effective to create a specific campaign message and to focus on one target audience.

Some of the major differences between branding a small business and a large one include:

  • The prominence of the CEO/ business owner’s image, name, or voice in the brand. Large corporations typically don’t associate a single human face with the brand. Some corporations break this rule and use their CEOs as the company face—think Steve Jobs of Apple, or Richard Branson of Virgin, for example—but this is not the norm.

    A smaller company’s image is more driven by its owners, who are usually a major presence at networking events and meetings. Small businesses can take advantage of this single point of contact by using the business owner or head consultant’s headshot as a part of the brand. Using a photo this way is a unique touch that provides a point of consistency across all marketing materials.

  • The number of customers that a brand is required to appeal to. Large corporations typically need to bring in a very large number of clients in order to be successful—to create a healthy bottom line and support the company infrastructure. In the case of many corporations, the more clients, the more business and the more growth.

    Smaller companies may not need to appeal to so many customers. They may not be equipped to fill large product orders or have enough staff to handle a lot of requests for their services. And a smaller business may not want multiple locations or a large staff. A consultancy may not want to expand beyond a lead consultant.

    So while it’s still important for a small business to create a brand that appeals to its target audience, it may be possible to focus positioning and messaging significantly and still bring in plenty of clients.

  • The focus of campaigns and marketing materials. Larger businesses can often afford to create more emotionally-driven branding pieces, such as commercials or ads with no specific call to action or branding message. Small businesses should make sure that each and every marketing piece is highly effective and delivers as much bang as possible for the marketing buck. Your small business can increase the effectiveness of your marketing pieces by:
    • Focusing each marketing piece on one of your offerings. If you try to sell your entire company and solution system in a single marketing piece, such as a brochure, flyer, or web page, you won’t be able to be specific about anything. If you can focus on one offering, you can give clients more information and get them interested in what you have to provide.
    • Make sure you include a call to action. Tell readers of your marketing piece what they should do next. Should they go to your website for more information—and can you create a web page as a follow-up to your marketing piece? Should they call you? Register for a teleseminar? Sign up for your mailing list? If you tell them what to do next, it’s more likely they’ll do it—and get that much closer to working with you.
  • The extent and range of marketing and brand materials. Large corporations often have the budget and staff to create extensive print and online campaigns. Smaller businesses need to focus because they don’t have the huge budgets and staff needed to write and manage the creation of these materials—or to distribute many pieces simultaneously. Create the number of marketing materials that you can actually get out to your potential clients. They won’t do you any good if they sit in your office, gathering dust.
  • The level of meaning that each of your design and brand elements needs to have. Big companies can take time to teach their audience what their company does and what their logo and images mean. But for a small business, instantly-meaningful brand designs will be that much more valuable as communication tools. They’ll carry part of your business’s story, even before the client or prospect begins to read your information.

These tips should help you create a brand and marketing materials that work as well as possible without involving your small business in a big Brand Education program.