Five Small Business Branding Myths

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I am fortunate to speak with plenty of business owners, many of them running small and emerging businesses. Yet some of them still believe that the concept of branding doesn’t really apply to small business. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are five common myths surrounding small business and branding.

Myth #1 – Branding is something that big companies do, not small businesses.

Reality – Building a strong brand is about creating an expectation within your customer’s mind. It has nothing to do with the size of the business. In fact, since great brands are all about satisfying emotional needs, it could be argued that branding is best done by smaller businesses who exist close to their customers. Strong small local brands can compete against, and even take down, the big boys.

Myth #2 – Branding is expensive and requires a lot of costly TV advertising that I can’t afford.

Reality – Building a strong brand isn’t about advertising or money. Branding is essentially storytelling. Stories are told through a variety of means, not just through advertising. Telling your brand’s special story doesn’t have to be expensive. What is expensive is not building a strong brand. Weak brands fail to grow, collapse in the face of competition, and quickly fall victim to recessions. Failure is expensive.

Myth #3 – I don’t need to worry about branding because my business is already different from everyone else out there.

Reality – You might think so, but your customers (and potential customers) probably don’t see it that way. Because business owners and operators are so close to their products, they are unqualified to see their business the way real people do. Real people don’t see that big a difference between most businesses. Only businesses with well-developed brands are able to demonstrate to customers what makes them so different.

Myth #4 – Branding is just a passing fad.

Reality – You’re probably right. So is the internet. While you wait for it to fade away, be sure to watch as small businesses around you build strong brands, develop powerful identities, and grow beyond their founder’s wildest dreams.

Myth #5 – If my brand is strong, I will become too pigeonholed to grow my business.

Reality – The ill-fated concept of being “everything to everyone” permeates small business. Long term, it doesn’t work.  Businesses that establish a specific area of expertise are the ones that win. Successful businesses specialize and become famous for something! Yes, that means some people won’t like you. And that’s okay, even for a small business. Once you reach the point where you can accept that you need to lose some customers to gain hundreds of others, you’ll be ready to grow.

Small businesses with solid brands absolutely rock. They are fun to work with because they exist very close to their customers and can react quickly to changing conditions. They can make great things happen nearly overnight. Some of the coolest branding success stories out there are small businesses.

Remember, almost all rock stars start out small too.

Bob Marley started his career playing a style of island music that didn’t even have a name.  Someone called it “reggae”, and within a decade Bob Marley was a worldwide star. 

U2 began as a bunch of high school students who could barely play their instruments. This week they wrapped up the most profitable tour in music history.

When John met Paul at a church picnic, The Beatles were formed. They went on to change the face of music in a short decade.

Where will your small business take you? Learn more about branding your small business in the new book Brand Like a Rock Star, now available here. If you’re hesitant to order, read Chapter One for free before you buy. You can download it here absolutely free.

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Bob Marley, Brand Like A Rock Star, The Beatles, U2 214 Comments

Emotional Brands and Lives Lost

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Some topical and somewhat random thoughts today.

First, if you haven’t already downloaded chapter one of Brand Like a Rock Star, wait no longer. It is a free pdf that you can read and share with others. You can grab it instantly here.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of joining 16,000 other Parrotheads at Jimmy Buffett’s Toronto concert. Only KISS rivals Buffett in terms of inspiring visible brand loyalty among fans. You must have a powerful brand to inspire grown men to don grass skirts and coconut bras! It was rare to see someone at the Jimmy Buffett concert who wasn’t at least sporting a colorful tropical shirt. Even the parking lot was a party, as Buffett fans openly defied Canada’s normally restrictive laws against American-style tailgate parties. Such rebellion!

The Buffett brand connects with people in a meaningful way because it touches our very primal need to play.  It frees up our inner-child. It is a brand built on silliness, immaturity, relaxation, and pure uninhibited fun.

Maybe your brand isn’t built on immature fun, but your odds of success go way up when you connect with an emotional need within your customers. Forming an emotional bond is way more powerful than always trying to offer the lowest price. Customers coming to you to have an emotional need satisfied d0n’t really care much about price.

Speaking of emotions, what accounts for apparent emotional angst one encounters in their 27th year?

Brian Jones. Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Janis Joplin. Kurt Cobain.  Now add Amy Winehouse to the sad list. It is tragic to lose so many people to the powerful demons of addiction, fame, and depression.

On one hand, it is easy to wonder what incredible music could have been made had these tortured geniuses lived longer lives.

On the other, it is interesting to consider how their deaths impacted our perception of their music. Faced with the prospect of never hearing any new music from Hendrix or Cobain, do we naturally worship their music on a higher altar? Does the value of their catalog of music go up simply because they are gone?

There’s no doubt that a lack of supply can increase demand. For example, I wouldn’t have worried about missing an episode of “Entourage” back in season 3, but with this season being the final one, there is no way I will miss a single moment. The reality of no more new episodes (diminishing supply) has increased my urgency to watch (higher demand).

Finally, thank you for the ongoing support. The official book release of Brand Like a Rock Star is a little over two months away. It wouldn’t be happening without you!  Our little network of readers continues to grow, and I would be tremendously grateful if you would consider forwarding this to any of your friends who love music, marketing, advertising, PR, and branding.

Let’s also connect on Facebook at



Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones, Entourage, Facebook, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Buffett, KISS 212 Comments

Understanding Your Competitor


Chapter Eighteen of Brand Like a Rock Star isn’t really about your brand at all. It is about knowing your competition.

I’ve worked with brands that are obsessed with their competition, to the point of distraction. It is unhealthy, mainly because they lose sight of their own product. But I’ve also worked with brands who don’t pay any attention to their competitor, intentionally. They banish their competition’s name from their hallways and refuse to even acknowledge them. That is equally unhealthy.

The sweet spot is developing a deep knowledge of your competitor. Know them intimately. Understand their motivation. Become able to predict their next move. Know them as you know yourself, but remain focused on your customers at all times.

“If you know your enemies and you know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss”

Those are the powerful words of Sun Tzu from The Art of War.

But there is another reason to know your enemy. They help define you.

Coke helps define Pepsi: Traditional classic versus new generation.

Mercedes-Benz helps define BMW: Luxury versus performance.

Taco Bell helps define Chipotle: Fast food versus food with integrity.

Walmart helps define Target: Lowest prices versus affordable quality.

So gather your team in the board room next week, and write down everything your competition stands for. Give them credit where credit is due, but don’t pull any punches. Develop a clear understanding of their values and how their (and your) customers see them. Then do the same for your brand. Do you stand for a different set of values than they do? Do your customers see a meaningful difference between your two brands?  If they don’t, you’re in for a long and expensive battle. You can either fight that battle, or develop a set of values that differentiates you from your competition.

Competitive awareness is actually about you, because understanding their values is an exercise in refining yours.

Rock star brands are ”competitively aware, but consumer focused”.  Are you?

Chapter Eighteen of Brand Like a Rock Star uses Green Day’s song “Know Your Enemy” as the inspiration for understanding your competition. With a few clicks, you can order the book right now. And if you are looking for a speaker at an event this fall, send me an email at October is already filling up quickly!

The discussion about rock ‘n’ roll and brands continues online at



BMW, Coke, Green Day, Mercedes-Benz, Pepsi, Taco Bell, Target, Walmart 143 Comments

How Does Your Brand Deliver?


Years ago it was a simple process. You recorded an album – maybe 10 or 12 songs – and released it to the world.

Of the dozen or so songs, maybe two or three were hit songs. The rest varied from great but unfriendly-for-radio to artistic indulgence to, sadly, trash.

Most people paid $15 to own the two or three hit songs. Only a small percentage of people fell in love with the entire album.

Times have changed. Coldplay’s new album Every Teardrop is a Waterfall isn’t an album at all. It is a 3 song collection… what the record industry calls an “EP” or “extended play”.

Smart move. In today’s iTunes world, only songs matter. For $1.29 you can own the songs you want, and ignore the songs you don’t want. No longer can fans be gouged into spending $15 for songs they don’t like or want. No more album filler or artistic indulgence.  Either give your fans quality songs or go extinct.

How does that lesson extend to business?

The old delivery systems doesn’t work anymore.

If you are a real estate agent, you know first hand how much browsing is being done on-line.  Popular perception is that any property of quality would have an online tour. Any agent of value would provide it. The last time we used a real estate agent, my wife presented him with a list of properties she found online and wanted to see.

If you run a restaurant, your customers are reading reviews long before they decide to give you a change. Consistently bad peer listings on Tripadvisor or UrbanSpoon can be the death of a restaurant. And you’re crazy if you don’t post your menu online.

For business-to-business sales or freelancers, an increased amount of communication is happening online. Geography is becoming less relevant. My web designer lives in Minneapolis. My publicist lives in New Jersey. It matters not where you live.

The lesson from Coldplay’s new approach is simple: if you ignore the changing delivery systems and stick to the tired old ways of doing things, you quickly become irrelevant.

There are 21 chapters worth of similar lessons contained inside Brand Like a Rock Star and you can pre-order your copy now right here. For an advance look at the book, download a pdf of chapter one here.


Uncategorized 1,470 Comments

Evolving Your Brand Consistently


Then they were pioneers of grunge. Twenty years later, Pearl Jam holds a stately place among rock’s elite and their lead singer’s new solo album is a showcase of the ukulele.

Their breakout performance at Woodstock ’94 was a muddy punk rock mess. Seventeen years down the road, and Green Day has had their music adapted for Broadway.

Wisely managing change while maintaining brand consistency is a hallmark of a rock star brand.

Coke’s logo has hardly changed in 100 years, yet Coke is always finding new avenues to promote their brand. They evolve, yet retain their consistency.

Starbucks got a lot of press over their logo update earlier this year, but that was just a subtle evolution. Their consistency remains.

It is an interesting and difficult proposition for any brand: How do you evolve and change with the times, yet never lose the consistency that made you great? Here are three ways to manage that challenge:

1. Don’t change your story, change how you tell it. Whether Red Bull is telling their story at extreme sports arenas, by signing rock bands like AWOL Nation, or by sponsoring wealthy playgrounds like air races, they are telling the same story.

2. When you update your look, retains core elements. Starbucks’ new logo isn’t really all that different than their old logo, just updated. The only people who really got worked up about it were us marketing geeks. Average consumers absorbed the change quickly and seamlessly.

3. Through it all, values don’t change. Apple can evolve from desktops to laptops to phones to tablets, but their brand’s values – sleek, user friendly, cool high tech toys – never change. No matter what Apple does, they continue to sell “cool”, not just gadgets or computers.

Your brand can and should evolve. Every day is a fresh start. But if you ignore change, or fail to manage change it carefully, it could kill you.

Managing change and evolution is the focus of Chapter Two of Brand Like a Rock Star, using U2 and Proctor & Gamble as role models.

Learn from U2 and P&G by pre-ordering the book now.


Apple, Coke, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Proctor and Gamble, Red Bull, Starbucks, U2, Uncategorized 133 Comments

Brand Partnerships Aren’t Always Supergroups


Sometimes, the parts are better than the sum. Sometimes.

Mick Jagger’s new group, SuperHeavy, features Jagger, singer Joss Stone, ex-Eurythmics member Dave Stewart, composer A.R. Rahman, and Damian Marley, reggae singer and son of Bob Marley.

Despite the cool resumes in the bunch, there’s no lock on success for a so-called “supergroup” like this.

The main reason is because each of the group’s members has a fan base that expects something from them.

Damian Marley, for example, has a worldwide network of fans that love his style of Jamaican dancehall and reggae. Will they appreciate the touch that Indian composer A.R. Ramhan brings to the Marley sound?

How will fans of singer Joss Stone react to her harmonizing with Jagger and singing dancehall with Marley instead of belting out the soulful songs she’s known for?

Personally, I think SuperHeavy will be super cool. But I don’t think the impressive line up is any guarantee of success.

Partnerships can be awesome, but they are also dangerous… for bands and for brands.

When two brands work together, often one brand gets (or gives up) more than the other.

Or the brand’s images don’t match up perfectly.

Or one brand overshadows the other.

Coca-Cola’s 2008 partnership with L’Oreal to create a tea-based drink containing skin care elements didn’t work. The brand images don’t match up well.

Starbucks’ partnership with United Airlines to serve their coffee on board United planes appears to work, although you have to wonder if the unique Starbucks environment is damaged by being served from a rickety drink cart in today’s cattle-call world of commercial aviation.

If you plan on creating a partnership with another brand with the idea that your combined sum will be greater than the individual parts, think again. Forge partnerships carefully. Make sure your brand values align perfectly. Make sure each brand gets – and gives – an equal amount.

Let’s hope SuperHeavy is one of the cool partnerships that work! I can’t wait to hear it.

Uncategorized 751 Comments

Newton’s Laws and Branding


The laws of physics and the laws of branding collide when it comes to love and hate.

Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Brand Like a Rock Star’s Eighth Chapter: For every person that loves your brand, there is someone else who hates it.  Don’t fight it. Don’t worry about it.

In other words, love and hate go together. As a brand, you can’t have one without the other.

Justin Bieber is loved and hated, but nearly everyone knows who he is.

UFC is one of the most-hated brands in North America. It is also the fastest-growing sport in the continent. It is both hated and loved, but impossible to ignore.

Red Bull has been banned in several countries, yet it is the #1 energy drink on earth. Hated and loved, but never ignored.

When you find people who hate your brand, don’t take it personally. Take it as a compliment. People who hate you have heard about you, understood what you stand for, and made a decision that you aren’t for them.

The time to worry isn’t when people hate you. The time to worry is when nobody notices you.

As Chapter Eight of Brand Like a Rock Star details, the opposite of love isn’t hate.

 It is indifference.

Don’t be indifferent. Pre-order the book here.

If you still aren’t convinced, download Chapter One for free so you know what you are getting into first.


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Jimmy Buffett and the Brand Experience


I’ve bought my tickets and booked my hotel. In twelve days, I’ll be going to see Jimmy Buffett in concert once again.

It isn’t really a concert per se. And it isn’t something you simple see. A Jimmy Buffett show is an experience.  Dressed in grass skirts and coconut bras, you arrive at the venue hours early to drink too many margaritas, play vibrator races, and act like a carefee beach bum for an evening.  During the show, bouncing beach balls and human shark fins make any arena feel like a Caribbean beach party. Total strangers become instant best friends. You dance with people you’ve never met. You go home sweaty, smiling, and bracing for tomorrow’s well-earned and worthwhile hangover.

Jimmy Buffett has turned his one hit, “Margaritaville”, into an empire because he sells an experience, not just a song or an album. He sells you the chance to escape from reality for a few hours and experience something cool.

Most advertising fails because brands’ don’t sell their experience. They simply advertise their specials, their free parking, and their friendly helpful staff. They advertise things that any competitor can also advertise. They fail realize that people don’t choose a brand for any of those empty reasons. People buy experiences, not products.

Understanding what your unique experience is begins with one question: What problem do I solve?

If you sell toothpaste, you are actually selling the joy of being better looking, healthier, and less repulsive to kiss.

If you sell drill bits, you are really selling the warmth of hanging up pictures of their loved ones.

If you sell real estate, you are actually selling the pride of “movin’ on up”.

You really think Harley-Davidson sells motorcycles? C’mon. They sell rebellion. They sell bad ass. And they sell it to wealthy middle-aged men.

You get the idea. 

Understanding what problem you solve is the first step to defining your brand’s unique experience.

There are four more steps, and you’ll find them on page 78 of Brand Like a Rock Star, which you can order here for just $14.95. Once you pre-order, you can click here to download a pdf of Chapter One, so you can get started reading right away.

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Harley Davidson, Jimmy Buffett 155 Comments