Toyota, Home Depot, Ritz Carlton…there’s no substitute for a strong brand name and top-of-mind awareness among your target customer group. But how can you build your brand when you are in the early stages of growing your company and have the unavoidable expenses related to pre-market science and development, regulatory compliance, intellectual property protection, not to mention payroll, inventory and all the other essential costs. Let’s take a look at some ways to get the biggest bang for your buck as you begin building your brand.
IMAGE – Before you go any further, you must decide what primary message you want your audience to associate with your name. Let’s assume you make minimally invasive total knee prostheses. Do you want your customer to think…”yet another knee implant”, or do you want them thinking “reproducible surgical technique” or “happy patients, returning to their normal, active lifestyle?” It’s basically a features and benefits question. Your surgeon-customer is likely more interested in happy patients referring their friends and family than she is in the NASA-derived biomaterial that you have cleverly incorporated into your device. Typically you will want to focus on the benefits you offer your customer or your customer’s customer when thinking about IMAGE. ADVERTISING – If you are just building your brand, think twice before spending on advertising.
When and if you do choose to advertise, shoot for small, targeted venues. If you are a distributor in Omaha, consider the Omaha Orthopaedic Society newsletter. It goes to every orthopedist in the city and is widely read because it contains information the doctors find of value. You get the picture. Your ideal vehicle is one that is tightly focused on your target group, one that your customers have an inherent interest in reading, and one they would appreciate your supporting with advertising dollars. WEBSITE – Of course you have to have a website. The good news is that for a modest investment, you can create a KING-SIZED image on the web. The web is a great equalizer!
1. Web Address – it’s key to secure a great web address; one that is easy to remember, catchy, descriptive and definitely DOT.COM…not.net,.biz, or.anything else. One company that made devices for joint stiffness, snagged the web address “GetMotion.com”. Names are cheap to secure, so take all the names that you think you may want hold them if necessary.
2. Shop Around for Web Developers and Hosting – Many will quote you thousands of dollars to develop your site and more to host it. You can get a very sophisticated site for a few hundred dollars and a small hosting fee. There are lots groups to choose from, but one that I’ve used is Triton Business Design at http://tritonbusinessdesign.com/. You can be up-and-running quickly with a larger than life image, and a negligible dent in your pocketbook.
TRADESHOWS – Now we begin to consider “manned vehicles.” Websites, direct mail and print ads require the consumer to do the work. The remainder of our branding discussion rests in the domain of face-to-face SALES. If you can get in front of a customer and engage him in conversation, your likelihood of creating interest (and orders) skyrockets. All things being equal, your budget dollars should rise in direct proportion to your chances of one-on-one interaction with a real, live customer. You can spend a lot on tradeshows, but here are a few tips for the early-phase company to keep costs down:
1. Booths – there are many inexpensive 10 and 20 foot booths out there. Get one…preferably one that is modular and can be set up as a table top as well. For extra cost savings, get one that can checked on a plane or air shipped in to avoid shipping and drayage fees.
2. Graphics – put your money in images, and make them eye-catching and communicative.
3. Video – if you have video, use it. Get a table or video stand. Moving images catch attention.
4. Hands-On – if possible, have something customers can “DO.”
When meeting attendees walk down the aisle, you have a fraction of a second for them to (1)see your booth, (2)understand the concept of what you offer, and (3)make a decision to come into your space to gather more information or “do” something. Whatever you choose to do, make it compelling. COLLATERAL – Your printed material should (almost) always be hand delivered by someone from your sales organization. No matter how beautiful and compelling your brochures are, they are almost always more interesting to you than they are to your customer. DO NOT COUNT on a customer curling up with your brochure by the fire on a Saturday night. See my complete article on developing BIG collateral & promotions on a small budget. POINT OF SALE PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL – Here’s a high-leverage opportunity. Your reps will love taking in well done promotional items. It’s their chance to shine in front of the customer; to appear selfless in their quest to provide “something of great value and appeal” for nothing. The keys to remember are the following:
1. Maximum Lifespan: for example, a well done calendar could hang around an office for a year.
2. Appeal: that calendar with great art and imagery has a better chance than the old bank calendars with the fold-out easel stand.
3. Useful: put the eye-catching calendar on a mouse pad so it’s used every day and you just may have a home-run.
In the early stages of a new business cash is king. You need to build your brand and you need to do it in the most cost-effective way. Some things you have to do. Build a website, but watch your budget. Unlike baseball stadiums, simply building a site does not guarantee that “they will come.” Load your dollars in areas where your sales people are in front of customers. Nothing you can do from the corporate office will compete with what a great sales person can do in person.