Friday, 21 October 2011

Small business branding issue - where is the line between you and your business? What are you really selling?

I have just received an email from a client who is seeking clarity on an issue she has with her marketing. Her query is as follows:
“I need to get clearer about ''my name" or "my company name's" (footnote 1)  USP, and I am still not sure whether I am my business or not”

First a little bit of context. My client is a consultant/coach working on personal and professional development with individuals and teams. Her specialist subject is by definition personal to people and in order to be effective she needs people's trust. The paying customer/decision-maker may be the direct recipient of her service or may be an HR person who sources and arranges on behalf of the organisation.

I hear business advisors tell business owners “you are your business”. They insist “you must sell 'you'. And the poor business owner, who is likely to be at home with the operational side of their business, but less comfortable being its marketing manager, is left unclear on what this means. Conclusions may be drawn that you have to be a nice person, or a popular person, to run a successful small business. Then there is the current buzzword 'authenticity', which a lot of people are translating as sharing everything about themselves as individuals. And, then add to that the now obligatory adjective 'passionate'.  Can't you just be good at what you offer any more?

I send out a challenge to these business advisors. I am not satisfied that you have to “sell yourself” and “you are your business”. I would like to offer some health warnings to small business owers regarding this advice.  

Back to the client query re the USP.  Let's differentiate between 'USP', ethos, brand, and 'personal selling!

USP – so hard to offer something “unique”. USP has been downgraded to “wow factors” with good reason. A wow factor of your business could be that it uses the latest technology, has the most comfortable premises, has some amazing quantifiable results etc etc (nothing personal there). If you are struggling to think of some wow factors trying asking your customers what they think.

Ethos and brand are very linked in my mind, as a brand without an ethos is in danger of becoming just a meaningless logo device. No matter the size of the business, there are brand values wrapped up in it. The difficulty for micro businesses is unravelling what they are because the business owners are so close to it and simply do things 'their way'. In Henmore's Marketing Club we have some fun working on this area. Have a think, what standards and values do you have that are appropriate to share with your customers? What values do your customers seek?

Personal selling is a marketing text book phrase for when there is a face-to-face sales person as one of your marketing tactics (part of your promotional mix - see 2 below). Sales reps are the essence of this tactic. So if you are the business owner and selling your expertise you are inevitably both the sales rep and the delivery mechanism so possibly the concept of having to sell yourself and be authentic and passionate looms large (see 3 below).

Could someone else sell your product/service?

Try testing yourself with this question. Could someone else sell your product or service for you? There should only be one answer to that question – yes! Imagine what information and approach this ficticious sales person would need. Actually, don't just imagine it, write it down. What steps would you suggest the sales rep takes to convert a prospective customer into a paying customer? Give your ficticious salesman the job description of having to demonstrate credibility - would you equip her with some prepared information? How would she build conviction? This may involve a demo or trial – so that is possibly where the real you comes back in again. How would you make sure your sales person sets expectations about price and service levels? I bet your sales person wouldn't give away so much for free in the way that small business owners do!

If you couldn't answer yes to the salesperson question and you are more comfortable selling 'you' then let me leave you with this thought: You may be over-identifying with your business. You may be viewing its success, financial or otherwise, as validating you as a person. When something goes awry - business owners do make errors, products do fail, markets can collapse - the disasters or failures could have an affect on your mental well-being. Some entrepreneurs evaluate and start again with new information, others don't. What would you do?


  1. You'll spot that names were deleted – there's a balance between transparency and appropriateness.
  1. Personal selling is part of the promotional mix, which for the sake of completeness also includes advertising, sales promotion, direct marketing, and publicity. The promotional mix part of your marketing plan specifies how much emphasis to apportion each of these techniques, and how much money to budget for each. (Reality check – not many micro businesses have a marketing plan beyond a 'to do' list unless their bank requires one).
  2. I will publish my blog on authenticity another time because I want to run it past a kindred spirt in the US first. In the mean time I'd advise people to start being wary of describing how passionate they are about their business or product because it is fast becoming a cliché.

1 comment:

Frances Taylor said...

We had fun with the sales exercise here yesterday at the Strictly Marketing meeting! We paired up and briefed each other to become our sales person.It highlighted several gaps in my proces that I'll now be able to address. A very valuable way of getting a fresh perspective. Suggest everyone tries it: grab a business partner and give it a go.