Branding is similar to long-term investing
Let’s make some clear distinctions at the outset that should be “no-brainers.” Branding requires a long-term investment. It requires attention to many details such as consistency, trust-building, and authenticity. Promotions are about short-term and immediate conversions (sales).
Brands are constructed with three main braids of steel for long-term stability and credibility.
1. Strong and consistent “visual brand identity” logos, taglines, and marketing collateral (brochure, website, ads, etc).
2. Superior customer/client services.
3. Most importantly, the brand must consistently deliver on its promises or exceed expectations at each point of contact where the brand interacts with the customer.
As businesses of all sizes become more and more market-savvy and even social-media savvy – distinctions between businesses are trending toward parity. In other words, it’s harder to show differentiation. So it is very important that you are attentive to your three braids of steel (per above). You can read thousands of articles about how brands should create emotional attachments. But let’s be realistic, for smaller brands let’s not put so much abstract emphasis on “an emotional connection.” Let’s use the word “trust” instead. If you, as a small business can build an authentic trust, then you have succeeded with your brand. Maybe there will be an emotional connection that follows beyond trust.
Promotions are a completely different train of thought, they are essentially about “right now.” Focusing on sales promotions increases sales and interest in the short-term, but if you lose sight of also building a strong long-term brand, creating a culture of promotions for your business has the potential to decrease profit margins and dilute brand equity. You must pursue a balanced approach. We live in a time that is increasingly built around the psychology of saving, so don’t get me wrong – promotions should be acknowledged and considered as a marketing tool. The part that some companies miss that I’m emphasizing here is the trap door in systemic promotions.
In my experience, for most companies, particularly small to mid-size companies, to think that you could only grow through long-term branding and without any kind of promotions would be a kind of brand arrogance. Even offering an occasional customer-loyalty discount is a kind of enticement that is in the promotion category. When you approach your promotion planning sessions, try not to think of them in a panicky “how do we increase sales tomorrow?” kind of way. Try to think of promotions as part of your overall brand strategy. For example, maybe there are certain kinds of smaller promotions that could get people in the door for the long-term. And try to plan out your next move.
The take away is that you need to be careful about losing your brand in the midst of all of your promotions. You must not let customers forget what is so good about your company. There must be a balance in focus that examines the value of a promotion strategy. When you plan your promotion while maintaining sight of your long-term branding, it can only help to clarify your marketing messages.