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Create a knockout small business brand strategy — without the big agency budget

Pros share their tactics that you can use to market your next big idea.

Between social media marketing, influencers, search engine optimization, native content, earned media and all the other marketing strategies out there, it’s hard to blame small businesses and startups for thinking that their budget is too small to make much of an impact. Still, your small business brand strategy is too important to overlook.

Though the landscape may be fractured, marketing experts believe that a highly targeted campaign has the ability to propel a budget further than it could have ever gone in traditional media. All it takes is the right brand strategy.

At the recent Web Summit, Europe’s largest independent tech conference, two long-time agency pros took audiences through the entire process of building a brand strategy. Gail Heimann, president of Weber Shandwick and David Schneider, co-founder and creative director of UK-based marketing agency That Lot demystified much of this process. Along the way, the duo unpackaged the creative process, showing how anyone can use the same tactics to market their next big idea.  

Imagine a noble purpose

small business brand strategy imagination

The two ad experts demonstrated creating a brand strategy using a fake company named “SpatNav,” the fictitious developers of an app that helps couples navigate through and avoid arguments. For example, users may be told to “call home now to avoid an argument in 3 hours” or “be sure to compliment her new haircut” or “it’s been 32 days since you’ve done something spontaneous for your partner, perhaps you can cook them dinner tonight.”

For the purposes of their presentation, Heimann and Schneider asked the audience to imagine SpatNav wanted to grow their social media followers, likes and reach by 500 per cent, ultimately driving an increase in downloads, with a budget of only 93,000 euros, or about $140,000 Canadian.

The first step, according to Heimann and Schneider, is to arrive at a noble purpose for the imaginary app. While it can help individual relationships, the pair says it’s more important to focus on the wider societal impacts, like lower divorce rates, which could lead to happier children and a boost to the economy.

“If we think about fewer households breaking up, there’s more discretionary income to go around, more buying cars and luxury status goods — it’s fantastic for the economy,” explains Heimann. “The data says happy people live longer, that happiness equals longevity. So you get happier people — people who aren’t dealing with breakups or divorce — and you get happier and healthier adults.”

Develop your message

small business brand strategy message

Ultimately, the pair zeroed in on the slogan, “Keeping the World Together,” which not only feels important on a personal level but speaks to a macro-level as well.

From there, Heimann and Schneider say it’s important to think about how to communicate that message, starting with an audit of what’s already out there, a look into competitors’ marketing strategies and arriving at a clear definition of campaign goals.

Then they advise narrowing in on a tone of voice for the brand, an overarching concept, and considering what platforms can best amplify that message.

“Often when we come to the creative session we think ‘Who is this brand? If this were a person, who would they be? How would they speak?’” asks Schneider, adding that it sometimes helps to relate the brand to actual pop culture icons. “Is it more Kanye, less Coldplay?” for example.

Schneider adds that marketers must ensure their brand embodies the three H’s of marketing: human, helpful and humorous. Once they have a persona for the brand, it’s time to consider the best media strategy. For those working with a smaller budget, they recommend pursuing a hero video.

Place your campaign

small business brand strategy video

“Video is incredibly important now, and with a hero video, what you can do is what we call ‘atomize it’ — break it down into gifs, smaller videos and imagery — and suddenly from one hero video you’ve got a campaign,” explains Schneider.

Once the content is prepared, Schneider says the next challenge is deciding where to put it. “It has to feel authentic, it has to feel native, because 92 per cent of people trust earned content, content that’s been shared by friends, rather than 50 per cent who trust ads, and part of that is because it doesn’t feel authentic,” he adds.

Heimann elaborates even further, suggesting moments when users might be more inclined to download the app, such as when a hypothetical couple invites their respective in-laws over, or at specific moments in the relationship, like during the first year of living together. “Getting the data to know when to reach the right people at the right time can make a real difference for the business,” she adds.

Super target and be relentless

small business brand strategy target

The pair also advised the fictitious company to keep an eye out for real world “spats” that they could intervene on, and earn some viral attention. They caution, however, that while taking advantage of a feud between Brad and Angelina can be interesting, trying to diffuse tension between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, for example, might be a step too far.  

“If you’re working off a budget of 93,000 euros, you would look for those spats and figure out how to insert SpatNav delicately or boldly into that conversation,” says Heimann. Of course, the same principles can be applied to smaller business budgets.

Beta testing is also vital for startups, as it can provide some of the initial data points that the company can advertise later, such as its success rates.

“For everybody that has an idea like SpatNav bubbling within, use a beta in a really productive way,” Heimann advises. As an example, she suggests a 500-couple, 500-day trial, which may prove beneficial to the brand’s identity moving forward.

“Over that year and a half, SpatNav can take credit for stuff,” she said. “’Hey, this wedding is by SnapNav,’ ‘This commitment ceremony is by SpatNav,’ ‘This baby is by SpatNav.’ Whatever it is, get the proof of concept, get out there early, tell that story and prove that it works.”

Overall, Heimann believes there are two important things to remember when building a brand strategy: target effectively and champion a brand that stands on its own merits.  

“Kick the tires on who gets targeted, and go after the most productive target, and keep going after that target,” she said. “You don’t have the money to go across the board, so super target, and have an idea that is extremely powerful and has the power to earn attention without any support — and you’ll win.”


Up Next: Want more buzz? Try interactive content.

Jared Lindzon

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist based in Toronto, covering a variety of topics, including technology, careers, entrepreneurship, politics and music. His work regularly appears in major publications in Canada, the United States and around the world, including the Globe and Mail, Fast Company, Fortune Magazine, Rolling Stone, Politico, the Guardian and more.

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