Small Business Brand = Logo?

In this BusinessWeek Online article, Gerry Khermouch makes some good points concerning small business branding. I enjoyed the article quite a bit, but felt it was too myopic. The focus was consistently placed on logos and graphic design. I don’t mind that since I began my career in design. The problem is the implication that your brand is encapsulated in your logo, stationery, literature, and packaging. Most of the article followed the message of the paragraph below.

All of these businesses used clever thinking — and not too much cash — to develop a stand-out look designed to appeal to their would-be customers. Then they made sure that image was deployed consistently on everything from press kits to business cards to Web sites, hammering home the image they’d chosen to project.

Either Khermouch miscommunicated his intended message, or he overlooks elements of branding that he mentions as merely sidenotes. This paragraph is one of the only areas that something other than design is mentioned:

Sharps reinforces its image with targeted promotions. Sweatman spends two or three days a month pitching about 30 editors at men’s and style magazines. Sharps also holds “shave parties,” where barber-school trained employees give haircuts in old-fashioned barber chairs. They’re held in buzz-inducing venues such as the window of Barneys New York and at a New Line Cinema premiere party in Los Angeles. Sharps even inked an agreement with MTV (VIA ) to get its products included in the gift bags given to celebrities at parties. All the effort is paying off: Sharps is found in hipster hangouts such as Fred Segal as well as more mainstream outlets such as Sephora.

Still, it is a good reminder to small businesses that a cohesive and unique effort toward branding pays dividends.

Dustin Staiger

Safeway Headed Wrong Way?

At the Milken Institute Global Conference, Safeway’s CEO gave his reasons for reducing the company’s responsibility of health care coverage for employees. Interestingly enough, he referrenced the airline industry as a warning of where his company was headed without such a change.

“I would say we were six to seven years away from becoming an airline.” said Chief Executive Steve Burd.

In previous union negotiations, Burd mentioned that Wal-Mart’s low, non-union benefits were a reason for reducing Safeway’s benefits in order to compete.

“I’m a big fan of universal coverage, and Wal-Mart is somebody that doesn’t have the same kind of coverage that we have and it’s all about price,” he said. “We would love to have the playing field a little more level.”

It’s scary to hear the CEO of a major food chain say, “. . . it’s all about price.” Yes, he’s talking about health benefits, but it’s also about the bottom line. Basically, Burd is saying that Safeway cannot compete with Wal-Mart without lowering their overhead. Is it really all about price? I don’t think so. I think it is about value. Price is a stationery benefit. It is found in your product (if you’re a retailer). Value is transient. It is found in your service, your accessibility, your entertainment, or even in your eccentricities.

Maybe Steve Burd could learn something from Jim Bonaminio, an independent grocer in Cincinnati. Bonaminio’s “Jungle Jim” store is famous for its unique shopping/entertainment experience. Bonaminio is also concerned about Wal-Mart’s entrance into his market, but there’s no sign he’ll be cutting prices. Instead, he has opened a garden center near the front entrance and leased space to a bank, the post office, and Starbucks. He just broke ground on a shopping center adjacent to Jungle Jim’s. He understands that price is not the only reason people shop at Wal-Mart. They also want to buy most of their needs within arm’s reach of each other. The combination of Jungle Jim’s idiosyncracies and the convenience of finishing your shopping and eating nearby give him a great shot at success.

So, what’s the bottom line here? It is whether or not people are willing to pay for what you offer. If you’re in business, you’d better hope you offer more than just products. If you don’t, there’s a Wal-Martesque company out there just waiting to crush you.

Dustin Staiger