Many small businesses have plain, nondescript logos, and have built a plain, nondescript brand. They blend in with the crowd. This includes HVAC contractors, which are typically small businesses. Their logo doesn’t stand out. Their brand doesn’t stand out. Their technicians drive around in plain-looking service vans that look just like every other service van on the road.
In his book, Building a Big Small Business Brand, Dan Antonelli notes that it doesn’t have to be that way. Building a big brand can make a big difference for the small business owner. And this book provides a step-by-step guide to accomplishing just that.
Antonelli asserts that most branding experts don’t give the logo its due. He states, “The logo is the hub that the brand is built around.” The logo sets the tone for the message you want to get across. He quotes Walt Disney, who said, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing: that it was all started by a mouse.” Disney’s Mickey Mouse certainly created a very memorable mascot that remains instantly identifiable.
Think about branding from the standpoint of first impression. A strong brand creates a positive impression. It gives you a leg up. It’s certainly better than creating a neutral impression or having to overcome a negative one.
Antonelli then lists all the brand touchpoints, starting with the logo and including stationery, print ads, collateral, web design, uniforms, vehicle wraps, and social media.
New businesses usually don’t give a lot of thought to their logo and branding. Antonelli gives an example of an HVAC contractor who invested in branding from day one. Main Street Heating & Cooling has a logo that consists of a contractor figure that has a screwdriver strapped to his back that looks like a jet pack roaring upwards. Shown in a photo on one of Main Street’s service vans, the logo and vehicle wrap are not run of the mill. President Doug Sheneman said, “Our new brand has allowed us to stand out in a crowded marketplace.”
A big brand can also make a small company look bigger and more substantial. Antonelli illustrates the branding of Air Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. He says, “After seeing this brand implemented on a truck, most people believe the company is very large. This company, however, is very small — with only a few employees at the time of this writing.”
A great brand — a premium brand — supports premium pricing. If you’re providing premium service, you need to look the part in order to get the price you think you deserve.
Antonelli cautions that branding should not be built around shock value or awkward imagery. “It should be memorable, personify the business in a positive manner, and give the viewer an indication of the brand promise.”
He says that a nostalgic or retro approach can work well for a small business, especially a service business. He presents and illustrates the example of Duct Dudes, an air duct cleaning company that has as its logo an iconic character made out of ductwork.
Time to Rebrand?
Although some business owners with a poor brand may argue they don’t need to change because of their success, Antonelli says he responds: “Imagine for a moment how much more successful you might have been with the proper brand fundamentals in place.”
The small business owner should consider if they have a logo that is mediocre or worse. They should consider brand inconsistencies, looking at all the touchpoints listed above. Based on how their business has grown, they should consider if their brand represents what they currently do.
Looking at types of logos, Antonelli shows a wide variety. He notes that characters and mascots have been some of the most successful brands he has created. They can be attention-getting.
A critical application of branding, particularly for service businesses, is the vehicle wrap. Good wrap design is rarely employed, says Antonelli. A strong logo and good design make a company’s service vans truly a breed apart from all the drab vehicles on the road. Several examples, including HVAC vans, are shown.
In implementing a new brand, Antonelli says you need to map out a plan for phasing it in and using it in all the different facets of your business, including business cards, stationery, collateral, signage, your website, uniforms, and vehicles. You won’t be able to roll it out all at once, but carry out the process as quickly as you can, beginning with the most visible brand references.
In the final chapter, the book provides case studies of successful small business branding.
From beginning to end, Building a Big Small Business Brand provides comprehensive guidance with many examples. And the small business brands represented in the book are far from bland and indistinguishable, and do make a notable impression.
Dan Antonelli is the CEO and creative director of New Jersey advertising agency Graphic D-Signs Inc., and has more than 20 years of experience in small business branding and marketing strategy. For more information, visit www.graphicd-signs.com. Antonelli’s book, Building a Big Small Business Brand, is available on Amazon by clicking here.
Publication date: 4/7/2014