How to Build a Brand from Nothing

When most people think about brands, they tend to think about the ones that have been built up over a period of decades, if not more than a century. They think about a logo that even children can identify in less than two seconds.

Nike, McDonalds, Tide, Apple, and Macy’s are all examples of American brands with a lot of general awareness. Awareness alone does not make a business successful, but it helps a whole lot. Most people know what Sears is, but it hasn’t kept the company from severe cut-backs. When Apple was in the doldrums, the general awareness of what Apple was did not help it recover all that much.

Better products, starting with the iMac, and then moving onto the iPod, helped to resurrect the company.

Radio Shack’s brand awareness is not helping it sell more electronics supplies. Why not? Because the online stores are providing a better service, at a better price, more conveniently. Soon enough, unless something drastic changes, the brand will be as obscure as Magnavox is today.

The default problem of all new businesses, even those with great products, is that no one has any idea what the company is or what it stands for. The obscurity can be downright shocking. It can be demoralizing. It can be agonizing to look at a ‘share’ or ‘follower’ count sitting at ‘zero,’ especially if you have never had to deal with that before.

The way you can solve this problem is to:

  1. Find the people who can benefit from your company.
  2. Convince them that they’ll benefit.
  3. Sell them the product or give it away if you have to.
  4. Follow up and ask them if they would be willing to tell their friends about it.
  5. Do it again.

One error that sometimes happens is to think that advertising alone can substitute for sales acumen when the company is going from a cold start. The brand is the conceptual description of the company’s reputation. When the company has no reputation, there is nothing real to build off of. You start the core of the company’s reputation by spending a lot of time with your customers, talking to them, gathering their opinions, making them as happy as you can possibly make them, and then turning that into a process that you can apply with the next customer.

Before you even start thinking about a clever tagline for your full-page magazine ad, you have to get those basics right.

This is not a question of budget. Plenty of companies with multi-billion dollar funding mess this up and waste all their money on media buying.

The core of any good brand is happy customers who will validate everything that you say about your company.

If you have to start with family and friends, start with them. If you have to start with random people sitting in a bar, start with those people. Build out from there.