Monday, December 8, 2008

Why Should Small Businesses Be Treated Differently?

By Jacky Tai
I am often asked if there are special rules of branding for small businesses to follow. The reason I get this question a lot is that the moment small business owners see the big brands that I use as case studies of companies that have grown from a struggling two-man start-up to successful global brands using these 10 rules, their eyes glaze over and their minds go, “Ah! These rules apply only to big brands. I am a small business. These rules don’t apply to me.”

Well, I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that there are no special rules of branding for small businesses to follow. Too bad. Just because you are small doesn’t mean you get special treatment. But the good news is that the rules of branding are like Mathematics. One Plus One Equals Two. They are universal. The same rules apply whether you are big or small.

Wake Up, Small Business Owners!
If you are still thinking that the rules of branding don’t apply to you because you are just a small business, snap out of it. The survival of your business may very well depend on it.

Wake up, and see beyond what those big brands are today. Wake up, and look deep into their past. And I can guarantee that you will discover a simple truth: Every big, successful brand today started life as a small, struggling start-up. Not that much different from your company and maybe a lot worse off than you are right now.

Coca-Cola was once a struggling start-up.
General Electric was once a struggling start-up.
Microsoft was once a struggling start-up.
Apple was once a struggling start-up.
Google was once a struggling start-up.
Dell was once a struggling start-up.
Sony was once a struggling start-up.

I can go on and on and on.
But these companies didn’t go around asking brand gurus if there are any rules of branding that small, struggling businesses like theirs can follow. They looked for rules and strategies that can help to transform their small, struggling businesses into big, powerful global brands. And they applied those rules of branding to their businesses consistently and they became successful.

If they had followed some rules of branding for small businesses, then they would have remained a small business today. That is the lesson that you need to learn and learn fast. Not all of you will become a big global brand. The truth of the matter is that most of you will remain relatively small. The truth of the matter is that many small businesses will even fail.

But if you know the rules of branding, and you use them, you give your business a fighting chance of surviving the passage of time and brutal competition. You give your small business the hope of becoming a medium-sized business tomorrow. And once you become a medium-sized business, who knows what might happen the day after.

What Are The Rules Of Branding?
I will mention those rules here very briefly due to space constraints:

Rule No. 1 – The winner of the branding war is the one that creates a better perception.
Rule No. 2 – The best way to create a great perception is to get into the mind first and the best way into the mind first is to get into the market first.
Rule No. 3 – If you are not first, create a new category that you can be first in and promote that category, NOT your brand.
Rule No. 4 – Focus.
Rule No. 5 – Differentiate your brand unless you are prepared to sell really cheap.
Rule No. 6 – Use PR for brand building, advertising for maintenance.
Rule No. 7 – Find a great name.
Rule No. 8 – Be consistent.
Rule No. 9 – Make sure your brand has an enemy to fight, be it another brand or a problem.
Rule No. 10 – When the core brand is big and strong, don’t line extend the brand but launch a new one to cater to a new market/category.

Jacky Tai is a Principal Consultant of StrategiCom (, a B2B branding specialist headquartered in Singapore and operating in 11 cities including Kuala Lumpur. As Principal Consultant of StrategiCom, Jacky works with a crack team of talented consultants and researchers to help B2B companies across various industries gain an unfair advantage over competitors by effectively differentiating, dramatising and communicating the brand. Jacky is the author of two highly-acclaimed branding books – Transforming Your Business Into A Brand (2007) and Killer Differentiators (2008). He can be reached at jacky.tai@strategicom.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Ex Global Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble Jim Stengel gave a stinging account of how the marketing landscape is heading, quoting authors who has made similar predictions way before the current world financial meltdown.

Jim, who recently retired as Global Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble, oversaw a US$8 billion advertising budget and had organizational responsibilities for nearly 7,000 people. A prolific writer and speaker, Jim is best known for having invigorated P&G’s marketing culture.

Speaking at the inaugural star-studded Global Brand Forum event in Malaysia today, he started by paying tribute to Malaysia’s commitment to the Malaysia’s Most Valuable Brands (MMVB) study done by the industry with partners Interbrand and The Edge.

Jim’s 5Ms encompass:

1. Make Brand Ideals the Foundation. He cites how Brand China took off with the Olympics Opening Ceremony reflecting its people’s will, talent and character. As a result, the previous snide remark of ‘Made in China’ is back with a new sense of pride in ‘Made By China’.

2. Master the Power of Inclusive Marketing. Using Samsung as a case in point Jim articulated how everyone is a stakeholder in the branding process. From the Chairman of Samsung all the way down to the consumer.

3. Manage People Not Objectives. Conceding that this is a difficult mantra to execute, he convinced the packed ballroom at the Palace of Golden Horses that managing people who create, promote and consume the brand will naturally lead to financial success. Not the other way round.

4. Mission Drives Margins. Jim questioned the text-book approach to success as he spoke about how managing inspirational ideals automatically aligns organizations into the correct forward-thinking mindset. He referenced how the fortunes of Pampers, P&G’s No. 1 brand, shifted when he repositioned it from a nappy-diaper-thingy into a proposition that helped mothers in their babies’ development.

5. Measure what Matters. Jim says the metrics has changed. Measurement of results must take into account Emotional Equity and the humanity of brands. Sharing notes from the book Firms of Endearment, he said that this has been proven statistically.

In closing, his parting statement challenged the mood of the current economic scenario: “The Time for Asia is Now!”

Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister YAB Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak also sat in the ensuing panel discussion and conferred the GBF Malaysian Brand Icon Award to AirAsia CEO Dato’ Tony Fernandes. Tony looked euphoric than ever with the ‘opening of the skies’ between Singapore and KL which saw his low-cost carrier begin the first of its seven daily flights from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on Monday!