Small Agency? Build a Big Brand

by Harvey Chipkin

When many of us think about brands, we think of iconic names like McDonald’s, Apple and Coke. But small businesses need branding as much as giant companies, according to Dan Antonelli, CEO of Graphic D-Signs, Inc., an advertising agency in Washington, N.J.

Antonelli has made a career out of creating and maintaining brands for smaller enterprises. In his new book, Building a Big Small Business Brand (SignCraft Pub. Co.), Antonelli offers insights on branding for small business owners.

Branding is a way for a business to stand out and create a positive first impression. Unfortunately, “most small business brands are perceived to be either negative or neutral,” Antonelli said.

“There is a lot of poor branding out there so doing something unique really stands out,” he told Travel Market Report.

We asked Antonelli how his branding advice might apply to travel agents.

Why is branding important to a small business?
Antonelli: Branding helps to deliver a value proposition and to set a perceived level of expertise. It also reinforces a comfort level with someone who might not know anything at all about you – or about the service you provide.

You can find a multitude of similar companies if you Google a service, so it’s the first impression that can distinguish you.

If I go online and look at the sites for two different agents – one site that is polished and professional and the other that isn’t – I will expect more from the former. Not only might I select that brand, but I might be willing to pay more.

Since so many agents work out of their homes, they really want to give potential customers reassurances that they will get the trip they paid for.

Don’t some companies do well without branding?
Antonelli: Yes they do, but they can do better. I have often said that success in spite of a poor identify is not a valid reason to perpetuate it. A lot of small businesses are very successful without good branding. I admire that, but they could be really crushing the competition.

Where does branding start?
Antonelli: It starts with logo design, which is the foundation of a brand. You need to create a logo that is easily recognizable.

Think of the logo as the hub of a bike wheel, with the spokes being social media, a website and all the rest. Every touch point that someone has with your company should be reflective of your brand. Continuity is very important.

How much should a small business spend on branding and marketing?
Antonelli: I usually recommend a range of 3% to 4.5% of revenues. There will be bumps with a relaunch or rebranding, but that is a good range.

Can businesses expect a return on that investment in the form of higher pricing?
Antonelli: If pricing between two companies is equal, a consumer will look to the one that appears more professional and seems like it will be in business the next year. That perceived level of security is critical.

In most instances, our clients can raise prices, once we finish what we do for them, because the perceived deliverable is now matching the reality. Perception is an important contributor to profitability.

There are a lot of metrics to prove how important branding is. But keep in mind that a good ad agency can make a business look any way it wants – but that company is then responsible for delivering on the promise.

Should renaming a company be an option?
Antonelli:  I have an entire chapter on naming, which of course precedes logo design. If you have an agency called Paradise Travel and another called ABC Travel, chances are the consumer will look to Paradise Travel. A name should give an indication of the promise of a brand. If you are naming or renaming, do not use initials.

What about trendy misspelled names like  those of so many tech companies – like Tumblr?
Antonelli:  A misspelled word – like Tumblr, could work if you have tremendous resources to support it.

Have you used a travel agent?
Antonelli:  I have. I found them through a referral.

Speaking of that, how does branding lend itself to referrals, which are crucial to many agents?
Antonelli: When you hand out cards to a satisfied client to distribute to friends, the design of that card will be crucial. This sets the level of expectations and how professional your company might be. Most business cards are not well-designed, which presents a great opportunity for those who do it right.

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