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Small Business Approaches For Building a Premium Brand

It's a beautiful thing when your brand speaks so loudly that people truly believe your competitors can't deliver the quality you can. When that happens, price becomes a secondary consideration to the consumer, rather than a primary one.

By Dan Antonelli, author of Building A Big Small Business Brand

As small businesses compete against one another, consumer decision often revolves around a few considerations.

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  • The first and simplest consideration is price, and the second is the feeling people get about your company and its brand.

    Consider the feelings people have about Apple. They are willing to pay more for Apple products because it is a premium brand. Likewise, as a small business, it's important to work hard to establish yourself as a premium brand. People are wiling to pay more for a product or service, if they perceive it to be sold by a premium brand, or one in which the perceived value is greater than competitors.

    If a small business owner can point a client to his website or pass along a business card, and the branding and image is so professional that clients perceive him to be a premium brand, then that's a powerful strategic advantage. Let's say he is the little guy in the crowded field, the underdog, for example. Instead of simply leveling the playing field and looking like everyone else in the market, he now has a distinct advantage over competitors.

    Conversely, we see scenarios where a small business does provide a premium service, but doesn't have the brand to match. This is typically a long-term recipe for disaster. The company's work or product may be great, but they can't get the price they need because they don't look like they deserve to charge the price. They haven't instilled confidence in the buyer's mind as to why they should pay more for the service. Often, they lose the sale to a competitor who has done a better job of giving the buyer a reason, real or imagined, to partner with their company instead of yours.

    As you consider what type of brand to create for your business, you need to examine (1) who are you trying to attract, and (2) what image is appropriate for that audience and sufficiently unique from competitors. It's all about building an image that connects with your intended audience. There are many approaches you can take, but regardless of which you choose, they all employ the basic premise of building a brand that stands out. Here are a few approaches to consider.

    Franchise approach
    In this approach, you're building a brand appearance that gives the impression it is part of a larger, more nationally recognized chain or franchise. In general, people perceive franchises to be better established, more professional, and/or more reputable. Ironically, most of that perception actually speaks to the power of good marketing and branding. So, let's say you are competing with a large franchise. How might you stand out? One approach is to look like you have the same national presence they do.

    When consumers tell you they have "seen your trucks all over," and you only have one vehicle, that's the power of a franchise look. Or, when they ask where your other locations are, or come right out and ask if you are a franchise, you know you are projecting an image on par with or better than the actual franchises you are competing against.

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    'It's Personal' Approach
    Sometimes, smaller businesses want to go anti-big business or franchise. Buyers of their services may be turned off by some of the larger companies, and may prefer someone who is small and personally responsible. If the company name is Smith Construction, they really want to be dealing with Joe Smith, the owner. They're going to get the personal attention, because Joe Smith is going to be the guy working on their project.

    Inherent to a business naming structure that employs the owner's name, whether first or last, is the feeling of 'smallness' that it personifies.

    Bigger than you are and looking like you belong.
    Whether your business is a fledgling startup or an established one, it's important to know your competitors, and evaluate how their brand looks in comparison to your own. Some businesses are really big, and are leaders in their sector, but don't look it. Some companies are the new kids on the block: small, and trying to look big.

    For companies that are big, but just don't look it, the branding work is usually an easier fix. Corporate branding typically has a look that viewers tend to associate with larger entities. The "look" is simpler, cleaner, and without a lot of fluff. Large businesses can deploy their brand on a larger scale across various media so that audiences recognize their branding from a variety of venues.

    Nostalgic or Retro Approach
    Probably my personal favorite branding strategy for small businesses is a nostalgic or retro approach. As a designer, it's fun to imagine what today's brands might have looked like if they were launched 50 or 75 years ago. The brand strategy often works well in service businesses.

    Nostalgic brands emanate feelings of authenticity and reliability. They also feel more established, and to a certain degree, instill a feeling of personal service that perhaps was indicative of the period.

    To a certain degree, marketing your small business brand is really about perception, whether that perception is real or imagined. It's about looking the part. When I compare some of the small business brands that we built from my first basement office, with some of the industries' biggest players, I see the power of perception at work.

    It's a beautiful thing when your brand speaks so loudly that people truly believe your competitors can't deliver the quality you can. When that happens, price becomes a secondary consideration to the consumer, rather than a primary one.

    Dan Antonelli is the CEO and creative director of New Jersey advertising agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc., The Small Business Advertising Agency®, and the author of Building A Big Small Business Brand, available at For more information, visit

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