Santa Claus. Stop for a minute and picture Santa. I bet you’ve got a really clear vision: red suit with white trim, big white beard, and pretty chubby. You’ve also got a clear sense of what Santa stands for: giving, jolly, Christmas. And you know how Santa makes you feel: happy.
Santa’s a branding genius. And you can learn a lot from Santa about branding for your small business.
Santa proves that you don’t have to be a big corporation (though we really don’t know how many elves he has on his payroll) or have a huge advertising budget (though a lot of others spread his name) to develop a brand.
Just like Santa, you can make your small business a brand – where people know what your brand looks like, what it stands for, and how it makes them feel. Most people think branding comes from having a huge advertising budget. Sure, that helps, especially when you need to get your name remembered by tens of millions of people.
But small businesses don’t need everyone to remember them – just their most important customers and prospects. With that in mind, it’s definitely possible for small businesses to build a memorable brand on a small budget.
Here’s what your brand needs to stand for:
- Consistency. At it’s most basic, a brand is a promise. A customer choosing a brand expects to get the same thing every time: the same type and quality of product or service, the same level of customer service, similar pricing. Santa is about as consistent as it gets. He wears the same outfit every year (I hope he gets it dry-cleaned), drives the same sled, names his reindeer the same eight names (sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but reindeer don’t live that long).
- Values. Because many consumers often define themselves by the brands they buy (and wear, drive, drink), a company with enduring and strong values engenders enduring and strong customer loyalty. Santa’s values are clear: he’s checking his list (twice) to see who’s been naught and who’s been nice.
- Messages. What do you want your customers to remember about you? You’ve got to have a clear message you repeat over and over and over again. Your message sums up what you do, your target market, your competitive advantage. Santa delivers toys to girls and boys around the world, his market is children, and his competitive advantages are both his fame and first-mover advantage (Santa was the first one to do same-day shipping).
- Identity. In your small business, your brand identity helps you distinguish yourself from the competition. This identity consists of your company name, logo, signature colors, advertising slogans, store design, packaging and more. Santa has this down pat. His “company name”—Santa—is a household name. His signature color is red—not only for his clothing but also his sled. Like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, Santa has a signature look. He wears the same outfit, has a bushy beard, and doesn’t change his hairstyle.
In addition to these core aspects of any strong brand, Santa has cleverly used other tricks you may want to consider implementing into your small business branding.
- Connect with another company to help spread your brand. Santa did this when he joined forces with The Coca-Cola Company. Before he appeared in the soft drink company ads, Santa’s image was inconsistent and he was not nearly as well-known. His wardrobe waffled among a bishop’s robe, animal skins, or elfish looking clothes. Often he would go on strict diets to drop the extra pounds right before the holidays kicked off. Coca-Cola put him on the map by transforming his appearance to what we know and love today.
- Add some personality. Santa’s warmth helps put a personal face on the company. And while “Ho ho ho” may be a simple phrase, it reveals Santa’s good nature and sense of humor. This could also be considered his company tagline. It’s catchy and memorable.
- Make the world a better place. Many companies espouse this but Santa actually does it, bringing happiness and joy to children around the world.
People like doing business with companies that strive to improve the world, and everyone loves Santa. He’s got an amazing brand.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on December 18, 2015