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Branding is for Pickles

- Do I need to re-brand my company and my web site?

When you arrive at the grocery store to buy pickles, you're presented with plenty of options. You'll discover rows upon rows of glass jars full of small, greenish pieces. Some pickles come in small jars, some in larger jars; some come in interestingly-shaped jars, and some in very plain-looking jars. Some sport bright, colourful labels, and some have relatively simple-looking labels pasted on the outside of the jar. All are branded with a logo and a colour scheme, sometimes even including pictures of celebrities or cartoons.

So, how might you make a decision as to which jar to take home? Well, if you're not particular about your pickles, you may decide to buy the biggest jar with the smallest price tag. Right?

But say you're a picky pickle person - how do you choose?

You obviously can't sample the jar to see which product tastes better without buying it first, and the price tag is not a reliable indication of taste either. Unfortunately, even the list of ingredients won't help you, because the same basic items (vinegar, salt, cucumbers) are listed on all of the jars.

If you happen to be a picky pickle person on your premiere pickle purchase, you may choose to buy the jar with the lowest price. You may even decide to buy several different jars, hoping that you'll like at least one of them.

Working through this process might make you a more practiced pickle purchaser. Upon finding a favourite, you'll have certainly noted the variety of pickle you preferred and the company that produced the product. And you'll most likely try to purchase that kind of pickle from that point on.

So what role does branding play in the purchase decision? It provides the practiced, picky pickle purchaser a way to promptly pick their preferred pickle out of the plethora of pickled products presented.

The brand you may have chosen (say, with the dancing pickle cartoon and the red border) has a jar design and label exclusive to that product, making the task of finding your favourite kind much simpler on your next grocery store visit.

Do first-time pickle purchasers typically rely on the design of the label or cartoon in making their choice? Of course not! That is, not unless the pickle producer has spent a huge amount of money on advertising that prominently features the cartoon, and if the first-time buyer, with no other way to choose, happens to remember the cartoon while standing there in the pickle isle.

For a pickle producer that sells millions of pickle jars per year, spending $100,000 in advertising to promote their brand translates to only a few extra pennies per jar. If they sell 10% more pickles as a result, it may prove to be worth it for them.

That is why branding is for pickles.

But are you selling pickles?

  • Do you sell the same item repeatedly to your customers for years?
  • Each time your customer buys, are all of your competitors presented in a row?
  • Is it as easy to switch providers as picking a jar off a shelf?
  • Is your 'ingredients list' exactly like the rest of your competition?
  • Is there no way for your prospective customer to determine the quality of your product before they purchase?
  • Are your prospective customers picky? Or will they always go for the lowest price?
  • Do you sell millions annually?
If you can respond to most of these questions with a "yes" - you're selling pickles, and you'd best create a brand, and a plan to get out there to promote it. But make no mistake; you're playing in the big leagues, and you better be willing to invest more than pocket change into your new advertising initiative.

But if you're not selling pickles - you do not need a brand!

Please don't misunderstand; having your own logo and colour scheme can be helpful to your business, and it's probably worthwhile to incorporate some kind of design theme into all of your marketing efforts that reflects the impression you're trying to make on your prospects.

But we are talking about a small investment of time and money here, just to be professional about it. Unless your main competitors happen to be companies like Bick's or Nike, don't make the mistake of thinking that you need a brand that's even remotely comparable.

If you're not selling pickles, spending huge amounts of time and money developing and promoting a brand (or worse yet, going through a re-branding exercise) is only going to make the branding companies rich.

Because branding is for pickles.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with web sites. Well, many of our clients at some point decide to consult a marketing expert in order to increase sales and grow their business. Unfortunately, many of these so called marketing experts immediately recommend a total re-branding of the company - including the web site.

This recommendation is made regardless of the type of company, if they are playing in the pickle league or not, and regardless of the current brand. Often the current brand is perfectly acceptable, and changing it only confuses the existing client base.

These marketing experts say that in order to get more traffic to the site they need to redesign the look of the site. This is just nonsense. Search engines do not care what your logo looks like or what colours you pick for your company branding. No one comes to your web site because it looks good - because they can't tell until they get there!

There may be a small difference in conversion rate, in hits to sales, between your web site looking awful and being pleasing to the eye. But by far the biggest factor is not the look or the 'Brand' but how the web site functions! If your site does not work properly, then it may indeed need an overhaul. But beware of "marketing experts" who's only trick is to change your company brand.

Re-branding your web site will not get you more traffic, and unless your current look is just bad, changing your look can only make a difference in sales if you are selling pickles.

By Candace Carter, Back2Front - The Web Site People, 2007