How to build a brand on a tiny budget

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 9th May 2016

BudgetFollowing is an edited version of a presentation given to a group of owners of small businesses struggling with the challenges of building a brand on very limited budgets in competitive markets. This is a challenge most of my readers can relate to. It is not easy, but it can be done.

Let me know what you think.

30 years ago I found myself marketing manager of a newly formed division of Dairy Farmers, the By-Products division, which we quickly renamed General Products, for obvious reasons. It manufactured all the products that used milk as the ingredient, but was unregulated, unlike the stuff you put on your corn flakes in the morning which was highly regulated.

It was a commercial disaster, an absolute financial basket case, and as a young bloke who had come off a pretty good run over the previous 10 years, I truly wondered what I had got myself into.

It was a nasty surprise.

The second nasty surprise was Ski yoghurt, one of the ‘gems’ of the business, and a key part of the marketing role I had taken.

Sales data, such as it was showed considerable growth for several years, However, when I looked at the market data, market share had gone from 30% or thereabouts to single figures.

Yoplait had launched into the market. New packaging format, great launch offer, 2 for 1, good advertising, and the market had exploded, leaving Ski sinking in its wake, and few at Dairy Farmers had woken up.

I started some market research to find a way through, although the Advertising budgets had been slashed when I pointed out just how bad the financial situation was. (Nobody had ever done a trading Profit & Loss on the division before. Unbelievable)

Something happened in one of the groups that caused the light bulb to go off, and I truly understood for the first time what a brand  really was.

The researcher asked the respondents in a group while I was behind the one way glass, to imagine Yoplait as a person, and that person was walking through the door: describe the person.

This question is now almost always asked, but 30 years ago, it was a relatively new idea.

Yoplait was young, hip, female, successful, educated, world at her feet. A picture most in the room could aspire to.

Ski was a 55 year old male farmer in wellies. Trustworthy, serious, reliable, but oh so boring.

My marketing problem with Ski was clear.

What is a brand.

At its core, a brand is something that someone cares about, and relates to, it has human dimensions.

It will never be something that everyone cares about, no brand can be all things to all people, so you have to identify those  few who will care. Then appeal to their hearts more than their minds, add value to them in some way, be very personal.

Coca Cola, around for 125 years, is instantly recognisable, sold everywhere, billions and billions have been spent over a long period to build the brand. There are lots of brand value list created, and Coke is almost always in the top 5 brands in the world.

Forbes Magazine in 2015 values Coke at $56 billion, (US) on revenue of $23.1 billion, and advertising of $3.5 billion.

It is a huge brand, whose primary aim in their strategic plan is to “engage with consumers in their lives”

But what about this second one??

Has anyone here heard of Felix Kjellberg? Or his business Pewdipie?

A Swedish gaming satirical commentary site, hardly even a product. If you have sons under 25 who play games online, ask them!

If we are too measure the success of a brand by the manner in which consumers engage, then it is reasonable to look at the number of YouTube subscriptions that brand has attracted. By definition, a subscriber is someone who has specifically signed up to be sent updates by the brand because they are engaged with the brand in some way.

April 21 2016, about midday when I looked, Coca Cola had 763,133 YouTube subscribers. Not bad I thought, till I looked at Pewdipie, who had 43,421,440 subscribers, roughly 57 times Coke. An astonishing difference when Coke has been spending billions over many years with a specific objective of ‘engaging consumers’ and Pewdipie has spent a few bob on dodgy youtube videos taken with their phones.

How did Felix do it??

Well, I do not know Felix, but I can make some pretty educated guesses, and that is what the rest of this will be about.

For a supplier, a brand is a commercial vehicle, a way to deliver leverage by way of price, distribution, many other factors that may be of interest to customers.

For the customer it is a way of making the decision easier, offering reassurance of performance, certainty, it is a trusted friend, and there is some level of emotional investment, even if it is just a comfortable habit.

It is really easy for marketers to go off the rails here, to see a picture of an emotional attachment that simply does not exist, They see it through their eyes, not those of the consumer. The truth is that consumers see brands as things that solve problems for them, they have preferences, sometimes very strong and exclusive ones, but in the end, in the case of consumers products like yoghurt, it is just yoghurt, not a cure for cancer, and it is not going to change the world.

The sweet spot is in the overlap between the commercial and consumer view of a brand, the  Value Proposition of the brand.

These 3 words,  Leverage, Niche, and Persona are the guts of how you build a brand on a little money.

They are mutually dependent, mutually reinforcing,  and 2 out of 3 is not good enough.

This has always been the case in marketing, we have always talked about and tried to execute on a ‘target market’ but the tools until a very few years ago were crude, too crude to be anything other than marginally useful on a small budget.

This has changed.

We can now target with great precision using digital tools, with the resulting huge increase in the productivity of  the effort.

Firstly, Leverage.

Leverage is simply doing more with less.

As small business people we all know about those challenges.

We all know that face to face is the best advertising by far, when someone you know and trust recommends a brand, you are way more likely to take notice than if you hear or see an ad.

On one hand that personal recommendation delivers a lot of credibility, and leverage, but it is also very time and resource intensive, one on one costs a lot, but as noted, there are now a box full of tools to make the process possible.

When a brand is ‘remarkable’ it gets leverage from both dimensions, and a lot can be done with a little.

The tools of digital have made it easier, but the space is absolutely crowded, and people are very adept at filtering out stuff of no interest.

It does not matter how well you use the tools, if the product is not remarkable, the tools will not do you much good.

The reverse is also true, if the product is remarkable, but you do not use the tools, or use them poorly, or the wrong ones, progress will at best be slow.

In the old days, you could just stick it on the box and with enough money, buy awareness, and a sale, but that model is dead, dead, dead, which is why TV stations are all losing money.


20 years ago a marketing thinker named Seth Godin coined the term ‘purple cow’, and it has become one of those universal phrases.

What makes your brand remarkable?

Remarkable has two roots:

It is different

It is something worth spreading.

Seth’s story. Driving along a country road, you see cows, lots of them, they are all the same, so you barely notice them, but if one cow was purple, you would notice, and remark, “look at that purple cow”!!

But if all cows were purple it would no longer be remarkable.

When you have seen a purple cow, and when you get to your destination, you would be telling everyone else about the purple cow you saw. An idea worth spreading.

Ask yourself, What is it about you and your product that is remarkable, and to whom is it remarkable.

Figure that out, and you have the opportunity to get the idea to spread,


This is a list of all the digital tools done earlier this year by Scott Brinker

Thousands of them, many more than  the same time last year.

Newspapers, TV, radio,  magazines, all the old media are also tools that deliver leverage.

Always did, still do.

Question is are there better ways?, and the answer for most small businesses is clearly yes!.

Small businesses do not have the resources for mass media leverage, but the digital revolution has levelled the playing field somewhat.

But the problem is deciding which ones to invest in, because it is not free!!

My advice, Stick to the simple ones, the ones that give you the most leverage. Find what works for you and double down while experimenting and learning.

Your website

It is yours, you are the owner, the publisher, you make the rules, just like living in your own home

It is the marketing cornerstone for most small businesses.

Facebook for B2C

Facebook has become an amazing monster.

Tame it, and it can be wonderful, but it lives to take your money, and is very good at it.

In effect, you can pay them to get reach, the fast way, or you can do it organically, the slow way.

The tools inside Facebook are amazing, and seductive in the extreme.

LinkedIn for B2B

LinkedIn is for professionals, Business to Business.

414 million users worldwide, 3.6 million in Australia (as of June 2015, so probably north of 4 mill by now) all professionals, no cat photos or Aunt fanny’s famous cake recipe.

4 million… Do you think there might be a few in that with whom you would like, and be able, to do some business?

how do you find the ones you need/want to speak to??

The advanced search function in LinkedIn, even in the free version offers many  ways to find a person or a business with whom you might want to start a conversation. It is amongst many tools that Linkedin provides to automate the lead generation process.


You can try and do a Pewdipie, although getting such a result again is unlikely, but you can learn from modelling what they have done. .

This is a screenshot of their current landing page on YouTube. Nothing too fancy there, but it works, really works!


Last of the vital tools, but not least in any way is email.

Email is a digital metaphor for that chat over the back fence. It carries great potential for credibility.

To get email right, there are some tools you need, but the fundamental skill is a very old fashioned one:


Go into your local newsagent, and look at the magazines on the rack, they are still surviving.

They have very specific target markets,

The front cover headlines entice you to open to page 6 to read the story, and the first thing you see is a second headline, that drags you into the story a little deeper, leading you to the checkout.

If you happen to be thinking about how to write a headline, and you got this in an email, would you open it????

Of course you would.

The challenge is to get it to you as you are thinking about copywriting

You don’t have their email??

There are a million ways to get an email address, including several free tools that do work, and the key task is to build a list of those who are willing to receive your communications.

Then there are a few ‘must haves’ to maximise the opening rate and actions taken as a result of your email.

It must be personal. Specifically targeted at them in some way

It does not sell  but does offer advice and assistance

It does have a call to action, something you want them to do as a result of reading the email.

Secondly, Identify your niche.

We are no longer constrained by geography,

We no longer need to rely on snail mail and having someone’s telephone number.

My point is that if you can find a narrow, but deep niche, to whom you add great value, those at the bottom of the niche will love you, and it will be too dark and scary for the big guys to attack, and defensible if they do.

I bet if you wanted to form a group of left handed Lesbian lumberjacks, you could find enough of them to form a ‘community’ in fact, they are probably desperate to find some others who understand them, and would join such a community in a flash.

A couple of examples of small businesses carving out a niche. revolutionising bog paper

www. revolutionising the purchase of shavers

Both are niches that are deep and narrow, and they have first mover advantages that will make them very hard to move.

Thirdly, the persona of your ideal customer.

Developing a persona of your ideal customer requires that you make choices.

It is as much about what you will not do, as it is about what you will do.

It is usually very hard for an SME not to chase every so called opportunity as it emerges, but when you are small, focus is essential.

Let me just make 2 more points quickly before I finish.

We are all familiar with the term “Guerrilla Marketing”.

It is a way of building leverage, but requires creativity, and an ability to see beyond the normal, be prepared to take a punt.

You do not need money to be creative, and when you are, it is a key component of remarkable

Your customers journey. For every purchase, no matter how small and insignificant, Something triggers the research seeking a solution to a problem, to fill a need, even if that is something as simple as which yoghurt to buy today..

Each journey starts with an evaluation, sometimes with a few  brands or suppliers in mind. During the evaluation, new brands may come under consideration, some drop out, for a host of reasons, and understanding these reasons is a great way of being able too present information that addresses them for an ideal customer, deep down in a niche.

You have the opportunity at this point, before the decision is made, to shift and influence their thinking.

Customer journeys all have a flow, understand them

As a visual metaphor, look at your google analytics flow from your website, see how the customers go from pages to page, how long they stay, what they do.

If you apply this idea to the whole customer journey, not just on your website, you will see points that you can engage, intervene, make it easier to present them with information and  opportunities.

The task is to understand the journey, then you can engage at various points, and find ways to shape the journey. As the world has changed, so too have the customer journeys.

Technology has changed forever the journey as customers now do their own research before you know they are in the market. Unlike in the past, when the seller had the information the customers needed to make a decision, and therefore the power, the customer is absolutely now in charge.

As a final word, building a brand on a little money can be done.

It is not easy, if it was, everybody would be doing it,  but it can be done.


Allen Roberts is a guest contributor to Australian Food News and writes another of his regular articles here. He is the Director of Strategy Audit and has worked in the food sector for more than 35 years. To read his full biography click HERE.