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I’ve become a bit of a podcast junkie. Radio in the UAE leaves a lot to be desired, so I’ve finally jumped on the podcast train and found listening to industry related pieces makes my drives far more enjoyable than hearing the same Rihanna song on every station.

One of my favorite podcasts is from (doesn’t get more straightforward than that) and its no nonsense co-hosts Joe Polish and Dean Jackson. Both hosts are advocates of direct response techniques, also knowns as direct marketing. Having both successfully built businesses, they use their personal experiences as the foundation for most of their podcasts. The major appeal for me is their focus on measurable action and marketing accountability. No fluff here.

But when I listened to one of their many podcasts about branding, I found myself nodding along in agreement at some parts and shaking my head furiously at others. The argument presented was that branding is an exercise that adds little or no value for small businesses, and that time and money is better spent on direct marketing techniques.

No, no, no, no.

Yes, small businesses do not have the money or capability to execute the branding exercises that corporates build their existence on. There are no multi million dollar budgets allocated to image building or advertising. And yes, direct response marketing will always provide quicker results for small businesses. But there is absolutely no way that any marketer can agree that branding is irrelevant, even for the smallest of companies.

Branding isn’t restricted to mass marketing advertising. A brand is “a set of associations linked to a name or mark associated with a product or service”* and brand positioning refers to the feeling and understanding in a consumer’s mind when encountering that specific brand. This can be translated in how your employees speak to your customers, the tone of voice you use on social media, the type of packaging you use, and many more low cost activities. It doesn’t have to be wide scale above the line campaigns.

If your company has a weak brand identity and no defined brand positioning, what will entice consumers to choose you? What will they relate to? Without brands, companies rely on a cycle of sales driven tactics to bring in revenue. While such tactics are key for any business to increase revenue, developing a strong brand identity will allow companies to also benefit from pull marketing rather than focusing almost solely on push.

Branding is important. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be the foundation of your company and permeate all your activity. The immediate impact may not be apparent as it would with direct response, but branding is a long term investment that supports the sustainability of your company.

What do you think? Is branding a waste of time for small businesses?

*Alice M. Tybout & Brian Sternthal in Kellog on Branding