Branding Your Family Business

JoAnne Norton
Jo Anne Norton

Your brand is the promise you make to your customers. Every family business has a brand. Some family owners carefully design their brands with the help of branding experts. Some family business owners are so busy running their businesses they don’t take the time to carefully build their brand. At the end of the day, however, your brand is the impression your customers have of your family business based on their past experience with you as well as what they hear their friends say about you. Consider the following story.

For three generations one family’s concrete business had the reputation for building the smoothest driveways in town, and that’s why they had been so successful and so profitable for nearly 100 years. The brand promise made to customers was for the most part an unspoken one, but it was certainly understood in their hometown.

When the brothers took the business over from their father things did not go well between them. They had major disagreements about exactly what their brand promise was as well as how that promise should be kept, and their communication became limited to the occasional insults screamed across the room or over the telephone.

One night, the older brother went by to check on a driveway that had been poured by his younger brother earlier in the day. To his horror, the older brother detected tiny cracks in the foundation as it was drying because the job had not been done right. He went to the door of the customer who had been delighted with the way the driveway looked. But the older brother had to explain that even though it looked good now, there were tiny cracks that would soon grow bigger over time, and that since his family’s name would be forever written in that concrete, he wanted the smoothest and the best driveway possible.

The older brother believed his family’s name was his bond, and he didn’t want any cracks in the foundation of the driveway or his family’s reputation. So at midnight, under the light of a nearly full moon and a heavy-duty flashlight, he tore out the driveway with a pickaxe so it could be re-poured the next day. He knew, however, that the most difficult work would be with his younger brother because things had to change drastically, or they would no longer be able to work together. That’s when he decided to call in a family business consultant.

When the consultant met with the two brothers he asked them three simple questions: 1) Who are you? 2) What do you believe?  3) What are you going to do? The answers to these questions are essential to building the brand of a family business, but they did not come from an expert in branding. They came from Family Systems Theory started by psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen. 

After a day’s discussion the brothers were able to answer the first question by agreeing that they were third-generation owners who were very proud of the legacy begun by their grandfather and continued by their own father. In answer to the second, they said they believed their family’s tradition in the concrete business was well worth continuing for more generations to come. Finally, they decided that what they wanted to do was to work together to have the best concrete business in town. And there it was—the brand promise—the best concrete business in town.

Murray Bowen believed that when we have a clear understanding of who we are, what we believe, and what we want to do, we are better “defined,” which is vital for both psychological and physical health. Correspondingly, when family owners can come together and answer these questions they are not only defining themselves but also deciding what they want their brand promise to be. Of course building a brand doesn’t stop there. Next the owners must communicate that brand promise to their employees who must all buy into it. Then comes the most important part: all of the owners and all of the employees must keep that promise.

Read JoAnne’s article from the April Family Business Advisor, Click Here


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