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How Independent is Your Brand?
By Tatiana Bonneau access_time 7 min read

Independence Day

Today, 4th of July, United States of America celebrates Independence Day. If you are born in America or you live there you probably know the history of Independence Day and the values that are commemorated each year. But let’s revisit the history really quick for the ones who don’t live in “the land of the free”.

It was back in 1776 on July 4th that the thirteen colonies claimed their independence from Great Britain and the United States was born. One of the country’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, drafted the Declaration of Independence and the United States became a sovereign nation, entitled to the privileges and responsibilities that came with that status.

Every year Americans gather together to celebrate their freedom and independence. The weekend is usually spent with family and friends, accompanied with fireworks, music, barbeque, a lot of American flags and red, white and blue colors everywhere. 

The definition of independence is the state of being free, not depending on other people, countries or entities. At SmartBranding we talk about brands and so I’d like to take this opportunity and talk about Brand independence.

What is Brand Independence?

Very simply put Brand Independence is when you fully own your brand and its connection to your customers – traffic, sales, engagement, identity assets. You probably think that’s already the case – of course your brand is independent! It’s Your brand! But is it? 

An independent brand can have many channels to drive traffic from, to promote new services and products, to drum up marketing activities. But it has long term vision and goals. If you have a small drop shipping operation and you just want to make some cash, your brand doesn’t even matter that much – you buy traffic, convert some % of it to sales and repeat. If it goes wrong you can always set up another shop, try other products and generally start from scratch. If you are building a business that you want to last and grow, your brand is one of your strongest assets, and its independence is of paramount importance. 

How independent is your brand?

Many brands, especially those starting out, rely on search engines and social media to drive traffic. This is completely understandable – you need to get the word out for your new service or product. The cost of acquiring clients via those channels can vary but here are some rough guidelines.

  • Average social media spent for small businesses – $4,000-$7,000 per month
  • Average Google Ads small-to-midsized companies spent $9000 to $10,000 per month 

Both, social media and search engines are advertising-based models, so however you want to cut it, there are pros and cons.

On the positive side, it is relatively easy to acquire customers and to measure results this way – you pay, you get traffic, you convert the traffic to customers. Simple. There is one problem however – your brand is not independent. It is completely relying on third parties that not only own the traffic they can send to you, but also your connection with your customers, their data and in most cases – even the content you publish.

According to Sarah Bird, Moz CEO, Google and its online properties like YouTube, Gmail and Chrome control close to 95% of the search going on in this world. That’s trillions and trillions of potential revenues that rely on one company’s algorithms. And if the big brands can’t figure this stuff out, how in the world can a small business even consider it?

A small business can’t. It’s because the world of Google is rigged against us. We set up a budget “suggested” by Google that’s based on “recommendations” of keywords made by Google who then mysteriously displays our ads wherever Google chooses, which then drains our budget and then – here’s the kicker – Google reports back to us how our money was spent…by Google…on clicks and views and other things that we have no way of validating. Unless we just believe…well…Google.

Gene Marks, The Hill

What about social media? Even if you put aside the horror stories of entrepreneurs who’s businesses were killed by social media, or the fact that it’s getting increasingly harder for small businesses to keep their identity on social channels, we are back to the brand independence question – who’s audience are you building? Imagine your business account is banned tomorrow, for whatever change of rules or simply by error, how will you reach your customers? Do you still own that community you put so much time and effort to build? 

Amazon? A 15-month investigation by the House Judiciary Committee concluded that Amazon “has monopoly power over many small- and medium-sized businesses.” 

Here are some more highlights from the ISLR study on Amazon’s relationship with small businesses:

  • Amazon has cornered the online market, impeding the ability of small businesses to operate independently and blocking them from having direct relationships with their customers.
  • Amazon imposes high fees on sellers, putting them at risk of going under.
  • Amazon blocks independent businesses from offering lower prices on other sites. 
  • Amazon shuts down small businesses without due process.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, in a very Google fashion they can copy your products and rig the results to promote its own brand. It’s not a surprise an iconic brand like Nike has moved away from Amazon and for years now is focusing on improving its own direct-to-consumer channels and fully owning its sales.

The way to Brand Freedom

The way to Brand Freedom starts with your domain name. Your domain name is the one place on the internet where you have full control over your brand, how it is presented, how your product or services are displayed. You can tailor your proposition to target customers. You can collect and analyze all the data from your clients and better understand their habits and needs, spot trends and improve your offering based on those. You can build your brand equity, create and nurture closer connection with your clients and business partners. You can create your rules so that they match your vision and the voice of your brand. 

What started as a simpler way to access content online has developed into one of the most important brand assets over the past few decades. And don’t doubt that « the big boys » know that and use it to their advantage.

Independence is a virtue 

Independence is hard to achieve. It requires efforts and constant work. It carries responsibility – for oneself and for others. But that is the price of freedom. The freedom to make your choices and to own them. The freedom to build your relationships and the responsibility to nurture them. The freedom to express what you stand for and take the risk that not everyone may like it. This applies as much in our personal lives as it does in our business endeavors. Some brands just do it (yes Nike, pun intended:), others should strive to be more independent. If that’s you do feel free to get in touch and discuss how I can help make your brand more independent.


Photo cover by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi

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