by Talal “Trip” Albagdadi


The last time I went out to eat I ordered a vodka tonic before dinner.  The waitress asked if I had a vodka preference.  Having been through this many times before I told her that bottom shelf vodka was just fine.  She explained that most customers preferred Grey Goose and “if that’s out of your price range, Absolut has a citrus infused edition that goes perfectly with tonic.”  Why was she dropping names?  I wanted to be vodka infused not brand infused. Why would I care about Grey Goose or Absolut?  To put it simply, branding matters.

Grey Goose and Absolut have spent millions to define and establish themselves as premium brands.  Branding matters because it has a direct effect on the price you can charge for an item.  Kirkland Signature Vodka at Costco costs $29.99 while the same bottle of Grey Goose retails for $49.99.  Both are five-times distilled, made with 100% French wheat and use pure artesian spring water from the Massif Mountains.  By most accounts the two drinks are identical.  One costs 66% more than the other because one represents a premium brand.

Branding Matters

World Vodka Brands

Anyone starting a small business or working at a startup needs to think about what their business brand represents.  The essence of your brand will determine your target consumer, your pricing, your packaging, your aesthetic and your culture.  In other words, branding is everything.  It will provide you with direction and guidance as you work to establish your business.

Think about a white t-shirt.  If that t-shirt doesn’t represent a brand you can purchase three of them for $12.  If that t-shirt says SeanJohn on it or displays the Polo logo you can expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $45 for the same white t-shirt.  All small businesses don’t have to establish themselves as premium brands but all businesses do have to establish a brand in order to be relevant.

Branding is directly related to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as it will affect the content as well as the design of your Web site.  The keywords you choose to emphasize will also be reflective of your brand as they need to relate to your target consumer.  If your business specializes in high end baby strollers, you’ll want to make sure your Web site is optimized for searches like “luxury baby strollers” or “high end strollers.”

If your brand is a local one, optimizing your Web site with Geo Tags and registering it with Google Maps is also helpful in boosting Web traffic.  Quite a few established brands are local in nature and cater to a very specific regional or cultural market.  Excellent examples of this would include Mardi Gras King Cakes, which are popular in Louisiana and cheese curds which could only be popular in Wisconsin.

Before you start any business consider the essence of the brand you want to establish and build your marketing plan around that brand.  Everything will fall into place more easily if you know what your business stands for and who your target customers are.  Being flexible in this regard is not a bad idea either since you learn more about what works as you grow in the marketplace.

I ended up going with the citrus infused Absolut for my vodka tonic.  I’ve always loved the Absolut bottle ads.

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