Is Visual Branding Important for the Mom & Pop Shop?

My grandfather was a sign painter, my father was a sign painter and I started my career over 20 years ago in the family business – as a sign painter.  I remember as a little kid driving around in the family station wagon my dad would point out, with pride, the signs, billboards and advertisements he had painted (back in the day when those things were actually hand painted). Due to my family history with outdoor advertising I was always aware of and checking out the good, the bad, and the ugly of business signage.

As times changed, I transitioned from the paint brush to the computer mouse and from outdoor signage to overall business branding, advertising, and marketing.  But one thing never changed for me, the importance of a good, effective, and compelling visual brand!

Small business branding

Is branding important for small businesses?

Fast-forward 20 years – I’m driving around somewhere in Florida looking for a gas station and I pull into the most generic strip mall plaza I have ever seen.  No business names, no logos, no unique color schemes, no visual branding at all! Every business was labeled simply by the service they provide… convenience store, locksmith, haircuts, nail & spa, etc… Obviously the landlord of this strip mall wasn’t concerned with the individual brands of each business and just wanted the “brand” of the plaza to be  simple and uniform but why would a business owner ever choose to be located in such a place? How are they going to be noticed and remembered by potential customers, how effective will their advertising efforts be, how will their business grow?

Having spent the last couple years working as the creative director for two national franchises with hundreds of locations, branding isn’t an option – branding, especially for a franchise, it the most important ingredient for success!  Why do people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to open a McDonald’s, Subway or Dunkin’ Donuts when for a fraction of the cost they could open their own burger, sub or coffee shop? Because of the brand!

Due to my “bias” for business success through effective branding I was curious as to how any of these business owners expected to succeed and grow without any type of visual branding. Could I be wrong? Is my idea of success different from theirs? Maybe they are happy with one location and aren’t interested in growing?  Have they already saturated their local market and wouldn’t see a return on their branding investment?

Even if you agree that the single-location Mom and Pop shop doesn’t need a full force branding, advertising and marketing campaign, what do you think would be the impact on the unbranded “convenience store” and  “haircut” shop if a 7-Eleven and  SportClips set up business across the street?