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Shrinking sales? Give your branding a once-over

Beware sending mixed signals

Most entrepreneurs I know – myself included – are confident they know what their customers want. But that confidence can quickly turn into complacency. It pays to step back on occasion and give your business a long, hard look.

I was reminded of this recently when I ran into an old friend who runs a furniture store. C&G Solid Wood Furniture has been in the high-end, custom made furniture business since 1979. The Cambridge, Ont.-based outlet was launched as C&G Pine and Oak Shop, with a nod to its expertise in fashioning furniture made from those types of wood.

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For years business was good until, gradually, something changed. Tastes in the Greater Toronto market, which makes up a large part of C&G's clientele, had shifted. Buyers became more interested in furniture made from maple, which had a more urban, hip feel. So C&G shifted its product line-up accordingly. But a random comment from a customer one day revealed that simply adjusting inventory might not be enough.

"We were talking on the phone, and he said 'Oh, I didn't know you guys even had maple. You seem so country,'" says Laureen VanGronigen, part owner of C&G. "And it occurred to me that everything from our name to our logo had a country feel. It no longer reflected who we were and what we did."

Ms. VanGronigen embarked on a marketing makeover. She changed the company's name to C&G Solid Wood Furniture, making sure she kept the focus on the company's handcrafted wood expertise. Ms. VanGronigen also changed the logo to help eliminate the perception that it's a country store catering to people with those tastes. These changes were also backed up by a year-long advertising campaign to educate consumers.

Public relations is about more than just newspaper clippings or flashy websites. It's also about the most basic element of all: your brand. So if business has gradually shrunk, or you can't seem to attract the customers you know would be interested in your goods or services, give your branding efforts a once-over.

Otherwise, you could be wasting time and effort and, ultimately, undermining your own business.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury, president and co-founder of High Road Communications, operates Canada's largest public relations agency focused on technology and digital lifestyle. The company, which has been recognized as one of the best workplaces in Canada for two years running, has offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and San Francisco. A seasoned PR expert with more than 18 years of experience, Ms. Wedgbury has directed global brand positioning programs, handled crisis communications, managed international product launches and developed PR strategy for companies across the entire tech and lifestyle spectrum. In 2006, she also helped the agency launch the High Road Connect practice – a social media, Web 2.0 and marketing services group – to help companies transcend conventional communications. Ms. Wedgbury's clients include Microsoft Canada, MSN, Canon Canada, Disney and LG Electronics.

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