Your family brand: your biggest asset

By Risa Edelstein

Any family business owner can appreciate the marketing and purchasing mindset that buying local is better.

Every family business started as a local company. But staying local is not typically how a business grows.

From the local corner store to publicly listed behemoths like Wal-Mart and Ford, the American family business is the oldest business model we have. This economic powerhouse encompasses at least half of all U.S. companies, employs more than half of U.S. workers and accounts for more than 60% of U.S. gross domestic product.

It's easy to tick off the challenges facing family businesses of every size—nepotism issues that result in a loss of objectivity; delegation struggles; family members ill-suited as employees or leaders; discord over spending, family roles or succession; myopic focus on growth strategies; muddied boundaries between work and personal lives. If you've helped run a family business, you may well know the drill.

A family business brand—its identity—is its most valuable asset. Just like the heart of any family, the brand is what the company stands for—its core values and benchmark for excellence. Strong family business leaders value this and feel a keen sense of stewardship for their company's brand and its legacy.

As a second-generation family business marketer, I have found my challenge is to preserve our nearly half-century-old family brand, our mission and traditions, while continuing to effectively adapt to progressive approaches that profitably move us out and up in emerging markets.

Starting points? Our experience has been to maintain a foundation of trust and respect, focus on a market-driven understanding of our customers' application needs, and build a thorough knowledge base of industry-specific demands and requirements. We have found that a good number of our existing customers are second- and third-generation businesses, like us, who want to identify with the similar family values of their suppliers. How do we leverage our rich and respected history with our current customer base, as well as prospects, to grow existing business and expand into new markets? Family values translate well here.

1. Operate the way a family is wired to operate—as a team.

• Foster team pride in the company's business and in all stakeholders' contributions to the community.

• Focus on improving relationships and enhancing teamwork with all of your business partners—customers, suppliers and employees.

• Create a constant teaching, learning and mentoring culture among all members of your team.

• Honor company history but embrace change. Leverage the strength of all team members, regardless of seniority, so the team is stronger than the individual parts.

• Encourage family members to work outside the family business first and bring back a fresher perspective on productivity and profitability to the entire team.

2. Connect and respect: Treat your family like friends and your friends like family.

• Nurture a culture of mutual respect among all your employees and customers.

• Continue to deliver the heart and soul of the customer experience that the original brand creators envisioned.

• Consider all employees an extension of the family; build on points of connection.

• Develop a strong team of tenured and engaged employees, vested in the company mission.

3. Expand the family dinner table conversation, online and offline.

• Nurture the core family values that birthed the company in the first place—and tell the family business story.

• Be unwaveringly committed to the core message that got the company where it is today, and the vision for its future.

• Engage your customers online in all media available. Speak with an authentic voice and tell the story.

• Invite outsiders to the table to get fresh perspective.

And, finally, never underestimate your family business leaders and employees and their ability to surprise you with their capacity to learn, adapt, shine and grow. Build your family of brand ambassadors from the inside out.

Risa Edelstein is the director of marketing at ECHOtape, a family-owned and -operated business specializing in pressure sensitive tape, founded in 1973 (

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