We are a strategic design consultancy with a knack for turning businesses into brands.
Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. But what exactly does “branding” mean? How does it affect a small business like yours?
Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.
Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option? You can’t be both, and you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target customers want and need you to be.
The foundation of your brand is your logo. Your website, packaging and promotional materials–all of which should integrate your logo–communicate your brand.
Brand Strategy & Equity
Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you advertise is part of your brand strategy. Your distribution channels are also part of your brand strategy. And what you communicate visually and verbally are part of your brand strategy, too.
Consistent, strategic branding leads to a strong brand equity, which means the added value brought to your company’s products or services that allows you to charge more for your brand than what identical, unbranded products command. The most obvious example of this is Coke vs. a generic soda. Because Coca-Cola has built a powerful brand equity, it can charge more for its product–and customers will pay that higher price.
The added value intrinsic to brand equity frequently comes in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes, hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it’s not just the shoe’s features that sell the shoe.
I’m a small business – why do I need a brand
Why do small firms need a brand?
So how can I convince you that branding matters – whether you are a window cleaner, a solicitor or run a restaurant?
Perhaps the first thing to do is to tackle the wording. If you were to replace the word “branding” with “reputation” I might get your attention. You care about your reputation, right?
Well branding is all about the impression you make. If you want to succeed, that impression should do two jobs – it should convey what is special about your business and it should show you in a positive light.
Of course, many small businesses make a good impression most of the time without ever giving a thought to their brand. But think how much more successful you would be if you gave a good impression all of the time.
What I am advocating is that you think about the impression you want to make – your brand – and actively take steps to manage it.
There are two parts to this process. Firstly, you have to decide what you stand for – what your USPs are, who you are aiming at and how you want to position yourself. Then you need to make sure that all aspects of your business are in line with this.
It’s about applying your values to everything you do, clearly and consistently.
There are many small firms that have seen real financial benefits as a result of improving their brand. Fiona Humberstone, managing director of Flourish Studios, has worked with many one-man-bands and small businesses. “For instance, we worked with a plumber on his logo,” reveals Fiona. “He used it on some new business cards which he distributed in his area and immediately got three new jobs. We’ve also helped a management consultant with her branding. We redesigned her proposal document as well as providing a new logo and website. As a result, every proposal that she has made that year was accepted – a 100% success rate.”
Mark worked with a company called Exhilaration some years ago that sold experience days out and was run by a husband and wife team that loved sky-diving. The business came to a crossroads when it had to develop its online presence.
“It was a tiny company with a tiny marketing spend,” says Mark. “The name was good – Exhilaration summed up what they did – but their communications were very dry and didn’t convey the excitement of what they were selling at all.”
Mark transformed the company’s literature and their website and injected the excitement that was missing. “Personality was everything, so we gave all the communications a new tone of voice,” he says. Not only did customers respond but suppliers and investors also sat up and took notice. The result? “Their turnover rose from £1 million to £3.5 million and they became second in the market,” Mark reveals. Exhilaration went on to be bought by Lastminute.com.
Creating the right impression
But if you don’t think branding is for you, you are not alone.
“Many small business owners I meet think that brands are something that only large companies need or can afford,” says Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing. “But your company name, the way you answer the phone, what your customers say when they’re asked about you – these things all build to create an impression of your company and what it’s like to do business with you – and that is your brand. So, you can either just let whatever impression you give happen haphazardly, or you can take control and manage it to your advantage.”
One small firm that has benefited by developing its brand is Gradwell, the Bath-based small business ISP. “I tended to pick marketing up on the rainy days, and then drop it again. I’d never really given it much focus,” reveals managing director, Peter Gradwell. “We had grown organically among tech enthusiasts, but knew that for major growth we’d need to appeal much more widely.”
Bryony undertook market research and discovered that Gradwell’s existing image was off-putting to less tech-savvy small business owners. A new brand identity addressed this.
“It was a really tough decision to spend money on something that wouldn’t directly generate leads. It was about building the foundations,” says Peter. “But, I’m absolutely sure that it was the right thing to do. It has had huge benefits across everything we do. To give a tangible example, we were approached by Hewlett-Packard to appear as a pretty high profile case study, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have shared a stage with us if we hadn’t looked as polished as we now do.”