Why Branding is relevant for even the smallest business
When many small business people think about ‘branding‘ they often think about two things – the big consumer brands like Coca Cola, Orange, Nike etc, and the large baffling fees branding agencies seem to charge for the spurious and intangible benefits of following their advice. Terms like “Brand Alignment”, “Brand Awareness” and “Brand Building” makes branding seem more for the medium to large corporation than for the small business, and brand consultants closer to management consultants than anything else.
So is branding relevant for small businesses? First, let’s get back to basics…
What is branding?
People make their minds up about other people within the first seven seconds of meeting them, and although those perceptions can change over time, the core ‘attitude’ has already been subconsciously set. Businesses are not treated that differently – the first one or two times a potential client or consumer encounters a business will set the impression of that business, no matter what information or marketing is seen subsequently. This personality or ‘brand’ of the business and how it comes across lies at the heart of success or failure of the relationship of the business with its clients or customers.
It is important to note that the communication of the brand is made up of – like people communicating – many different explicit (marketing materials, web site etc) and implicit (tone of language, clarity of communication, quality of information, ‘look and feel’) elements.
A business’ brand is really just a shorthand way of saying how a business communicates and markets itself – if consistent – can form a positive relationship with customers who are naturally going to ‘get on well’ with that business. They’re not going to blow it on the first (or second) date…
How does branding help business?
Defining the character of the business, its unique selling points, its product range, and its vision for the future are all key elements in defining what the brand is, how it should look and how it should communicate. These are important questions for all businesses, not matter what size.
Some natural advantages of a well developed brand strategy:
- If you understand the vision for your business it makes it easier to communicate, plan and develop your business, and for your staff, collaborators or supporters to do the same.
- If you understand the uniqueness of your business, your competitive advantage and what is so great about your products or services, a marketing strategy is more effective, and your message is ‘truer’, more consistent and more powerful.
- If your brand’s design and general ‘look and feel’ is well executed and builds on points 1 and 2, your target clients and customers will feel that this is true reflection on what sort of company they are buying from, leading to greater loyalty and a better relationship.
Why is branding everywhere?
Today’s business landscape is very competitive – the most oft-quoted statistic is that 70% of startups fail within the first two years. How can you build your business? How can you retain clients and customers? How can you sell MORE to existing customers? How can you get your customers to recommend your products or services?
All these questions have one thing in common – if your target market identifies themselves with your business and/or your product or service, the objectives listed above are much more likely to be achieved. Why is Coca Cola such a valuable brand? Because beyond the personality associated with the drink: the lifestyle and ‘feeling’, Coke is a drink – and if it was ‘just’ a drink it would have lost significant market share to new, more interesting drinks quite some time ago.
Where prices are disputed, loyalty is fleeting (especially in the internet age) and we live in an international and multinational business world, the loyalty of customers is the ultimate prize – for any size of business.
How should small businesses use branding?
Ironically, the big brands have a key disadvantage compared to most small businesses – they cannot connect to clients in such a direct and personal way, and therefore have to work much harder to build loyalty.
- Small businesses have to focus on maximising this personal connection, keeping in touch and keep communicating with their client or customer base
- They also have to aim to be great at how their brands operate and communicate (which is what their larger competitors have more resources to throw at) – ticking key boxes to maximise perceived value in their company:
- Consistent (communications should be consistent if you want to appear professional)
- Appropriate (focussed on the right market, offering the right service/product)
- Aspirational (the product or service should try to solve problems or give rewards)
In short, if you are a small business and you don’t focus on getting your business in touch with your customers, and keeping them in touch and engaged, it is going to be harder to succeed and easier for them to switch to your competitors.
Branding works, but you have to work hard to make it work for you.