In 2014, the statistics published by the UK's Department of Business, Innovation & Skills indicated that SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) make a substantial contribution to the UK economy and that one of the biggest challenges they face is competition.
So, how can branding help my small business stand out?
If you own a small business or work in one, it's very likely that one of the many hats you might be wearing to tackle competition and bring new customers in is marketing.
Approaching marketing only as a function of business, like finance, is short sighted. Marketing isn't just about generating leads and selling more.
The way a service or product is designed or even how you drive your branded company car concerns marketing. Why?Because everything you and your business do will have an impact on the perceptions of your audience. They will create an image of your business and attach that image to a thought or a feeling. If these thoughts and feelings are positive, then we can talk about things like repeat purchase and advocacy.
In other words, if my experience of your company is a positive one I will buy again and recommend it to my friends.
Branding: a clever marketing activity
If it's done right, branding helps you create the image that you want your audience to have about your company. And it works wonders for companies who are committed to delivering high-quality work and exceptional customer service - branding won't polish a bad job.
As a small business, where do I even start with branding?
If your business is already delivering the product/service promised and has good customers relationships, a strong brand will give you a competitive advantage.
So let's focus on branding and start with the two main categorisations of the elements of a brand:
Tangible elements (Brand identity): the identity elements of your brand which your audience can experience with five senses, like your name, logo, website, the tone of voice, your office and packaging.
Intangible elements (Brand image): the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs your audience infer from the tangible elements. It is their experience of your brand, such as trust and satisfaction.
As a business owner, you cannot control how customers think or feel about your company, but you can influence their responses to your brand by designing the elements you can control. In other words, how you design the brand identity elements will influence the brand's image held by your audience.
Strategy before design
The brand identity elements play an important role in shaping the brand's image and their creation cannot be left to chance.
Branding is a strategic process that requires you to think carefully about important questions such as, who you are as a company, why your business is different, who your target customers are and what they value.
Your brand promise is one of the key strategic elements of a brand, because:
It communicates why you're different.
It addresses the benefits sought by your target audience.
It frames the brand's positioning strategy.
The tangible identity elements of a brand should be designed to enforce the brand promise. For example, if you're a technology company claiming to be young and innovative then the identity elements should reinforce this message by using appropriate design styles.
How to develop a strategy
Developing your brand promise – or what the customer should expect from your brand – is a lengthy process. But there is a structure to it.
Last year I completed my Master's degree in Marketing with distinction. The aim of my dissertation research was to explore how SME owners/managers approached creating their brand, in particular, their brand promise.
The research process entailed extensive analysis of academic papers in marketing and branding over a two-year period with qualitative research, including eighteen in-depth interviews with SME owners and managers.
Last week, we published a summary report of this research titled, How to Make Your Brand Promise Unique & Relevant with recommendations.
The report gives you the insights into the key factors that should be evaluated when developing your brand promise:
1. Your company:
By looking within, you will find the elements that make your company unique. For example, the participants of the research thought these elements made them different and reflected, at least, one of them in their brand promise.
2. Your customers:
By knowing who they are, what they value and what their problems are, you can develop a promise that is relevant to their needs.
3. Your competitors:
Awareness of your competitors will help you evaluate your own marketing mix and brand promise.
In a nutshell
Branding is a marketing activity and if it's done strategically it will help your business achieve differentiation by helping you to:
Create the desired image
Identify what needs to be communicated, with whom and how
Focus and target marketing efforts effectively and efficiently
Design and plan marketing communications with a consistent message and identity across all channels
To help you get started on your brand strategy, read our free Business Report.
You'll find this report useful if:
you're starting a new business and you need to create a brand
your business, industry or market has changed and you need to update your brand
your brand doesn't resonate with your customers
there's a mismatch between what your brand communicates and what your customers perceive