Branding is just as important for small businesses as it is for big companies. Indeed, many corporate brands try to look more like small firms in order to appeal and attract to the consumers that prefer to support independent and small brands. Many small business owners understand that branding is essential to their business, but a surprisingly high number of them don’t really know what the reason behind branding is.
Small businesses recognise the link between successful businesses and strong branding, and aspire to build a brand that creates similar success for them. They understand that branding is not just about a logo or how their business is perceived externally but few realise that successful brands have this branding at the heart of the business. So much so that in many ways you could almost substitute the word brand for business.
A brand is the sum total of the experiences a brand’s customers and potential customers have with the company. A strong brand communicates what the company does, how it does it, and at the same time, establishes trust and credibility with the customers. The brand lives in everyday interactions with the customers, the images the brand shares, the messages they post on their website, the content of their marketing materials, and in their posts on social networks.
There is a lot of content out there, that is written to help small business owners do their own marketing, but it’s often written by marketers who are adept in things like analytics, content marketing, and technical jargon. It may be written using terms the consumers do not understand and business processes they are not familiar with, and then they are left with no clue how to start marketing the brand. If a business owns a small business, or are responsible for marketing one, they need to know how to be effective in their market without the hoity-toity language of marketing.
Branding is a way of defining the business to oneself, the team and the external audiences. It can also be called the business’ ‘identity’, but only on the understanding that it embodies the core of what the brand is and its values, not just what it looks and sounds like. Customers of all sorts of businesses are so savvy today that they can see through most attempts by companies to gloss, spin or charm their way to attract the customer and make a sale.
- When customers connect emotively – because they share the same values and beliefs as the brand they purchase products from it leads to higher sales and better brand differentiation.
- A strong brand encourages loyalty, advocacy along with protecting the price in times when competitors rely on promotional discounts to drive sales.
- The brand can also give the company an ideal platform from which to extend their offering or range.
Brand building steps
How can a small business develop a strong brand with a minimum budget? Below are 10 tips to help you get started:
• Be unique
One of the most iconic brands of our generation is Apple that was reborn after it launched, in 1997, an innovative campaign inviting people to “Think Different”. Today, Apple products are perceived to be better designed, more fun, and more reliable than products from their competitors.
• Grow in community
Many of the world’s best brands, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Virgin, and Skype, spend overbearing sums on marketing and advertising and instead of focusing on building and improving their communities. These companies realise that if people trust a brand’s community, they will extend trust to the brand.
Small businesses have many opportunities to build online and offline communities, for example, they can build online communities on Twitter, Facebook, small business blog, on Instagram, or on any other social networks. It is important to remember that the business cannot be in all places at once. Brands should pick one or two places where they can focus building their community, and invest their time and resources there.
• Build great products and services
Earlier this year, market research firm Millward Brown published its annual study, positioning the world’s leading brands. When you consider that the number one reason people write about brands is to share experiences Apple’s top ranking is not surprising because people love Apple’s products.
Some companies stop focusing on building exclusive products and services when they become successful which is a mistake. In 2008, Nokia was the world’s ninth most valuable brand whereas in 2011, Nokia was ranked 81st and this year, it fell even further. Even a tough brand will suffer when it creates ordinary or below average products or services.
• Have a good name and logo.
A strong brand is easily recognizable since recognition starts with the name of the business. The name will appear on the business cards, letterhead, website, social networks, promotional materials, products, and almost everywhere in print and online to identify the company or the company’s products and/or services. It is not enough to have a recognizable name as people commonly associate brands with the brand’s logo.
As the company thinks about their logo, keep the audience and products/services in mind because the brand wants their logo to reflect the company. A good logo builds trust and a strong logo will help to collide all the elements of the brand together. Think about the logos of some of the world’s most admired brands Apple, Google, and Amazon, as they share an emotional connect with the consumers.
• Find your voice.
What the brand says is important, but it is important that the brand does not overlook how they say it. The company’s “voice” is the language and personality the brand and its employees will use to deliver the branding message and reach their customers. Successful brands speak with a unique voice as they incorporate a message with a strong voice that gets delivered to the customers efficiently.
• Be consistent
Many small businesses mistakenly change their messaging depending on their target audience. For example, a company might take a more serious tone on their website but a very light-hearted tone on their social media fan page. This can confuse their customers and future potential customers. To build and maintain a strong brand, every aspect of the brand should be as good as the product or services they offer and the company must be consistent in presenting the brand.
This includes not only the company’s name, logo, tagline, overall aesthetic design, products and services, but also includes the marketing materials, website, appearances at trade shows and conferences, content posted to social networks, amongst much more. The brand should care about brand consistency as it leads to familiarity, and familiarity leads to trust among the consumers. A cleaner brand design and greater consistency resulted in significant brand benefits.
• Keep your promises.
Although this is common sense, it is surprising to find how many small businesses tarnish relationships with their customers by failing to keep their promises. Happy customers who feel good about the business are the brand’s best source of referrals. For example, Zappos has built great trust and credibility with customers by promising quick delivery within 2-5 business days but Zappos goes even further and upgrades most customers to free overnight shipping, as a result, Zappos has very loyal and zealous customers.
• Stand for something
Think about brands customers love. Those brands commonly stand for something or against something and connect with their customers on an emotional level. One of the most appreciated companies, 37signals, develops software to help people collaborate. 37signals believes that most software is bloated and difficult to use hence they don’t compete on features but they compete on usability. They have developed a reputation as a company that stands for easy to use software by the consumers.
• Empower your customers
Companies are not in control of their brands. The company can set their brand’s direction, but how the brand is perceived is determined by the customers and potential customers. People can become the brand’s ambassadors while spreading their ideas and brand to their own networks. Brands should spend time nurturing relationships with such people. Ultimately, successful brands recognize that if they help their customers succeed, the customers will in turn help the brand succeed and flourish in the market place.
• Deliver value
Value towards a product does not always mean lowest price. The brand can focus on product leadership while having the best products in the marketplace, like Apple, operational excellence having the lower prices in the marketplace, like Ikea, or great customer service like Virgin, and Zappos. The brand can also focus on a combination of these things. As the brand think about the value it delivers to its company they can ask the following questions like what sets their product and service and company apart from their competitors. What value does the brand provide and how does that value differ from that provided by their competitors? Think about which of the benefits are emotional – the most powerful brands tap into emotions of the customers.