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Why Ambitious Small Businesses Should Build a Brand

16th March 2018

By Christopher Lamotte, Real Marketing 

A brand should be at the core of every ambitious small and medium sized enterprise (SME). If it isn’t, you are missing out on the value and advantages of building a brand and should review your marketing strategy.

You don’t need to build a global brand like Google, Apple or Nike; you can build a local or niche brand, highly successful in your region or focused market.

Most markets are very competitive and standing out can be hard, particularly with limited resources, but building a brand can make your business unique, helping you be distinctive.

Many SMEs are missing out on building their brand

Unfortunately, a lot of SMEs are not good at building brands. This often reflects a weak, short-term approach to marketing without enough thinking invested in developing that all-important long term marketing strategy.

The advantages of building a brand

The many advantages of a brand are that it can:         

    • Differentiate your business, provide a source of competitive advantage.
    • Give a clear market position compared to competitors.
    • Give your company and products a distinct personality.
    • Give your business a clear focus.
    • Create positive attitudes and warm feelings from your target audience.
    • Appeal emotionally to your customers, which is critical when many buying decisions are more emotional than rational, in B2B not just B2C markets.
    • Reduce overall marketing costs and shorten customer journeys to buying your products by encouraging purchasers to make faster decisions.
    • Give customers a perception of superior quality, supporting higher margins.
    • Enjoy additional purchases and higher life time values as a result of brand loyalty.
    • Builds brand equity, increasing the sale value of your business for your eventual exit.

Your brand will give you confidence.

But there’s a lot of confusion about how to build a brand, so let’s start by explaining the important difference between your brand and your branding.

What is Your ‘Brand’?

Your ‘brand’ isn’t your pretty logo and colours, as it’s often thought to be. That is your ‘branding’.

Philip Kotler defined what a brand is: “A brand is a promise to your customers, the totality of perceptions about a product, service or business, the relationship customers have with it based on past experiences… and future expectations.”

A brand is the distinct personality of your business, often described as its DNA. Your brand should be…:

  •          Reflected in your brand identity, your logo.
  •          Captured in the stories you tell on your website, in brochures, social media and press releases.
  •          Evident in how you answer the phone.
  •          How you deal with customer support and resolve complaints.

Building a successful brand is about creating an emotional connection with your customers.

Your brand is what your customers and prospects think and say about you. Your brand lives in the hearts and minds of your customers. Their perceptions are much more important than what you think your business stands for.

Marketers now appreciate that their customers’ decisions are more emotional than rational. Research from neuromarketing has shown that emotions play a much more important role in decision making than most people previously thought.

That means that we make decisions subconsciously and quickly, instantly liking or disliking products or services.

You should start by defining what your brand stands for, its values and personality.

What is Your ‘Branding’?

On the other hand, your branding is the visual face of your brand; it’s what your customers see of your brand.

It is your brand identity, your logo, colours, typefaces, imagery; it’s how you tell your brand story; and the phrases and ‘tone of voice’ you use in all your communications.

Your branding – the visual aspects of your brand – must genuinely reflect what your brand stands for, your brand values, and this should be from your customers’ perspective.

Branding must be used consistently across all channels and tools. That ensures easy recognition and familiarity, and builds trust and confidence.

This is why, I always recommend that you should have written brand guidelines. These needn’t be long or complicated.

Take a Long Term View

Of course, for many entrepreneurs, it’s tough to take a long-term view, a strategic view of their marketin. That’s because they have limited resources, in terms of marketing budget, skills and time.

Prioritisation is a key issue for all start-ups and SMEs. It can be difficult to find the space to think longer-term about your brand – but that investment will deliver real rewards into the future.

Many entrepreneurs wrongly see the branding process as investing in ‘fluffy marketing’, but this can be a costly mistake.

Invest in Your Brand as Early as Possible

A brand is your promise delivered; being clear about what your promise is early in your business’s development means you can deliver your brand consistently and repeatedly.

So, avoid the temptation to postpone ‘building the brand’ until your business is several years old. The earlier you start investing in your brand, the less it will cost you and the faster you will win customers, build real value in your business and steal a march on your competitors.

A clear sense of what your brand stands for puts your business on strong foundations.

Investing in the brand should be a fundamental part of your marketing strategy to grow your business. No matter what size your business is, it’s about having a central guiding idea that shapes your purpose, culture and goals.

As well as keeping the business on-message, a brand helps customers understand what your company or products stand for. Your brand helps you articulate what makes you different and stand out no matter how competitive your market.

Use Research to Establish Your Brand Values

How do you know what your brand stands for, what its brand values are? How do you get your branding right?

You need to work out the real qualities of your brand.  At Real Marketing, I recommend using research and feedback from your customers to learn what your strengths are and how they would describe your business’s image. A short programme of carefully designed customer research may what is required.  

Ask your colleagues what your business stands for. What makes it stand out? What is it particularly good at?

You should also analyse how your competitors are describing and positioning themselves compared to you.

The ‘difference’ that makes your brand stand out can come from many aspects of your business. It may be something obvious about your products, but can also be something less tangible, such as the impact you have on your customers, your style, personality, culture, attitudes, ethos or vision.

Understand what gives your business its distinct personality. It may be your founders, their personality and values, or your company’s heritage.

This will allow you to write down your brand values. Be practical and authentic, honest and credible, not cliched. If you can, divide your brand values into rational and emotional attributes, as perceived by your customers.

Brief Your Graphic Designers in Writing

If you’re developing or modernising your business’s identity, its branding, to genuinely reflect your brand values, I always recommend writing a carefully considered design brief for graphic designers so that they can submit their proposals.

Decide who you’re going to work with, then enjoy the challenges and iterations of the creative process.

Develop your short brand guidelines and ensure the new identity is consistently applied across all channels and tools.

Target Your Customers Precisely. Build a Brand with a Limited Marketing Budget.

Work out the profile (or personas) of your customers, as clearly as possible, and be certain and disciplined about which market segments you are targeting. Be clear about which media channels your audience uses and concentrate on those.

With a limited budget, small, niche and local brands need to be clever about how they engage with their customers. You should have a clear multi-channel communications strategy, which focuses on the communication channels and techniques most used by your customers.

Focus your efforts then measure your activities with marketing metrics. React to the data, the trends and make changes where necessary.

In short, if you’re ambitious for your business and want to grow a very successful company, don’t miss the many advantages of building your brand: connection, recognition and persuasion.


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