A strong brand is what can differentiate your business from any other, it helps you to stand out from the crowd and allow your customers to identify with your company in an engaging manner. Brands create loyalty, trust, a base on which to build your business and most importantly a connection with your customers. When you think brands (like I asked you to with our previous series of brand management posts) you will think of the likes of Apple, Nike or maybe Asda, it is this train of thought which disenfranchises most small businesses from thinking that they too can create and develop their own brand.
As you may have guessed from the title of this post, this is not the case. Indeed, a strong brand for a SME (small-to-medium sized business) can be built with relatively little expense, this is because branding is all about perception. Perception of which is created in the minds of your staff, your stakeholders (funders/partners) and most importantly that of your clients, is based on what they see, hear, feel and experience with your company and/or products/services you offer.
The emotions (of the brand perception) are based on the messages your brand gives off. This is to say everything from if your showroom is warm and comfortable to how nice your staff are to the quality of services you offer, so you see it is not exclusively your company image or logo. (The logo of a company is NOT it's brand)
Basically - A brand is much more about the promises you make your customers and how you fulfil these promises.
At this point it is therefore a good idea to know exactly what kind of clientèle you wish to attract, what your core message is, and this should be done before you even begin to create your brand - these should be in your business plan*
Top things to consider:
Who do you wish to attract? (male/female, age range, type of person etc etc)
Where does your business fit into the market (as a whole and locally)?
Is your company based around cost or quality?
Who are your competitors (locally, nationally and internationally)?
How do your competitors look & behave? Describe the brand of your competitor.
Does your business (SME) need a brand?
Whether you like it or not, even now your business has a brand. That's right even if you think your business has no brand it does, it has a personality.
Customers and Suppliers will already have formed an opinion of what kind of business you are. This will have been formed from simple things like phone calls, emails, letters, how quickly you pay your bills, how clean your office (or store) is and how receptive your staff are. All of the above perceptions of your brand are based on a deep level of thinking, they are subconscious perceptions, which may be working with you (or against you).
Once you realise that you do have a brand and simple actions can form opinions of the brand, you can really start to take control of the brand. This means controlling brand strength through producing/creating a more cohesive and positive message. So without further thought let's get you started with the basic building blocks of your brand.
The good news is that all you need for this exercise is a pen and paper :)
Starting Point > Building Blocks of Brand Creation
Over the years more and more companies are awakening to realise just how powerful their brand could be for them. Take for example the word "cola" ... have a think about it, my bet is you will be thinking CocaCola or Pepsi Cola ... and so is everyone else, so now the question is what could you do with your brand to make it as strong as these in your market.
Firstly, you must take you must take a good hard look at yourself, your business and just what you have to work with, the longer you take on this section the more it will pay off later. You may find little to work with (to progress with) in which case you will find what you need to change and adapt - these are valid findings ... as always in the process make notes. This is known in the branding/marketing trade as a basic "brand audit" or "brand review" - though we would probe areas maybe you are too close to and take for granted.
Now you've got some notes, put them to one side. With any luck you already have a business, you have clients and suppliers, so ask them for their opinions - maybe do this via an online survey (people are much more likely to be honest and brutal if you are not stood in front of them). The views of these people are vitally important as they are the ones perceiving your brand, they are the ones to whom the brand really matters. They provide an "outsiders view" of your brand, adding depth to your review.
Repeat the above step with your staff, see if they agree with you and/or your external assets. Ascertaining the facts is very important, and the chances are your view, the staffs view and external views will be different - but hopefully not significantly. If they are the same brilliant, if not (as in 99% of cases) it simply means you need to redefine your message and find a new way to convey it clearly.
Tip: By including staff and stakeholders in your brand review and giving them a voice of opinion which you take seriously (you have to give them an open field to criticise without fear of rebuff) increases the likelyhood they will be willing to help make the changes you need, and it will also add loyalty and install confidence in your team.
During your brand review there are several key questions you need to be asking all parties:
What are the core abilities of your company? and the staff?
What are you and your staff good and bad at? (remember be brutally honest)
How do your customers and suppliers view your business? (ask them! - reliable, cheap, expensive, nice, warm, quality, exciting, customer focused etc)
What words are associated with your business? (ask other business owners locally)
Is there a pattern in your client-base? (demographic)
Why are your client-base who they are? (you maybe targeting 18-24 year olds but your client base are all 40-odd... why?)
Who would you like to work with in the short-term, and long-term? (audience wise)
Finally, are there any black holes in your business, things people say are missing?
Constructing A Brand Review
When you've got the answers to the questions you've posed it's time to take your notes again and compare to find the differences. With more answers you get more clarity for the review, now on a single page go through the answers you have, take key points, take recurring views and importantly write down the extremes of the opinions.
Now you've identified these differences in perception of your brand it is time to generate a plan, remain realistic and don't be tempted to idealise your plan based on other brands or similar shops - you are your own business and stand alone in the market. Remember however that you need to be appealing to your market in some manner, whether its simply amazing products or astounding customer service.
Development of Brand Values
You've done the leg work, you've researched and analysed opinions of your brand, both internally and externally. Now it's time to turn our attention to your "brand values" and the "brand commitments".
Ideally you should have around three standing core values, two of which are based on difference brokers and the third is an overall value. There is zero benefit in having pages of unworkable brand values, you'll never remember them and nor will your staff or external assets - forget long lists be concise and to the point.
Core Overall Brand Values - these are the values which your business must have to operate within a given market, generally unless you are in a tiny niche these maybe somewhat common to you and your competition.
As an example lets look at café's - core brand values maybe a simple as being clean (both staff and equipment), quality food and good end user cost - most café's will have similar values.
Difference Broker Brand Values - these are the values on the other side of the coin. They are what makes your business different from your competition, this is the important set of values which makes the big difference to your customers, it is something they will associate with you over any competition.
There should always be a link between who your brand really is and where you want your brand to go - i.e how you wish to be perceived by customers and suppliers. The most important thing in this process is often your staff, getting staff to understand your vision of the brand values can help define your brand significantly. And remember earlier you got them involved in the consultation, this is where they will thank you by helping you out.
Having staff understand your brand empowers them to behave in a certain manner which will reinforce your brand. So if you're a casual company maybe they will wear everyday clothes to work (make sure you logo them up), but if you are working in a salon you want to show professionalism so your staff should be wearing a recognisable uniform. The staff you have are one of the most important tools in your arsenal for brand development, they are in a vital position to make or break your brand.
As I say they could break your brand, this happens if they don't understand your brand values, don't agree with them or sometimes simply aren't at your meeting where you take questions - they've only seen them in writing and don't understand it so interpret the values in a different way to you and other staff. Damage can easily be made into a company with one bad event, but it can take many years for this to be recovered - take BP at this current time with the events in america, this huge oil leak will not only cause staffing changes but will cost billions of pounds in clear up costs, but also billions in lost sales due to damage of the brand. So I repeat by empowering your staff from the start of your consultation you get them on board and understanding where you are going and why.
Your "brand promises" and "brand values" are the foundations on which you will base your brand, they are most vital aspects of your brand - but they can be helped along with a few little ideas ... which conveniently i've put just below this section (how nice of me :) )
This is the bit many of you will have visited for this is where your brand meets a logo ... this is called brand identity (sometimes referred to as corporate identity). This of course refers to the visual identifier of a brand, the logo, this is one of the things which allows your audience to recognise your brand.
As with everything in your brand which carries a message, once you have a logo to make the most of the logo's impact for your brand you should apply it everywhere you can. This being a visual identifier (unlike brand tone - see below) this means putting it on all of your products, your website, your business cards, letter heads, company vehicles, newsletters (both internal and external) and of course emails (there are many more but I won't bore you).
p style="text-align: center;">When you completed your brand review, one of the things commonly found is that the logo needs "updating" or bringing up to date, in order to meet your business values - which may be significantly different since your last logo design. The logo is your opportunity to engage with your audience, things like style, colour and design are all elements which contribute to the effectiveness of your logo in engaging with your potential customers. In brand growth it is, of course, important to meet the needs of today's ever changing markets (both locally and globally). Many big brands do this each year, every year (for example the multiple different apple logo's over the decades). They also evolve the brand by examining the smaller details, for example Texas Instruments (a microprocessor manufacturer) examined whether sending paper datasheets with their products was effective and whether people used them ... the answer was no (and its the same when people send newsletters in the post for many years without renewing the list - do people still read them after 5 years... probably not) ... so TI made a move and put the datasheets online. This worked well for 2 several reasons; they could update brand image more easily as they weren't reliant on old customer who would recognise a new logo, also it saved a lot of money - it cut packaging down and it also as a whole reduced cost of marketing ( part of which is now profit, part they reinvest).
If your business is in a market subject to changes then you should consider building into your "identity" a proportion of flexibility to allow your image to change over the years.
Messages which your brand give off, be this for internal or external usage, memo email or bill board poster, the tone of a brand is important to the communication. The tone of voice is everything from the words you use, to the style used and the personality your message gives off.
The brand values and your identity should help you decide the right tone of voice for your company. The big companies have provided us with some fantastic examples, just one of which is the Virgin brand.
Virgin are known to be cheeky, friendly, outgoing and young - they aim for the youthful market of teenagers. A great example is one of the latest adverts for virgin (bingo) - embedded below.
Ok maybe this doesn't have the viral factor that virgin were seeking, but it does show that they aren't taking themselves too seriously - and its the same with almost every other brand to come from virgin - find out more by reading some of the Richard Branson Books (here).
So with this in mind as yourself, does your brand have an existing tone and what is the tone? Also does your brand speak on a one-to-one basis or in third person? Are you approaching your audience in an attractive and friendly manner or are you simply competing as someone else in the market ... do you (again) stand out from the crowd?
Remember - your tone should always be consistent regardless of communication method or end point. This means from every member of staff the message should be both the same and as passionate.
Before reading this section it is very important to remember one little thing. Brand Management is not a short-term fix to the success of a business, rather brand management is about the long-term strategy that requires commitment.
When such a strategy is implemented effectively, your brand will grow and prosper. As your brand grows, your strategy must also develop - and this is when your long-term game playing becomes important.
Driving your brand forward is important, not just on day one but over the years and decades your business exists. The good thing is that you will have help along the way, in 2 ways. One you will have your staff and stakeholders, it is these people who have a vested interest in your brand and making it a success that will help push your brand forward in the best direction possible. The second is of course your customer, if you do a great job or offer something really amazing or different then your customers will be your best brand builder, best advertising media and better yet experience is Free ... they will sell your product or services by word of mouth - this is where a lot of new sales can come from. You may also find that over the time your brand grows your employee base will evolve and you will begin to attract certain types of employee - think of the differences between employees in say Top Shop, a retail bank like Barclays and say technology leaders Google (all attract different types of people and employee based on brand values, tone and how you manage your brand).
As I've mentioned above customer interaction with you brand is a tool for your brand to evolve. You should be using this all important feedback, it is these people and this feedback that will show you how to grow and evolve and what your market wants from month to month and year to year.
To help your brand evolve you should be doing the following:
Reviewing your competitors techniques, see where they are going wrong and more importantly what they are doing correctly.
If you see an unhappy customer or a confused customer talk to them find out what is wrong and correct it there and then.
Review everything on a regular basis from staff progress, to brand identity, to overall customer happiness - reviewing everything means you see the bigger picture sooner.
Of course one thing you must remember is there will be victims of your progress along the way, you may loose staff who don't like what you become, you may loose customers who may not like the way you are moving or you may loose faith in general of your brand external. The important thing is to review review review, know why your staff leave and try to make things better before they do, know where your custom is going and why (is it just brand values or something more?) and the most important thing is to keep going through it all - if you can't keep faith in your brand then no body else will. Maybe you will take a "wider" view of your brand than others and in doing so you keep the values going but can change the methods by which you get to your end goal.
For my next point in brand management 101 :) I would like you to consider McDonald's the fast food global franchise chain, and how they have perfected their menu on a global level. Brand continuity is important and it is only through planning and good strategic management you can get this. Your brand should be consistent both ascetically (from logo to shop layout) and in price (and not forgetting quality and message, but i've rambled on this above). So back to McDonald's, you walk into a shop your greeted by the same checkout system in each restaurant, the same price (effectively) and lets not forget the small detail that is the staffing uniform. McDonald's have perfected all of the above on not just a local level but also a global level - something other brands such as SubWay and KFC seem to struggle to do very well.
Finally in this short brand management 101 section I want to consider 'resources' and the reality that your resources can only reach so far. If you over reach you will look a little silly and will also look completely stupid and untrustworthy when it comes to your brand being bankrupt. However, one key point I must emphasise is that not all old adages are true, they say "pay peanuts, get monkey's" this is all well and good I guess, unless you want monkeys ;)
Finally, Your Brand is Living
From all the above you should have come to realise that a brand is at the centre of any company. If your body is akin to the business, then your brand and everything about it is your heart and soul. Now think of the big brands and how they deliver on all the above areas. Sure they have huge amounts of money and people now, but go back to the start of their stories - not many had any money at day one (at least not on the level they do now) - so if they can do it, so can you.
My final bits of advice are quite simple;
With the worlds markets ever more competitive, you must find your place in the market and essentially you and your team must decide on the direction of your brand (using the techniques above).
By using these techniques you wont just develop a brand - that is nice I know - but you will also create an advantage over your other SME competitors, this in a world where people like to support local small businesses can be very important.
If you can create a distinctive brand for your business you can then go onto develop a business to go with it. There is a train of thought which says if you create a brilliant brand that you can use that brand for any business(es) you want, i believe this is very true - a great example is Virgin ... so.....
Today is the day you start to grow your brand for tomorrow.
If you need any help with your brand then feel free to contact me.