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Updated 29 Feb 2020

It takes a village

What does it mean to build a brand? And more importantly, how do you actually create a valued brand? There are no shortcuts. 

Nicholas Haralambous, Entrepreneur, 02 August 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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It’s easy to find something that someone else made, buy it in bulk at a discounted rate and sell that product at a profit. That is the easy part, believe it or not.

The tough part is getting that customer who just purchased something from you to remember your company name and come back to buy from you again.

At my previous company we tried extremely hard to gain a userbase by spending money on adverts that drove people to our website and then attempted to get them to sign up, hang around and pay us. The problem was the premise; if you buy an advert and people visit your site, you are building a brand. I just don’t think that’s true. I think people click ads to buy products, not to invest in brands.

Related: The quick and dirty on marketing, advertising and branding

There are many things I’ve learnt through many, many failed attempts at building a brand. Here are a just a few observations.

An amazing product

Before you even consider talking about your brand, spending money on adverts and trying to get customers to tell their friends about you, you need to have an amazing product or service to sell.

If your product isn’t the best it can be (and that means it needs to be amazing in the market) no amount of advertising, marketing or PR will keep customers buying. People will see your adverts, read your marketing and buy your product once. What keeps them coming back, what keeps them talking about you first and foremost is an incredible product. Without this, there is nothing else.

Once you believe you have the best product you can at the time, then start selling. I like to sell to three ‘F’s’ to begin with: Friends, Family and Fools. If these people support you and continue to do so then you might be onto something.

When they start telling their friends, family and other fools about you, then you’re definitely onto something. When you’re walking down the street and you see someone you’ve never met using your product or talking about your service, you’re doing it. You’re building a brand off the back of a great product.


Nothing worth doing can be done quickly. If you are building a brand to last and your plan is to hang around through good times and bad then don’t rush. Don’t force your message down the throat of potential customers. Let them find you, discover what makes your business amazing and then tell their friends.

This type of organic, genuine and transparent growth can only happen over time. Even the most viral businesses in the world grew over time. Facebook took years to reach the mass market and break out of universities. Why would you be able to do it in a month? Be patient young grasshopper.

Related: Branding your start-up

Fantastic customer service

Customer -service -techniques -and -advice

Even the best brands in the world will incur a hiccup every once in a while (some more frequently than others). The key to a bad customer experience is fantastic customer service. Incredible brands understand that they sell a product or service but that their main goal is client acquisition and retention.

The fastest way to erode your brand is to treat customers badly. Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned. With social platforms like Facebook and Twitter turning everyone into a publisher with an audience, it’s easy to destroy a brand with a single bad experience.

This is probably going to happen at some point and you need to be prepared to resolve the issues that arise swiftly and effectively. An unhappy customer is a marketing tool. Treat them well, win them over and they’re yours forever.


For the first two years of Nic Harry —my daringly bold, premium sock and style company — we spent no money on marketing. I built our brand on word of mouth and traditional PR. Everyone around me was telling me to make use of the advertising platforms currently available. I bucked the trend and focused on finding and building a community of sock lovers.

I dedicated my time to talking about socks passionately to anyone who would listen. Invariably I found ‘that one friend’ that everyone has who loves socks. I spent more time cultivating relationships with those people, getting their feedback and building a loyal community of sockaholics.

Today this community is the biggest part of my brand building. When I open a new store, they come and visit, they share the news and they send their friends.

The key is to work all of the steps together. Without a good product the community would not talk. Without taking my time I wouldn’t have found the community and without incredible customer service I would never keep the community and customers that I have. 

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About the author

Nicholas Haralambous, Entrepreneur

Founder of the luxury sock company, , CEO and co-founder of Motribe before the company was successfully acquired by Mxit in August 2012.

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