The issue of ‘brand’ is often discussed these days, but what does the concept actually mean for the average SME?
Brands and branding have become the focus of much marketing attention and some hype. Hands up those who recognise all or most of these brands: PrivateProperty, Sorbet, Rocking the Daisies, Turrito Networks, GetSmarter, The Creative Counsel, MiX Telematics and Paycorp? These are all highly successful fast-growing businesses that have featured as success stories in Entrepreneur in the past year.
Their markets must have valued their brand for them to have achieved such remarkable successes, and many of them are far from household names. So how important is your brand to your entrepreneurial business? Who should be familiar with it? What values should it portray?
Related: Branding your start-up
Back to basics
A ‘brand’ derives from the brand mark burned on livestock to mark ownership. Technically, it is a trademark for a company or product, but in the modern sense it is the value consumers place on the advantages or qualities of the person, company or product. There are many definitions of brand and branding and this adds to the confusion about what to do about branding your business and products.
This is a good one: “Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are,” says Anne Handley of CC Chapman.
A more cynical one from David Meerman Scott: “Branding is what lazy and ineffective marketing people do to occupy their time and look busy.”
Sadly this last one is only too true of many companies selling brand development, and then delivering a logo, a pretty website and templates for letterheads, business cards, and adverts. That is simply brand design, and, yes, you need it for your business but do not think that this will produce the mysterious ‘branding’ that everyone says is so important.
Handley says your brand is “who people think you are,” which is a collection of all the experiences they have had, read or heard about your company and its products. This will include marketing messages delivered to them via your website, advertising, social media or PR, but consumer experiences or stories of the experience of others will always be much more important. What you do counts, not what you tell people you do.
Customers (and potential customers) need to be aware of your brand, but that does not mean you should aim for universal recognition. You cannot compare your brand with the global icons such as Nike, Virgin and Coca Cola, which are so often used when branding is discussed.
Trying to copy them is likely to cost you a large amount of money that could be better spent elsewhere. Focus your brand messages on your customers and those that are reasonably likely to become customers.
The successful companies I listed earlier had no need to become household names. Many defined their target market tightly and then gave customers exactly what they needed with wonderful service. Their customers talked to others and word-of-mouth, the most powerful brand media, worked for them.
Related: The economics of branding
Marketing budget will always be limited and you need to split this between brand building and generating sales enquiries. For many businesses this should mean spending most of your available funds generating sales leads and intensifying your efforts to give customers product quality and service levels they will talk about.
A ‘must have’ is a website which delivers crisp, truthful and easily digested information about your company and products. It must be visible to people searching for similar products via the Internet.
Always test your own website by making the sort of enquiries your prospective customers would and see how visible you are. Use social media sites and customer surveys to establish how well you are living up to your brand promise. Remember Handley’s words: “Brand is who people think you are.”
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