How branding can make or break a small business

17th June, 2015

The official definition of branding is "The promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design." For a small business or start up, the traditional definition does not do the word justice. For them, branding is more than just promotion, its an identity. Even for the world’s biggest corporations like Coca-cola, branding encompasses a connection between the customer and the product, making it more than a consumer to item relationship by giving the brand a personality that people can recognise.

What is branding?

Brand can span an array of areas. Broadly speaking a business’s brand is an intangible asset which, when done correctly, leaves a resonating impression in the mind of a potential customer. It is used to project an understanding of the business to a person, allowing them to recognise the values of the company, the product and above all it portrays a personality.

Consumers are creatures of comfort, they invest in products they know. Starbucks doesn’t sell millions worth of Coffee because it’s the best out there, it does it because consumers know exactly what they’re getting. On a busy Monday morning rush is someone likely to try the new coffee shop or head for the recognisable twin tailed mermaid? Even if a customer has never purchased your product before, branding can ensure they know exactly what, who and where you are should the time come when they need it.

Having a brand strategy

So how do you define your brand? Let’s start with the basics. It’s best to start with asking yourself "what makes you different?" Ideally you want as many people as possible knowing what separates you from the competition. Next are your core values. Are you eco friendly or socially aware? Do you promote innovation or are your values based on long standing traditional operation? Your company values should be communicated through your branding to portray your personality.

It is often thought that marketing is the best way to grow a brand identity. Unfortunately the marketing budgets of small businesses have their limits. Instead small business owners must look to make a number of small changes in the hope to boost their brand.

As branding includes every aspect of a consumer’s knowledge of you, promoting your brand needs to be implemented throughout your business. Impressions are made at every stop in a customer’s journey, from the first time they see your logo to how you answered the phone. It is paramount that the signals the customer is getting are consistent throughout your organisation.

Employees are a key part of building brand awareness. If your employees don’t know your brand value what chance does a customer have? People are the best way to promote a brand so why not include the people who know you best. Often the motto of salesman, people buy from people. Having your employees understand your brand increases their connection with it and allows them to be proud of its growth, in turn this rubs off on customers whenever they interact with your company. Having a strong brand identity makes it easier for consumers to share information about you. If we imagine your brand identity as a bubble rather than an intangible asset, the more your brand grows the bigger the bubble gets. The bigger the bubble the more people can see it, and these people begin to have their own version of your bubble growing. Every time someone sees, interacts or hears about your business their bubble grows as more information is collected. When these people interrelate with others the bubble spreads to people who might never have directly interacted with you. On the flip side, if your brand is weak, their bubble will quickly disappear.

Most importantly, brand strategy is a long term goal. A good brand takes time to develop and this should be reflected in your strategy targets. Whilst setting long term goals your strategy should also be adaptable to short term overall business objectives. If your business grows and you begin to target new clients, does your brand still connect with this new target audience or will you need to rebrand yourself?

Defining your brand

The black art of brand building is often putting a strategy into practice. Unfortunately there is no secret recipe to brand success, instead we look to those who have prevailed. Innocent are a prime example of branding done right. Starting off as three blokes selling smoothies at a music festival in London, the company has gone on to sell over 2 million smoothies a week whilst still retaining its original values. Amongst Innocent’s values they list "Be Natural" something which they say is a common theme throughout their operation. Not just naturally sourcing resources but naturally communicating, Innocent products contains wording that would be best suited between two friends than between a buyer and seller. This informal approach to conversation between Innocent and its customers ripples throughout all of its interactions and helps create its own unique personality which people can connect with.

When trying to define your brand you should start with the end. What do you want people to think about your company? From there you can work backwards creating a consumer path from no knowledge to your desired impression. Create a list of key points where potential customers may come into contact with you and what you want that interaction to portray about you. Using this method will let you see an overall customer journey in the development of your brand awareness.