Harnessing the power of brand isn’t just for giants, such as Nike, Google and Apple – it’s fundamentally important for marketers in start-ups and SMEs too
How valuable is your brand to your business? If you’re a start-up or SME working to establish yourself, Apple’s brand value – worth a staggering $170bn according Forbes – may seem far removed from your reality.
However, building a brand is increasingly vital for small businesses, too; it can differentiate your products and services from competitors, and ensure your offer cuts through the clutter in a busy marketplace.
Of course, for many entrepreneurs, it’s tough to take a long-term view when working with limited resources. How can marketers in such organisations gain a competitive advantage by building and leveraging a brand?
Make branding a priority
“Prioritisation is a key issue for any start-up or SME business,” acknowledges David Parry, chief operating officer of Saffron, a global branding consultancy working with the likes of Vueling, Linklaters and Tiger. “‘Brand manager’ is just one of many hats worn by the senior management team, who can frequently find themselves all-consumed with pressing issues around product, service or sales. Understandably, it can be difficult to find the space to get your head up and think longer-term about your brand – but that investment delivers real rewards in the long run.”
While many entrepreneurs may be reluctant to invest their resources on ‘fluffy marketing tools’ when there appear to be more urgent priorities, this can be a costly mistake, according to Richard Morris, partner at branding agency Whistlejacket. “People often think building a brand is all about the identity – but it isn’t. That’s just the icing on the cake. A brand is a promise delivered and building one early means you deliver the right promise over and over again, right from the start. It’s the blueprint for every decision you’re going to take from now on.”
Avoid the temptation to put off ‘building the brand’ until a later stage, Morris advises. “Don’t forget, it’s the invisible value of a brand and the inherent goodwill that really makes a company worth more in the long run – so the earlier you start investing, the more it’s going to be worth.”
Make your brand your platform
Investing in the brand should be a fundamental part of any business strategy, says Parry: “Irrespective of the size of your company, it’s about having a central guiding idea that shapes your purpose, culture and goals. A clear sense of brand creates a strong platform from which you can build up your business, which is crucial for growth ventures.”
As well as keeping the business on-message, a brand helps consumers to understand what your company or product stands for. Also, in today’s highly competitive SME environment, it’s crucial for businesses to articulate a point of differentiation to increase the chance of gaining a foothold – something that genuinely distinguishes the brand and its offering from others. So how should marketers approach this?
Establish your brand qualities
Parry advises: “In order to be able to articulate the unique qualities of your brand, you need to understand the context of the market in which you’re operating: talk to potential customers and listen to what your competitors are saying.”
It’s also important to understand that the ‘difference’ to make your brand stand out can come from anywhere, says Parry: “It might be something more obvious, such as your product offering, but it might also be something less immediately tangible, such as the impact you have on your customers, your methodology or style of approach. Equally, your culture or philosophy could set you apart, or you could represent a distinct vision for the future. In short, the difference can be in your attitude as much as in the products you provide.”
Working out the ‘what, how and why’ of your brand will help you work out some of these questions and establish your core offering: what you do or make; how you approach that; and your purpose in doing so. Try to avoid clichés – you should be imaginative but also honest in establishing what your brand values are. And when determining these values, be careful not to choose too many, as this can become unmanageable and easily forgettable. Your values should also be practical and reflect what the organisation genuinely wants to achieve. It’s vital to be seen as authentic, honest and credible in order to engage today’s consumers.
Think smart to manage costs
With a limited budget, smaller brands need to be smart in the way they engage with their customers. Unlike larger brands, you may not be able to be everywhere at once, and talk with everyone in a pre-determined way. But you can be agile and use your credibility and authenticity to project your brand. It’s important to think about who your customer is and segment your target audience. “Work out the media channels your audience looks at, and concentrate on that,” advises Morris. “Focus your efforts at every turn. Measure everything you do. Look at the data. React to the data. Change things, you need to make yourself as lean and effective as possible.”
How to manage your SME brand
- Invest in brand-building as early as possible – Don’t be tempted to leave it until later – it will provide the blueprint for all you do, providing a cause, a mission and a purpose, and can be a tool to guide decision making. It will also help you differentiate your offering from competitors.
- Determine your ‘what, how and why’ – This will define your mission statement, your approach and your brand purpose.
- Decide on your brand values – But don’t select too many and end up creating a forgettable tick-list. Think ‘practical and authentic’; consumers demand honesty and credibility, so your organisation must live these values.
- Understand your market – Listen to customers and competitors. Define and target your customer closely to maximize impact. Work out what media your target customer looks at and concentrate on that.
- Measure everything you do – Look at the data and react to it. Change things, be agile and flexible, and stay focused on using any data gathered to further understand customer needs, and ensure your products or services are meeting these demands.
- Engage your audience and respond – Creating a strong digital presence for your brand can be cost-effective and create real impact, though quality of content and consistency of message is critical. Also use social media and other channels to gather feedback and acknowledge that you are listening and responding.
- Partner with complementary brands – Work with others to showcase your organisation and increase brand awareness. Provide relevant added-value content in channels where your customers are and define your brand as expert in your marketplace to boost your credibility.