For many small business owners, branding can seem like an unnecessary extra, something that could potentially take up too much time and money to prioritise. This is especially true for growth stage businesses, because once you have got your business off the ground and are making money, branding can appear to be superfluous or even indulgent. However, branding isn’t just useful for big businesses with large budgets, and it can make a real difference to the success of your venture.
Why it’s important
Whether you intend to or not, if you run a business you will be building a reputation and image. This can be anything from what’s hung on the walls of a restaurant, or simply how a craftsman interacts with their customers. For example, a brusque, no-nonsense attitude from an extremely skilled builder may be something that customers forgive and even appreciate, something that becomes part of their business. Becoming conscious of this, and building your brand, is simply a way to your taking control of things that will be happening naturally.
Branding is the most effective way of communicating with potential customers, projecting the most appropriate and appealing image can potentially transform the fortunes of your business. Growth stage is a perfect time to refine your brand, as it’s through the day to day running of your venture that you will find out what your true expertise and niches are, and everything that makes you unique as a business. It can be the thing that truly cements your reputation, and branding has without doubt been proven to contribute to sales and customer acquisition.
By doing this carelessly, or not at all, you may find the message you are sending to customers is not what you intended at all. In the worst case this will put people off completely, but just as damaging is that by creating a disconnect between people’s expectations and the eventual reality, they will never return.
The consequence of all of this is a bad reputation, which wouldn’t have been generated if your audience could correctly identify what you provide.
Who’s got it right
It’s a good idea to look at the large businesses who have marketed themselves especially well for inspiration, because although they pour a lot of money into their brand, usually it’s the easily emulated ideas that make them stand out. One of the most famous examples of this is Innocent Smoothies, who you can argue revolutionised the way companies use branding to draw in their customers.
With a high price point, Innocent Smoothies had a great product, but in the highly competitive food and drinks industry it could easily have been lost in the crowd, or dismissed by most as too expensive. Their success lay entirely in their branding, a style of which was refreshingly original. By focusing on their ethical credentials, and by communicating with their customers in an effortless, natural and funny way, they made their company seem truly friendly and charmingly well intentioned. People made a point of reading their packaging, as it was interesting and amusing, and the creators enjoyed incredible success.
Another success story is the make-up brand Illamasqua. By creating a fairly standard line of high end make-up, but with a few unusual colours (blue lipstick, for example) they joined the dots with excellent branding. By marketing themselves as “make up for your alter ego” they focused on the transformative power of their product. With outlandish, fairy tale make-up artistry exhibited by their often bold choice in models, they managed to brand themselves as something intriguing, different and magical. Everything from the lettering of their brand name to their rune-like logo reinforces this image, and this kind of branding can take you from something prosaic to a concept that captures imaginations.
Where to start
Have a clear idea of what you want your brand to say
The first step of branding is having a very well-defined idea of who and what your business is, and the image you want to present to people. Identify your USPs and work with them. Its best at this stage to be honest about your business, there can be a temptation dress up a business when straightforward (although of course, appealing) communication about what you provide will serve you better.
This clarity means it will be easier to work with designers, as handing over ill-defined briefs or wanting to convey a thousand conflicting ideas all at once will only lead to an end result you aren’t happy with. If you find it hard to explain to others how you envisage your brand, it may be that you are still to make some important decisions about it, and in this it’s important to be open to advice to help it inform your own vision.
Effective marketing is about ideas. Your product will improve the life of the customer in some way, and it’s important to convey this. Sometimes, it can even be part of buying into a lifestyle. Someone who makes and sells cravats for example has a weight of pre-formed associations in the customers mind to work with. In this case quality, good taste, and the lifestyle of a slightly alternative but very discerning individual are all things that can be tied in with this product, selling a promise rather than item.
Branding is storytelling with very strict structures (like haikus), and your logo, brand message, packaging and copy should all be laden with strong narrative signifiers that suggest all sorts of positive things in a customer’s mind. Take for example someone running a café, they can use the ideas of morning rituals, friendship, the cosiness of a cup of tea, the evocative nature of a coffee, to build up a strong and inviting identity. Furthermore, around such identities you can find communities forming, especially in terms of speciality products that people get passionate about.
You can do this around all sorts of keywords, depending on what you provide, from “dependability” to “excitement”. The human brain has a strong narrative instinct, and by suggesting a few things powerfully enough your potential customers will fill in the blanks.
It is a common misconception, but logo’s are not the be all and end all of your brand identity. The concept behind Coca Cola, for example, isn’t entirely tied up in its logo. However, it is a very important part of branding because it will go on nearly everything associated with your business, and you want it to be strong and instantly recognisable. It’s advisable to hire a graphic designer for this job, or if your budget won’t stretch to this to see if any designer friends can help, as it is much harder than it looks and doing it wrong can lead to misinterpretation and even embarrassment.
Generally, people like humans. Unless you are a clinical or scientific service trying to convey a highly dependable image (people hold such institutions to higher standards), it’s a good idea to add a strong streak of personality to your brand. This long (fish-based pun) between Sainsbury’s and a customer is an excellent example of this, and shows how upmost professionalism isn’t required in all instances.
Well thought out and compelling branding is essential in the modern market place, not matter how big or small your business is. With some consideration to this, which needn’t cost the earth, you can take your growth stage business and make it a consistent and profitable success.