Fail to brand, fail to succeed

Maite Barón reveals why branding your business effectively is crucial for success.

When you’re a small company, it can be easy to dismiss ‘branding’ as something that’s only for larger businesses with plenty of cash.

But in a world of vanilla conformity and ‘me too’ products and services, if you are to stand out from the crowd sufficiently for it to have a positive impact on your bottom line, creating a brand is a must, not a luxury.

So what’s branding all about?

Think of a brand as a short cut to your buyer’s brain – and his wallet. In other words, branding encapsulates the personality and quality of your business and makes your customer or client want to buy from you rather than someone else.

And since buying is an emotional experience as well as a logical process, your brand needs to press would-be customers’ ‘feel-good’ buttons as well as pleasing their ‘logic circuits’.

By now you should have sensed that creating a brand is about far more than just having a ‘visual identity’ for your business, or a smart new logo; in fact, it’s something that should permeate through every pore of your business, coating every little detail.

And did you know your business already has a brand … of sorts? It’s the one that arises by default and so is almost certainly ill-defined and probably wrong.

Here’s a typical and every day example of that – the tradesmen who turns up for an appointment in a dirty, battered old van, then tries to convince you he will do a careful, accurate and tidy job. He may well be technically competent, but unfortunately your perception of him is immediately coloured, rightly or wrongly, by what you see, and that creates an immediate conflict with what he’s telling you.

So take your branding seriously.

But how does a smaller company, or the solopreneur, begin the branding process?

1. Before you begin branding (or rebranding) you need to make sure that you know exactly what your business is going to do in future, what it’s going to sell and to whom. So this is the time when you may want to think about repositioning your business, going in a slightly different direction or creating a new ‘niche’ that will better serve the market. We no longer live in a world in which ‘I will sell anything to anyone’ is a motto for success.

Only when you are clear about the future direction of your business, can you begin to rebrand.

2. The next step is to visualise who you want your target customers to be, because it’s only when you understand your customers completely that you will know how best to present your business to them, through colours, images, messages and behaviour. Then ask yourself what they want to see in a company that they will buy from. Will they want you to be conventional or quirky? Traditional or cutting-edge? Good value, or high end? Your brand needs to offer a promise that is attractive and compelling, and must satisfy the needs of your particular audience.

3. Your brand must also be a good match with the values and personality of your company. Make sure that the values and characteristics you choose (and which therefore affect its branding) work together and aren’t in conflict. For example, you can’t be both a specialist supplier and a generalist that sells everything, or a traditionalist that’s at the cutting edge.

4. The values you choose for your branding must be achievable and sustainable long-term. There is no point creating a ‘persona’ for your business, in an effort to ‘please the punters’, that you can’t keep going. You will set yourself up for failure and leave your customers disappointed and confused.

5. Once you have decided who you want to be, audit your current brand to measure the distance between where you are and where you would like to be. This can be a salutary experience for many businesses, when they suddenly realise that the way they appear to the outside world – customers, clients, suppliers and even staff – isn’t ‘fit for purpose’. It immediately conjures up the need to ditch the current brand. Scary perhaps, but essential from time to time if you aren’t to fall behind your competitors in the marketplace.

So start thinking seriously about your business branding, whether you’re a home-based solopreneur, a high-street retail outlet, or a small manufacturer – if you don’t have a brand, you won’t stand out.

In my next entry, I’ll be looking at how, you can actually implement a branding programme.

Further reading on branding

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