What is branding and how relevant is it to SMEs?

What is Branding?

  • Simplest definition by brand guru, Robert Bean (of Honda's "Power of Dreams" campaign): Brand is a "promise delivered". You make a promise to customers & colleagues with everything you do and you must deliver on that promise every single time. A brand is a promise of value that delivers a certain distinctive customer experience.
  • A brand is a compelling identity that creates an enduring emotional connection with your customers.
  • A brand is not owned by the company, it’s owned by the customers: if your customers don’t believe in the story of your brand, your brand doesn’t really exist.
  • Brand is much more than your logo, merchandising or product. It is the sum total of the experiences customers have with your business. This includes the visual elements of your business, but it also includes what you do, how you do it, what your customer interactions are like, the type of information you share in your marketing and on social media. All these elements help establish the trust and credibility of your business.
  • Branding is a way of defining your business to yourself, your team and your external audiences. It is your business’ “identity”.
  • Branding embodies the core of what the business is and its values, not just what it looks and sounds like.
  • Customers of all sorts of businesses are so savvy today that they can see through most attempts by companies to gloss, spin or charm their way to sales.

Then, what is Marketing?

  • Marketing is actively promoting a brand’s product or service. It’s a way of reaching and engaging people. Marketing keeps your company top-of-mind among the decision-makers you are trying to do business with.
  • Branding comes first and marketing comes later.
  • Marketing, then, is an integral part of your brand. It helps you to communicate the promise that you want customers and prospects to know about.

And finally, what is Advertising?

  • Advertising is just one component, or subset, of marketing.
  • The best way to distinguish between advertising and marketing is to think of marketing as a pie, inside that pie you have slices of advertising, market research, media planning, public relations, product pricing, distribution, customer support, sales strategy, and community involvement.
Some truths on branding

Branding – some truths

  • Everything that your company does – customer service, stationery, website design, the way you answer the phone, the way you handle customer complaints – is part of establishing your brand.
  • Branding is continuously happening whether you want it or not. Important is to consciously work on building it.
    Branding is an ongoing process. It takes time, effort and commitment – it’s not something that can just be conjured up with some flashy ads.
  • A brand is something that everyone at the company has to “live” every day – and it’s not just about slogans and pep talks and making people feel good about their company.
  • Branding has no formula – branding is and will always be a customized experience.
  • Companies that try to “build a brand” first, without having these other elements in order, are putting the cart before the horse.
  • When customers connect emotively — because they share the same values and beliefs of a brand — it leads to higher sales and better brand differentiation (E.g. Apple). It also leads to loyalty, advocacy and can even protect your price in times when competitors rely on promotional discounts to drive sales. It can also give you the ideal platform from which to extend your offering or range.
As SMEs, how do we then “consciously” build our brand?

Start by defining your brand

  • Review the product or service your business offers, pinpoint the space in the market it occupies and research the emotive and rational needs and concerns of your customers.
  • Your brand character should promote your business, connect with your customer base and differentiate you in the market (E.g. Virgin Mobile).

Consider what is driving your business.

  • What does it believe in, what is its purpose and who are its brand heroes. These things can help establish your emotive brand positioning and inform the identity and character for brand communications.

Have great products and services

  • Word of mouth is often a small businesses greatest lead generator, so having great products and services that people talk about is a critical part of your brand and why you are in business. Even the most outgoing and charming small business owner is not going to succeed in bringing customers back, unless the product or service they provide delivers and exceeds expectations.
  • Don’t lose sight of your product – keep refining it, testing new offerings.
  • E.g. Cinnabon: An American chain (HQ: Sandy Springs, Georgia of baked goods stores and kiosks. The company's signature item is a large cinnamon roll. As of July 2009, over 750 Cinnabon bakeries were operating in more than 30 countries.

E.g. Natural Ice Cream:
Started as a 300-sq-ft ice cream parlour at Juhu in 1984, it now has 90 franchise outlets across West and South India.
Contain no artificial flavours, no preservatives or stabilisers, only fresh fruit pulp or dry fruits.

"Machine-made fruit ice cream needs additional artificial flavours and colouring in the final product. That is something that I fundamentally disagree with.“ says … R.S. Kamath - Chairman , MD and Founder of Natural (he separated from Gokul Ice Cream, started by his brother in 1983)

Be Strategic & Have a Value Proposition

  • Ask yourself the following
  1. What niche do you serve?
  2. What do you do well in that niche that makes you different from everyone else?
  3. What are the emotional benefits of what you do?

The answers to these questions will help define what your value is to your customers – it could be your great customer service, product quality, innovation, or any combination of these.

  • There are so many potential customers, but you can only target that subset whose needs you can confidently cater to.
  • Know your strengths and limitations and identify a subset of those customers.

Be Reliable

  • Do not let your customers down by failing to live up to your own promises and brand standards.
  • Do not overpromise. Small businesses generally depend heavily on referrals. The foundation of brand loyalty lies in great service – a happy customer is a loyal customer. So make sure you aren’t making promises that you can’t keep – whether you run a pizza business and pledge to deliver within 30 minutes, or are a painting contractor who promises to start a job on a Monday at 9:00 AM sharp. Stand by your promises.

Avoid raising expectations resulting into broken promises

  • Don’t dress up your offering and raise expectations that result in broken promises (companies offering drastic weight reduction)
  • Create trust with honest branding — be clear who your company is and be true to the values that drive it every day.

Speak to your customers with a consistent tone of voice

  • It will help reinforce the business’s character and clarify its offering so customers are aware exactly what to expectfrom the product or service.

Don’t try to mimic the look of chains or big brands

  • Try and carve out your own distinctive identity. There is a big consumer trend towards independent establishments, and several chains are in fact trying to mimic an independent feel to capture some of that market. Truly independent operators can leverage their status to attract customers who are looking for something more original and authentic.

Be innovative, bold and daring – stand for something you believe in

  • Big brands are encumbered by large layers of bureaucracy, preventing them from being flexible and reacting to the ever-changing needs of their customers. Those layers of decision-makers can make it hard for them to be daring with their branding.

Always consider your branding when communicating with customers

  • Don't lose your pride or dilute your brand positioning with indiscriminate discounting. E.g. Try offering more, rather than slashing prices.

Build community around what you do

  • A successful brand is one that is trusted and respected by customers – building a strong community online and offline can help you achieve this.
  • You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. In fact, many successful brands concentrate almost exclusively in online and offline community building as opposed to traditional advertising. Facebook and Twitter are great outlets for this, as is your blog.
  • Offline participation in community activities such as local events, fundraisers, charities, as well as hosting your own events such as workshops or loyal customer events, can all help you build community and extend the trust you’ve earned to your brand.

Make sure your customers know the face behind the product

  • One of the biggest reasons that small businesses fail is because of the persistent absence of the business owner. Without an actively engaged owner, employees lose motivation and structure, which can quickly lead to sloppy service, a poor product and customer churn.
  • Your business needs to be able to function without your constant presence, but it’s important to strike a balance – find ways to make sure your customers know you and connect with the face behind the business. Businesses really thrive when the energy of the owner is there.

Think Big, Be Big

  • Being a small business does not mean that you are a small fry. Your brand is essential in helping your small business be portrayed as a serious player.
  • As per a study in USA, 71 percent of Americans view small business more favorably than any other institutions. Their products and services are often niche; the target customer is very defined; and business operations are agile and unconstrained by corporate rules and processes.
  • Think big with your brand, and use it to capture potential clients and win their trust.