Nailing your brand identity is tough, gaining loyal customers is even tougher. Here are sure-fire tips for developing your company image
Everyone knows how important brand is. A brand is the bunch of ideas and feelings your customers – and your employees – have about you. The stronger and more positive those ideas are, the more they’ll buy from you, and the longer they’ll remain loyal to you – and the longer they’ll queue for a table.
Big companies invest massively in building their brands, and the ones who do it best tend to last longer and make more profit. Samsung may have huge revenues, but Apple – with a stronger brand – is much more profitable.
But because brands are made of ideas and feelings, they’re tricky things and hard to control. The best brands are natural things, whose meaning grows organically over time. They’re authentic, growing out of the reality of their company or product. They’re the soul of the company, not mechanical constructs created by advertising agencies or brand consultancies. Think of a brand like IKEA, quirkily true to its Scandinavian heritage.
Small companies – unlike the global supertankers – can quickly adapt and tweak
That makes branding difficult for big companies. Many big organisations have no obvious soul – particularly those that have grown through mergers, or have expanded beyond their home country or original product, or have hit hard times commercially.
A large organisation has to get thousands of employees to conform to the brand, and to be consistent globally in the experiences it gives its customers. That means codifying the brand, writing rules, policing everything. Imagine how hard it is for a company such as Marks & Spencer, for instance, to rebuild a damaged brand across thousands of stores.
Often they’re founder-led, or family-owned, which makes the company a very personal thing. Values tend to be woven into the business. All those things to do with tone, style, beliefs, purpose, perceptions – which get summarised as branding – aren’t artificial constructs, they’re just part of the climate. As Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent, says, “The brand is the business, the business is the brand”.
In a small business, there’s no need for a brand rulebook. The organisation is small enough for all of its people to touch and understand the brand. Here at Wolff Olins, we have a strong brand, but no written rules. Small companies – unlike the global supertankers – can adapt and tweak quickly. For example, the online course provider FutureLearn has subtly let its brand morph as its business has grown.
So why doesn’t every small business have a brilliant brand? Here are five things small companies often get wrong – and how to put them right.
1. Not thinking about the brand
Many companies just don’t think about their brand at all. They focus on the day-to-day, internal aspects of their business: their craft, their product, their technology – not on the ideas and feelings in people’s minds out there in the world.
Solution: every three months, step back from the day-to-day issues, bring some customers in, listen to them, find out what they value most about you.
2. Big spenders
Others think they can build their brand just by improving the website, tweeting and running adverts. But the ideas and feelings in people’s minds are influenced much more by reality than by communication.
Solution: switch your spend from advertising into creating a brilliant experience for your customers, online and offline, from the moment they first encounter you. And, in your advertising, give people useful content, not empty sales talk.
3. Not communicating the brand values to employees
Many small companies fail to spread their brand thinking widely enough. The soul of the company is totally clear to the founder, but less so to their employees. The founder gets frustrated because their people are doing it wrong, and the people get frustrated because they don’t know what the right way is.
Solution: write down your brand values in 100 words or less.
4. Failing to innovate
Often, small companies stay with a successful formula, even when it’s no longer successful. They don’t innovate, and they gradually become outdated. Brands are curious things: they partly depend on consistency and predictability, so that customers know what to expect, but they also thrive on novelty.
Solution: every six months, try something new. Get a new service or product out into the world. Think of it as a prototype, and learn from it.
5. Being too secretive
Many small companies are surprisingly insular. They like to do things themselves, in their own way. They keep their methods secret. But consumer culture today is much more open. People want to see behind the scenes, they want to share the secrets, they want to make things as well as consuming them. That’s why there’s a Bettys Cookery School.
Solution: whatever it is your company does, share it with your customers to help them feel like insiders and spread the brand.
Through these five suggestions, any small business can amplify its impact in the world, and make a small company into a big brand.
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