How to Build Your Small Business Brand
A guide to creating and maintaining a strong identity for your business
Every business should aspire to build a brand for itself, no matter how small. A business without a brand is like a person without a name – they lack identity.
Having a brand makes you stand out from competitors, tells people about you, and encourages customer loyalty. It’s therefore essential that you build and maintain a strong brand for your business.
What is a brand?
A brand is the public face of a business – both in the sense that it gives the business a distinguishing identity (through a name or logo) and in that it symbolises the reputation a business has in minds of the public.
Brands are dependent on three main factors: expectation, emotion and reliability.
Firstly, expectation is where the customer expects a certain kind/quality of product/service from the business. Building up high expectation will take time and hard work but is essential if you want your product to survive.
Secondly, emotion. The customer has an emotional connection with the business – they have a particular emotional response to the product/service (i.e. they like a type of fast food, or a brand of clothing).
Finally, reliability. A combination of the two previous factors, the customers’ expectation of and emotional response to the business is consistent across their repeated experiences of dealing with it.
Meet these three factors and you’ll have customers for life, fail to live to expectation and you’ll lose out to competitors.
Why is building my brand important?
Building a brand is important because customers are creatures of habit. More often than not, customers will return to brands they feel they know and trust.
However, building a brand is also useful for many other reasons.
A strong brand will stand out and mark you out from the competition in a crowded marketplace.
If your competitors provide a very similar product or service to you, your brand can be the aspect of your business that makes customers chose you over others.
If you’re a smaller business and if your brand has good and effective branding it can attract potential buyers and franchisees.
The business world moves fast. In a rapidly shifting business environment, brands give a consistent face to a product or service.
How do I start building my brand?
To a large extent, your brand is out of your direct control – it will be dictated by the response customers have to your business. If your business is ‘brand new’, you need to establish exactly what your business is, and what it can deliver to customers. If it is already established, you need to find out what reputation you have with your customers, and with the general public.
It’s essential you establish the core competencies of your business very early on. What exactly do you offer your customers? And how do people feel about your business? In this instance, ask both your customers and your employees – possibly in the form of a questionnaire. Try to encourage specific responses so you’ll be able to gauge exactly how people feel. (i.e. ‘it’s reliable’, ‘it’s too expensive’)
In business, quality is everything regardless of how ‘cheap’ something might be. If it is low, you will need to work to reverse this. If it is high, then you might have the opportunity to move into new areas/pursue new goals.
Tap into what your customers value. If they like high end products, it’s obviously best to steer clear of low prices or poor materials. If your customers’ idea of your brand is different to that of your employees or your own, then your branding is damaged.
Finally, establish whether you can develop. Are their opportunities for moving into new areas? Can you achieve this without changing/violating your core competencies?
Once you’ve established your core competencies and values, you must communicate these to customers.
Work out the simplest possible way of expressing your brand and boil down the ‘message’. Don’t get overcomplicated or too ‘wordy’.
Build your brand or its idea into everything that represents your business – your slogan, logo, and advertising. Make sure it is the first thing customers see and learn about you.
Furthermore, make sure your employees are equally informed and clued in on what your company message is. Ensure everyone in your business understands and believes in your competencies and values.
How employees see your business is as important as how your customers do – they act as the human embodiment of your brand, and will damage it if they do so imperfectly (i.e. by being unhelpful, sullen, etc.).
Finally, ensure your message is reflected in everything you do. Put systems in place to make sure your message is embodied in all parts of your business. If you are seen as efficient, ensure everyone and everything in your business is efficient.
How do I manage my brand?
Brands are not built overnight. They can also change over time. Building your brand is not just a matter of establishing a certain ‘face’ for the business – you must ensure this face is maintained over time by keeping ‘on message’ for long periods.
Get feedback from customers and establish if what you deliver matches what is expected of you from people. Investigate any negative feedback – see what is damaging your brand.
Discuss your brand with employees. Make sure they are always clear about your values and encourage suggestions for how to improve it.
And always review your offerings/operations regularly. Do they back up your brand? Are they damaging it?
How can I develop my brand?
A strong brand will help bring your business success, and a successful business has the opportunity to grow and to offer new products/services. Any growth in your business must be consistent with your brand – if you violate your core competencies and values you will damage your brand, and leave customers unsure as to what you offer.
Try to tailor any new offerings to your brand. If they fit, they will benefit from the branding you have in place. Or create diffusion brands for offerings outside your core values. A diffusion brand is a smaller brand that operates under the umbrella of a larger one (e.g. George at Asda). These give a different identity for these offerings, whilst lending them the reputation of the brand as a whole.
Finally, create separate brands for vastly different offerings. There’s no point trying to offer something unrelated to your core competencies – you will only confuse customers and damage your brand.