You don’t have be big to build a powerful brand

Many SMEs think that building a powerful brand is the preserve of large companies; those that have the expertise and deep pockets.

That simply isn’t true. From my 20 years’ experience of working as a brand strategist, many SMEs don’t have a strong brand NOT because of a lack of resources or expertise, but because of their mindset.

Who ultimately holds the purse strings in a SME? The CEO and possibly the CFO. And a high proportion of them come from an accounting or finance background who often don’t fully understand what a brand is. They think it is at best a logo or at worst, an unnecessary expense. As I mention in my recent book, Rebranding Branding: Branding for the New Millennium, “these are the same companies that write cheques to IT consultants and insurers and, of course, accountants, without a second thought.”

But brand is an abstract concept, intangible and hard to measure, and as a result, is treated as a second cousin to marketing, HR and finance.

Today – more so than ever before – brand is critically important to SMEs. With the rise of competition, consumer power, globalisation and the dizzying rate of technological change, brand is one of the few levers that SMEs have to engage their audiences, compete and grow.

Think of popular and newish Mexican fast food outlet, Fonda. Literally meaning “a home that a family opens up as an unofficial restaurant” in Spanish, this restaurant chain very quickly won the hearts and minds of the 20 and 30 somethings against some stiff category competition. It’s good Mexican for sure, but at the end of the day, it’s just Mexican. The founders were purposeful about creating a brand that staff and customers would become fanatical about. The brand, which is palpable when you visit any one of their restaurants, has propelled their growth. Homely, contemporary and colourful interiors, consistently warm and bubbly staff and a simple, crowd-pleasing menu are just some of the brand’s winning attributes.

How do you know whether your brand is working optimally? Sure, you can call on an external expert, but there are many things you can do yourself, even if just as a starting point:

  • Survey your staff and customers regularly to understand how they perceive your brand and to monitor changes and trends over time. Why do customers love/continue to buy from you and not your competitors? Why do your staff love their jobs?
  • Apply your learnings by reinforcing the value uncovered above in your messaging across your websites, collateral and sales scripts. You may decide that your visual branding needs to be updated to align to these learnings, however, this is only a small part and not always essential.
  • Communicate these insights to your entire team so that they express this value consistently across all customer touchpoints. After all, a brand is mostly communicated by the behaviour of your team and works best when it becomes part of your culture.

Darren Taylor, Director and Head of Strategy and Research, Taylor & Grace, and co-author of “Rebranding Branding: Branding for the New Millennium”

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