If you are a small firm or a sole trader, you could be forgiven for thinking that branding is not for you. "Big names spend money on branding, small companies just get on with the job" is a typical response when small businesses are asked about their brand activities. But this perception is wrong.
Even if you do believe in branding, it may come low on your to-do list after vital day-to-day tasks that keep your customers happy and keep revenue coming in. That's understandable.
Why do small firms need a brand?
So how can I convince you that branding matters - whether you are a window cleaner, a solicitor or you run a restaurant? Perhaps the first thing to do is to tackle the wording. If you were to replace the word "branding" with "reputation" I might get your attention. You care about your reputation, right? Branding is all about the impression you make. If you want to succeed, that impression should do two jobs - it should convey what is special about your business and it should show you in a positive light. Of course, many small businesses make a good impression most of the time without ever giving a thought to their brand. But think how much more successful you would be if you gave a good impression all of the time. What I am advocating is that you think about the impression you want to make - your brand - and actively take steps to manage it. There are two parts to this process. Firstly, you have to decide what you stand for - what your USPs are, who you are aiming at, and how you want to position yourself. Then you need to make sure that all aspects of your business are in line with this. It's about applying your values to everything you do, clearly and consistently. There are many small firms that have seen real financial benefits as a result of improving their brand. Branding expert and author Fiona Humberstone has worked with many one-man-bands and small businesses. "We helped a management consultant with her branding," says Fiona. "We redesigned her proposal document as well as providing a new logo and website. As a result, every proposal that she has made that year was accepted - a 100% success rate." Mark McCulloch, a marketing specialist says: "You have a brand whether you like it or not. It's best to embrace that and find the best way to connect your brand with your target audience."
Creating the right impression
If you still don't think branding is for you, you're not alone. "Many small business owners I meet think that brands are something that only large companies need or can afford," says Bryony Thomas, another marketing specialist. "But your company name, the way you answer the phone, what your customers say when they're asked about you - these things all build to create an impression of your company and what it's like to do business with you - and that is your brand. So, you can either just let whatever impression you give happen haphazardly, or you can take control and manage it to your advantage." Your brand may be just as important to your relationships with partners and suppliers as it is to your customers. Take Best Years, a supplier of knitted toys to independent and high street retailers. "Brand is extremely important to us," says commercial director, Gaynor Humphrey. "We have worked hard to put a distance between ourselves and our price-driven competitors. A strong brand boosts traffic to our website. And if our brand values chime with the values of retailers they are more inclined to buy from us. Our foot is halfway through the door before they have even met us." Dee Blick, author of Powerful Marketing on a Shoestring Budget for Small Businesses, has worked with many small businesses on their branding. "Branding doesn't take shed-loads of money. It takes passion and time and thought," she says. But you neglect your brand at your peril, she warns. "Businesses don't own their own brand, they are custodians of it. Perceptions can alter quickly. Brands are constantly evolving and they need a lot of tending." The message is clear. If you've got a business, then you've got a brand. What you do with it is up to you.