There’s a common misconception among small business managers and proprietors that branding is a nice-to-have add on; something that will evolve and assume greater importance as the business grows; something that only the bigger players need to worry about. Sadly, this mind-set is a recipe for failure. Branding is the vital tool that gives you the distinctive positioning advantage over your competitors in an increasingly competitive market place and it’s as important for small emerging businesses as for the multinationals.
What is Branding?
Branding is your core statement about your company and your product. Labelling, logos and marketing are ways in which you can communicate your brand to your customers and potential customers, and there are plenty of articles offering advice on how to do this, such as this one by marketing expert Frank Loftus. But these statement are a reflection of your brand, not the brand itself. In-house label design and printing, perhaps using state-of-the-art equipment from suppliers such as QuickLabel Systems can be extremely effective but if you’ve failed to consider and define the essence of your brand, all your cleverly designed and eye-catching colour label printing and other marketing devices will be constructed on sand. At its simplest, your brand is your statement about who you are and what you stand for. It’s your headline promise to your customers.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, defining your brand is one of the first tasks to which you need to devote your attention. It defines and informs all your subsequent decisions as to where your products fit in the market place, who your target customers are and how your marketing, labelling and product promotion will play out, and. This in turn enables you to distinguish your product from those of your competitors with the aim of creating a unique niche for your company, rather than simply existing as an anonymous generic label on the shelf.
How can Branding Work for You?
Making your product stand out from the crowd is the holy grail of branding. Think about successful brands, like Coca Cola, Virgin or Tiffany. For each of these, ask the average person on the proverbial Clapham omnibus to say what he or she associates with these brands and you’d expect some positive responses with most people having a strong idea of the values which these market leaders have successfully established and communicated. This not only gives their brand a significant boost in terms of market presence and strong customer perception, it also confers a potential premium in terms of demand and therefore price expectation. This “Brand Equity” is the ultimate reward for getting your branding right and conveying that message successfully. A recent BBC article argued that even successful branding, where a product name – such as Hoover – becomes a household word, can bring its own problems. Nonetheless, establishing your product in the market place through distinctive and consistent branding is the key to success for every top name company you can think of.
Other companies have discovered, to their cost, the perils of getting it wrong. Ratner’s Jewellers blew out spectacularly a few years ago when their eponymous CEO all but destroyed the brand with a few ill-chosen words. Strand Cigarettes, which disappeared off the shelves in the early 60’s following a campaign which associated them in the public consciousness with the lonely figure in the advertising campaign, are still a bye-word in some quarters for poor branding.
Defining your brand requires a good deal of careful consideration. At the very least, you need to be clear on:
- your company’s mission;
- the qualities which distinguish your product from those of your competitors;
- the qualities which you want your customers to associate with your company and its products;
- the benefits, as distinct from the features, which your products offer the customer.
Only when you are able to satisfy yourself that you’re clear on these questions can you begin to communicate your brand and its values to your existing and prospective customers.
About The Author
Paul Riley is a marketing professional with some 35 years’ experience, particularly in the food and drink sector. He left school with a handful of GCSE’s and worked his way from office junior to heading up his own marketing company. His most pressing problem at present is that work has a nasty habit of getting in the way of spending more time on the golf course.