A brand can be a powerful entity. Think about what draws you to one supermarket over another. In my experience, most people have a strong point of view on where they carry out their weekly or monthly shop.
There are many factors that affect where your allegiance lies. Whether it's location, quality, price, customer service or increasingly, values, all of these elements combine to make up the brand. Or as Marty Neumeier author of The Brand Gap put it, "a brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company".
Many small businesses don't take this powerful element seriously enough when it has the power to bring in more business -and higher quality business.
There are some common misunderstandings and mistakes best avoided. Take a look and see if you've fallen foul of any of them.
1. A logo is not a brand,
This is a huge mistake that many make. Because the logo is the foremost visual element of the brand, many people assume that once you have your logo, your branding is done. This could not be more wrong.
I love this definition by Jennifer Bourn of Bourn Creative: "Your brand is the experience people have when they come in contact with you or your business." That's it. It's the experience that matters. Think back to your supermarket of choice. Is it the logo that makes you go there? I'm pretty sure it isn't. It's your experience with the brand, the quality of their products, your connection with their communications that drives your interest. Not just the logo.
This does NOT mean that logos aren't important. They are extremely important. Just ask GAP or the University of California. It's important to communicate your brand through your logo but don't focus on it to the detriment of the rest of the experience your customers have.
Here's a list of just *some* of the elements where customers will engage with your brand.
- Business cards
- Phone conversations
- Word of mouth
- Social Media
- Your office/home
- Business forms
- Trade shows
Notice that your logo won't even be seen in several of them.
2. It’s not just for big business
Rather than just focus on the logo, another mistake is to think too big, get overwhelmed and conclude it's not for you.
It's easy to look at big corporates such as BT spending 5 million on rebranding and think it doesn't apply to you as a small business.
It does. And it can be even more important as in a crowded market it can be the difference in you getting business as opposed to one of your competitors.
Branding can get a bad rap as often in the media, the first focus of a rebrand is usually the money. So that 5 million is put across as '5 million for a logo' rather than the research involved, then applying the branding throughout a global organisation on every element listed in the point above plus much, much more.
3. Consistency is key in branding
There are still many small businesses who use unprofessional email addresses. By that I mean email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. When I see this on a business card, it says to me 'this person is not serious about business'. This may be a perception that’s completely wrong about that person, but that's the unintended message that's given out.
This is the same if several different versions of a logo are used or if your newsletter doesn’t match with your website and thus looks like it’s come from another company entirely.
Consistency is key in branding. If you've spent time developing your brand, make sure it's consistently applied throughout everything you do.
4. Brand values need to translate into reality
Imagine phoning up a company, being put on hold then eventually cut off. Now imagine that happening several times in a row –and the reason you were phoning was to give them money. Would you expect that brand to have values of 'customer focused' or 'responsive'?
When the unexpected happens the values of the brand and the reality are mismatched, redefining the brand for the customer. There's a break in trust which can take time to mend.
Remember Apple Maps? Apple’s values required it to 'deliver the best experiences' for its users. Mostly it does. However Apple Maps was not a shining example in its long list of innovations. The branding was a mismatch with the reality of the product.
It happens to the largest of brands, but many small businesses don't necessarily think about their brand values enough to know whether there is a mismatch or not.
5. Know and remember who your customers are
Unless you're targeting a new market with a different set of customers it's pretty important to know and remember who your customers are.
Your brand should communicate to that audience. If your customers aren't technically literate, don't use jargon. If your brand is upbeat, exciting and innovative (think Richard Branson's Virgin brand), don't communicate in a dry, tedious, monotonous manner (think some finance and insurance organisations). Your customers simply won't relate.
I discussed this more in a previous post when talking about writing good web content.
As a small business your company will be solving a problem or challenge your customers have. Your brand will communicate your desire and ability to solve that problem.
Brands are powerful entities. Think of the vociferous support a brand like Apple receives. The huge cheers when it launches a new product. The positivity that still surrounds it even if those products aren't as good as expected. The 'love' that the 'fanboys and fangirls' have of the brand goes way beyond the products. Disclosure: that includes me too! You are buying into a way of life, a way of thinking. In Apple's case to 'think differently'.
That's the power of a brand. For a small business, thinking about your brand and how you are perceived by your customers can go a long way to differentiating you and creating a more authentic and successful business.
To end with, a quote attributed to Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon which I think sums up the importance of thinking about your brand. He said, 'Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room'.
So what are people saying about you?