Why Branding is Vital to Small Business Success

Ever wondered why big companies so carefully protect their brands, even from the little guys?

Famous example include when Starbucks threatened to sue a doggy daycare called ‘Star Barks', and how Victoria's Secret got litigious on a small-town sex shop for calling itself ‘Victor's Secret.'

Why do large, already-powerful organisations do this? Well, the idea is to prevent trademark dilution, the gradual chip-chip-chipping away at a brand that leads to the amazing Splingplobomometer™ becoming the next hoover or biro or yo-yo. It stops being something special and becomes any old thing. Moreover, if you don't protect your brand, you can lose it.

Let's face it though, you're not Coca Cola. You haven't got fancy lawyers to sue your font thieves and your logo swipers. Who wants your brand anyway? Even if the answer is no one right now, that's not the point.

Branding isn't just for big businesses with big budgets. They don't spend that money for giggles. They know that a consistent visual image and a clear core message (a brand!) is integral to attracting and retaining customers.

So read on to find out why even a small business needs a brand from day 1, and to get tips on how to build yours.

Branding Fail by Ryan Alexander, via Flickr

Branding Fail by Ryan Alexander, via Flickr

What is a brand?

Originally used to describe the mark ranchers made on their cattle, 'brand' took on a new meaning in the 19th century when manufacturers started to produce packaged groceries. To tell people whose soap or custard or brown fizzy drink they were buying, each product was branded with an instantly recognisable logo.

As brands evolved, were advertised, and naturally took on brand images in the 20th century, companies realised they were so much more than a label or a statement of ownership.

By consistently representing a brand in a particular way, you can influence how people feel when they think of it. Moreover, you can help others relate to your products and services by building emotion into your words and visual elements.

The strongest brands sell a dream — a passion for making the world a better place. Their customers join them to live the dream.

(If 'dreaming big' sounds a little over the top for your particular business, think of it as anything that makes a difference to the way people live and work. Perhaps you make more comfortable catheters or cleaner, greener exhaust systems.)

In the simplest terms, your brand is your unique thing. And you don't need a branding consultant to work out what that is, because it already exists.

What’s so bad about not having a brand?

You know when you meet someone and you can't work them out? Perhaps they're not very talkative, or their moods and opinions are inconsistent. You gut will probably tell you not to trust them.

Conversely, openness and authenticity draw you in. These traits make a person easy, predictable company, especially when they confidently and clearly express their passions. They pique your interest and make you want to know more about them.

We humans use these not-so-subtle indicators to tell us whether to like and trust organisations too. That's exactly why every business, large and small, needs branding: because if you don't have a consistent brand identity, you automatically put people off.

What's your core message?

Your business already has a ‘thing'; a motivation, a meaning, a place it came from, the will to make something better or easier or more organised or more fun or just work better.

The difficult part is translating that undefined motivation into the specific words that make up a core message.

First ask yourself, what marks you out from your competitors? Do you have more experience and a better supply chain? Are you more fun to work with? Are you high end or do you pile it high and sell it cheap? Will you stop at nothing to delight your customers?

Then think of three to five ways in which people benefit from dealing with you (tangible benefits not than the things you do to make those benefits happen).

Now take what makes you different and how you benefit your people and turn it into a core message – the shorter the better. The more benefits-focused and simple to understand, the easier it will be for people to relate to and get you.

Lastly, try it out. A great core message should easily and enthusiastically burst through your lips when people ask you what you do. It's central to your pitch, and to every written and visual communication you make on behalf of your business. If it's met with confused but polite smiles, tweak it until it makes everyone's eyes light up with ‘Aha!'

What's your brand personality?

Your brand's personality traits inform your visual identity and your tone of voice. They help you to tell a consistent story.

If your business were a person, what would it be like to hang out with? Write down five personality traits. It also might help to think about your perfect client, or to develop personas that tell you exactly who your potential customers are, how they're feeling when they seek out a business like yours, and what they expect to find.

Now, when it comes to visual and verbal identity, I usually recommend giving people what they expect, but there is are exceptions. If your 'thing' is to breathe new life into a staid and boring industry, then an unexpected brand personality is surely the way to go.

Look at Innocent Drinks. Innocent's success was built on their completely new approach to talking about smoothies, from the packaging to the website to the adverts. Their clear, open personality burst onto the scene around the turn of the millennium to huge success because it stood out and reinforced the simplicity and ease of their core message, to ‘make it easy for people to do themselves some good.'

However, Innocent teaches us another important branding lesson: Don't be Innocent. Be you.

What's next?

Once you know what your brand is, you can start the practicalities of translating your brand to your website and your communications, ensuring everything you produce looks and sounds consistent, and reinforces your core message.

Start to write a brand story, to build a further layer of meaning into your brand image and help people find out exactly who you are, your motivation, and what you stand for.

If you need help clarifying your brand and translating it online, I'd love to help.