Branding for Small to Medium Sized Enterprises

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By Gareth Robertson, Creative Director

Branding is topic I’ve touched on recently with a blog article that defined what a brand was and distinguished the difference between this and a logo and an identity. This article provides a good background read as a pre-cursor to this article and I’d urge anyone who hasn’t read that to do so before or shortly after reading this one. Branding as a topic is vast and countless articles have been written on it by many talented design practitioners and experienced business people. The issue I want to investigate is branding at the smaller end of the business scale.

Why? I hear you ask?

Well, in my experience of reading on brands and branding, a lot of the study has been done at the top end. Using massive household names as case studies or subjects of analysis – heavyweights such as Audi, McDonalds and Nike who plough countless millions into branding year on year. I would argue that this doesn’t paint a fully accurate picture of branding as a whole.

Why? I hear you ask – once again!

Here in the UK, small business equates to a huge part of the private sector economy. Branding for companies at the smaller end of the scale is a wholly different ball game and one that doesn’t include mega-bucks being thrown at it week on week, month on month, year after year.

  • Small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2016 and 99.9% were small or medium-sized (SMEs)*
  • Total employment in SMEs was 15.7 million; 60% of all private sector employment in the UK*
  • The combined annual turnover of SMEs was £1.8 trillion, 47% of all private sector turnover in the UK*

So, if SMEs equate for nearly half the turnover of private sector business in the UK maybe we should be looking at the effect and impact of branding within these smaller businesses as a comparison to those big brands churning over trillions and trillions on an international level.

One thing that is important to do at this point, is to define what a brand is…

A brand is everything a business does and is built in the minds of an audience. Everything from the literal things like a logo and the identity through to the staff uniform, to the way the phone is answered, the profile of staff when recruiting and the way the business operates with clients and suppliers. A brand is all of these things, formed as a perception in the minds of consumers who come into contact with that company.

While the above is technically correct as a definition, I question whether this actually resonates with many operators within the SME sector. I recently read an article from an associate Richard Lloyd, who shared the article on Linkedin, here Richard said “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 I discuss branding with clients. Even if you they do believe in branding, it may come low on their to-do list after vital day-to-day tasks that keep their customers happy and keep revenue coming in. I get this, so how can I convince them that branding matters – whether they are a window cleaner, a solicitor or you run a local IT support firm?

The first thing I 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? In this context 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 they would be if they gave a good impression all 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.”

Richard’s thoughts mirror my own.

Some small firms may not understand or appreciate branding as a concept but they do have a brand whether they realise it or not! The Brand vs Reputation is a great way of looking at this, as everyone I’ve ever known in business cares a hell of a lot about their reputation. It takes time, effort, money and a lot of hard graft to build a great reputation and at this sector of business, it can take minutes to destroy. Reputation represents brand and therefore, smaller firms must work hard to cultivate a great reputation which will in turn enhance the brand that is formed in the minds of potential customers and existing clients.

Ok, so why is a brand important to a SME?

A brand (or reputation) counts for a lot. A brand that people recognise is one that will attract more business – simple as that really. In looking after reputation, you are looking after your brand. Reputations are built on good practice, high standards, willingness to go the extra mile and courtesy in the receipt of business from valued clients. In time, the reputation grows and word gets around… more business will follow as a result.

On another note, a brand is especially important if someone is trying to sell a business. A strong brand adds value and can add a few digits onto the sale price. Investors will look at the positioning of a business, client list, the assets it controls and they will form a value based on these things. A brand that is known, liked and trusted is an extremely valuable asset in a sale transaction.

Building a reputation and brand is something that happens naturally for SMEs that value the way they are perceived in the eyes of clients. The identity is something that a designer can help with. Constructing an image that represents a brand that is being carefully cultivated behind that scenes is also key to developing the overall package of professionalism in smaller firms. Remember, an identity delivers the image of a brand – it is not the brand itself – so having a professional design specialist develop that corporate identity is vital.

In summary, often without realising it SMEs do have brands and they are doing their “branding development” themselves a lot of the time.

So remember… look after your reputation to look after your brand.

 

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