Branding for the smaller business

When we think about branding we tend to think this is something for really big corporations. I want to argue that branding is also important for new,  startup and smaller companies, including social enterprises.

Branding is about identity.  Using a name, logo and strap line anchors the identity of a company. It makes it more easily recognisable. Having an established brand is an asset.  The brand can be attached to a product and also to the business. A well-chosen brand encapsulates what the business is about. It is a statement about the company, the business, what it does, what it provides, how it operates. Its purpose is to make the business stand out.

Branding is about positioning the enterprise in the public’s awareness. A new company has to work hard to win its customer base and its brand identity will contribute to this. Growing businesses need to secure their share of the market and beat the competition. Again, brand image will assist with this. Once a business has built up a set of customers, it can use it branding to secure their loyalty.

There are various elements to a brand scheme:  colour, logo, imagery, wording.  A basic principle of branding is that it must be consistent. Once a brand identity is set it has to be applied in precisely the same way on everything: on paper, on labelling, on the Internet … where ever the business needs to be seen, the branding must be identical  across all media.

People who design branding think about the feeling it expresses. Colour is of  key importance to this. A lot of research has been done into the association between specific shades of a colour and emotions. Some colours are associated with trust, others with energy, some with passion. Choosing the right colour scheme for a brand requires work on the emotional response that is required.

Designing a branding scheme involves getting a very clear take on what the company wishes to say about itself.  When entrepreneurs register a company, they might not be thinking ahead to their branding identity and often end up with a company name that does not fit with the criteria of a clear brand identity. This need not matter because what is being sold is the concept, product or service that the company will trade in, irrespective of the name of the entity that is doing that.

A key part of branding is the logo – an image that symbolises the business or its products.  The style of the logo will convey something about the strength and quality of business. Getting it right is a formidable undertaking and a lot of entrepreneurs take too little time over getting this right.  In their rush to get started, they bash out something about their idea and hope for the best. When they later discover that it either does not work or is having the wrong effect, they then find they have to spend a lot of time and money trying to re-brand.

Changing a brand identity scheme can be very, very expensive.  So, getting it right to start with is well worth the investment. There are too many businesses out there that got their branding wrong and are stuck with it. It’s actually not an asset, it’s holding them back. It’s saying the wrong thing about the product or service; it’s conveying the wrong impression.

If your business provides a large range of products or services, then it is the brand that holds them together and the quality of any one product transfers to all the others through the association of the band name.  Service based businesses rely on their brand identity to underpin the trust and reliability that they want their customers to believe in and to value.

A well branded business has a higher value than one without a strong brand identity.  The brand is valuable in itself.  If a brand is well established, valued, liked and respected, then the company that owns it will be worth more.  The branding scheme should accurately and successfully convey what the business stands for – quality, reliability, trustworthiness, style, desirability – being some of the emotions that brands want to reflect. The brand might also express something about the customer, saying something about who they are or who they like to think they might be.  It’s a badge of status.

Understanding the importance of branding is not limited to purely profit-making enterprises.  It can also apply to public service organisations.  Local authorities, sections of the Civil Service, charities, NGOs … they all use branding to some extent to make an impact on their service users.

Some people who start businesses half-understand branding and think they can do it themselves. If you have the self-confidence to start a business and enter the market place, then it likely you will think that DIY branding is for you. It’s a trap many fall into. Thinking that branding is just about common sense is about as wrong as believing that your business does not need it.

If you want to make a success of your branding then at least try to research the subject thoroughly before you make a start. Or, find someone who has expertise in this area.  Being able to formulate a successful branding scheme is all about knowledge. Doing your own branding is as sensible as trying to take your own appendix out.

I am not an expert in branding but I do claim to understand the value, need for, and process of branding. In that respect I can project manage a branding exercise. I have a feel for how much to invest in it, because it is not difficult to squander resources on very expensive marketing companies.  I would not advocate bargain-basement deals but prudent and judicious selection of the right support is vital.

Investment in branding, if successful, confers a return that is well worth having.