This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in May 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission
What does brand really mean to SMEs?
Brands and branding have become the focus of much marketing attention and some hype. Hands up all who recognise all or most of these brands: PrivateProperty™; Sorbet™; Rocking the Daisies™; Turrito Networks™; GetSmarter™; The Creative Counsel™; MiX Telematics™ and Paycorp™? These are all highly successful fast growing businesses which have featured as success stories in Entrepreneur in the past twelve months. Their chosen markets must have valued their brand for them to have achieved such remarkable successes, and yet they are far from household names. So just how important is your brand to your entrepreneurial business? Who should be familiar with it? What values should it portray?
Back to basics
A brand derives from the brand mark burned on livestock to mark ownership. Technically it is a trademark for a company or product, but in the modern sense it is the value which consumers place on the advantages or qualities of the person, company or product. There are many definitions of brand and branding and this adds to the confusion about what to do about branding your business and products. This is a good one: “Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are.” Anne Handley with CC Chapman. A more cynical one is “Branding is what lazy and ineffective marketing people do to occupy their time and look busy” David Meerman Scott. Sadly this last is only too true of many companies selling brand development then delivering a logo, a pretty website and templates for letterhead, business card, and adverts. That is simply brand design, and yes you need it for your business but do not be fooled that you have now achieved the mysterious branding that everyone says is so important.
Handley and many influential marketers say your brand is “who people think you are” which is a collection of all the experiences they have had, read or heard about your company and its products. This will include any marketing messages you have delivered to them via your web site, advertising, social media or PR, but consumer experiences or stories of the experience of others will always be much more important. What you do counts, not what you tell people you do.
Customers and potential customers need to be aware of your brand, but that does not mean you should try for universal recognition. You cannot compare your brand with the global icons like Nike™, Virgin™ and Coca Cola™ which are so often used when branding is discussed. Trying to copy them is likely to cost you a large amount of money which could be better spent elsewhere. Focus your brand messages on your customers and those that are reasonably likely to become customers. The great companies which I listed at the start of this article had no need to become household names to achieve their successes. Many defined their target market tightly and then gave customers exactly what they needed with wonderful service. Their customers talked to others and word of mouth, the most powerful brand media, worked for them.
Marketing budget will always be limited and you need to split this between brand building and generating sales enquiries. For many businesses this should mean spending most of your available funds generating sales leads and intensifying your efforts to give customers product quality and service levels they will talk about. A ‘must have’ is a website which delivers crisp, truthful and easily digested information about your company and products. It must be visible to people searching for similar products via the Internet. Always test your own website by making the sort of enquiries your prospective customers would and see how visible you are. Use social media sites and customer surveys to establish how well you are living up to your brand promise. Remember Handley’s words: “Brand is who people think you are”.
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