The process of building a brand can often be daunting for SME’s, especially if they don’t have experience of what’s involved or required. However, it doesn’t have to be as scary or overwhelming as it may seem. Here, we breakdown the stages of the process:
Defining your vision and what you stand for
The first step towards building your brand is to define your vision for the future. This may include financial goals as well as softer aspirations such being known for a certain attribute.
Once you have defined your vision you need to be crystal clear on what you stand for and what your brand promise is that will help you achieve your vision. There is no magic formula or model for this. It takes considerable thought, clarity, creativity, debate, and insight from key stakeholder groups to determine the right answer. Your brand promise should also create a balance, retaining the best of the brand in its current form as well as portraying your vision by communicating something you and your business can aspire to.
Your brand promise needs to be relevant to all of your business’ audiences (internal and external). If your employees don’t buy in to it then how do you expect them sell and live it every day. Similarly, if your customers don’t believe it, they will pass you by without a second glance.
Your brand promise should also differentiate the business from its competition. Be careful you don’t focus on being different just to be different but ensure your point of difference has a real purpose and will resonate with your audiences.
The overarching brand promise acts as a strategic filter for future decisions and direction of the business and should be reflected in the visual and verbal identity of the brand.
Verbal identity: the vision, mission, values and tone of voice.
Visual identity: logo, colours, typography, photography and design motifs.
Integrating the brand in the culture
Businesses that build the strongest brands know that it must be understood and lived internally before being delivered externally. Once the brand is defined, it is crucial to spend time creating the culture that will best allow you to deliver your brand promise. This is often articulated in brand values and behaviours which provide internal teams with the tools to bring the brand promise to life in their everyday tasks.
Embedding the values in the organisation doesn’t necessarily mean expensive internal brand launches that don’t resonate beyond the event. A more effective approach is a prolonged programme of smaller activities that engage all employees with the brand so that it becomes embedded in their daily behaviours.
Such engagement programmes involve consistent interventions, for example, workshops, communication material, and other tools to take employees on the journey from awareness to understanding to belief to action. It can take anywhere from six months to several years depending on the complexity of the organisation and the degree of behaviour change involved.
The goal is for everyone in the organisation to understand and adopt the brand values in a way that brings the brand to life through the way your customers experience your brand whether is the customer services department or sales teams. Problems can arise for a brand if the internal teams are not living its promise and customers experience something that does not reflect what the brand stands for. This deters customers and, in today’s world where the customer has incredible power, can spread quickly and have a significantly detrimental impact on the brand and business.
Designing the brand experience for every stakeholder
Once the brand and culture have been defined, the business should examine every relationship it has from the stakeholder’s perspective. This is often called the customer journey and involves understanding and mapping out every touchpoint the brand has with its customers from awareness to loyalty. In each stage touch points are identified and are analysed based on the individual needs of the customer.
Then, using what the brand stands for, solutions are created for various brand interventions across every stage of the journey. This can take some time depending on the length of the sales process of your organisation and how much time is taken in the decision-making process, but it is a crucial step to ensure the brand is adopted across all touch points the brand has with its stakeholders.
Managing the corporate brand
It is always possible to do things well once (typically at launch or re-launch) but the hallmark of truly great brands is longevity. Diligence and patience are needed for building strong brands. Companies that have built valuable brands have institutionalised brand to the extent that there is no difference between doing something for the business and doing something for the brand.
The rules of branding don’t really change whether implemented in a large organisation or that of an SME. However, there are some additional factors independent business owners must keep in mind:
• Influence of the entrepreneur: Most SMEs are driven by their founder’s passion, personality and values. The brand must personify these to avoid discrepancy between the brand promise and customer experience.
• Influence of the entrepreneur on the company structure: This is based on founder’s awareness and comfort of brand management, the people chosen to run the branding function and the objectives set for the department.
• Execution of the vision: The brand experience begins with the entrepreneur. They embody the spirit of the brand and will affect everything – employee interactions, product and service interactions and other touch points.
Investment in brand is investment in long term business success and should not be overlooked or deprioritised. This investment doesn’t have to be as significant as you may think but it will be worth every penny in the long term.