Just for once, I’d like to read an article about branding that doesn’t talk about Apple. Or McDonalds. Or Starbucks.
Working on a brand project for a small IT services company, I’ve been thinking a lot about how small businesses can make sure their brand is working for them. Thinking – and also reading as much as I can about the topic.
It struck me just how many articles start off promising that they’re going to tell you about how and why brand is important to small businesses – but then use multi-million-pound global consumer companies as their examples. Apple. Starbucks. Amazon. Coca-Cola. Those examples can be useful because they are familiar – everyone knows them, and so they’re handy shortcuts to illustrate a point. But once you’ve illustrated it (probably with a swish presentation) it can still leave a small B2B services company thinking ‘Well, yes…..but’.
There’s some good stuff out there, don’t get me wrong. I found this lovely simple guide to branding for small businesses. Still uses global examples, though.
Sometimes, these examples are based on patent untruths – read the brilliant We All Need Words on the subject of myths about Apple, for example. It also doesn’t help that sometimes, people who work with brands can sound a teeny bit…..um….well, have a look at www.agencywank.tumblr.com and judge for yourself.
Of course, the principles of branding are broadly the same no matter who you are, so in theory examples can be as large (or small) as you like – but SMEs are often extremely busy building their business, and without an in-house brand/communications person, might need a bit more help finding ways to apply those principles to suit their scale.
So I thought I would go looking for small companies, doing branding well. And what I found is that it’s often the simplest things that work.
Ocean Estate Agents only cover Bristol and Bath. They’re not big, they’re not national. But they clearly pay a lot of attention to their brand. And recently they’ve been painting their offices a lovely bright blue. This blue is their corporate colour, so it makes sense, but they’ve taken it one step further – look at the picture and you’ll see what I mean. If anyone can think of a better way of marrying their core business – houses – with their brand, then I’d like to hear it. It’s breathtaking in its simplicity.
Of course a brand isn’t just about the visual elements. As Wally Olins says, brand is about ‘communication plus behaviour plus product’.
While looking at the IT services market, I came across these guys – the Amazing Support Company. There’s an example of putting your brand promise front and centre. Come to us, we’ll give you Amazing Support. What could be clearer? If their service is as good as they say, then it’s a great example of strong, clear branding. But they need to have spent some serious effort on making sure every aspect of their business lives up to that promise. (I haven’t used them, so can’t comment).
This kind of consistency is incredibly important. We move house a lot. I’m not sure why, it never seems to be something we choose to do. But that means we’ve become acquainted with a number of removals companies over the years. We met Kwik Move on one of the first moves. Now they’re good at the visual elements – all the vans and lorries are well branded. The identity is bold and eye-catching. All their staff wear corporate clothing.
But what impressed me more was this: the head of the company, who came to do the sale, promised that they would be fast, they would be efficient, and that nothing would get broken. And this is exactly what they were like, to a man. He didn’t come and pack up our belongings – his staff did. And he didn’t even supervise our move. But his staff lived up to the brand promise. They were fast. They were efficient. Not a single item was missed or broken. And we were in our new house with fully assembled beds by early afternoon. Added to which they were polite, friendly and helpful.
This shows how important it is that staff understand what the company brand is, and their part in maintaining it. They all know that Kwik Move is about speedy, efficient service that doesn’t miss a thing. If one member of the team hadn’t got that, and dawdled or dropped something, that would have damaged their brand. This is the behaviour element that Wally Olins is talking about.
One final example – about product. Customers want different things at different times. Sometimes you want the best quality on the market. Sometimes you want something that’s going to suit your budget. So it’s important to know what you’re offering, and communicate that clearly, so customers can choose. A company called RedefineIT does just that – its strapline is ‘Unlimited Support at a fixed cost’. They know that the clients they’re targeting can’t afford to run up big bills on IT Support. They want a service with no ugly surprises when they open the invoice. So RedefineIT have put that right up front as their unique selling point.
Brand is important, and can make a real difference to the bottom line. It provides the framework around which you can build the business, and should permeate it completely, from the types of people you hire to the services you offer. But as I hope these examples show, it doesn’t have to be expensive, or involve elaborate guidelines. It’s about defining what you offer, talking about it clearly, and making sure everyone in the company behaves accordingly. And even the smallest business out there can – and should – be doing that.