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Is your business brand up to scratch?

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The way you brand your business speaks volumes about what it stands for, how it operates and how it will be perceived by customers. Keeping it fresh and relevant is vital, as FSB itself has discovered. Steve Hemsley reports on how to make the best impression.

The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, famously said that your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. For any small business, it can be easy to forget the power of branding in creating customer loyalty, fuelling recommendations,

boosting new business and, ultimately, increasing sales. Brand is about more than just a company’s logo.

Anne Godfrey, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, believes that any small business will get its branding right only once it is clear about what it does, what it stands for and where the directors want it to go. Does, for instance, the quality of its products and customer service mirror the company’s vision, or do customers experience something different? “Small firms are natural marketers but they do not always realise it or apply marketing principles scientifically, because they often lack a marketing department,” she says.

The CIM had a rebrand itself in October 2014, so Ms Godfrey understands how difficult the process can be. “All our members had an opinion, and considering they are all marketers you can appreciate the confusion there was about what the CIM stood for,” she says. “In any organisation, someone needs to make the final decision.”

But companies must not be scared of customer feedback to improve their branding, she advises. One way such feedback can be obtained is through social media. This enables a small business to connect with customers as easily as any large organisation in a cost-effective way, so firms should use it to their advantage.

Freshening up

Many small businesses have been around for decades, so they can find it a challenge to keep their branding fresh. For Dover-based shipping and sailing merchant Sharp & Enright, the company’s strong brand comes from its family heritage, and the trust it has built up in the area over more than 150 years.

The brand got a massive bonus piece of publicity recently when it was featured on the

BBC’s The Apprentice television series. The candidates visited the shop during their search for a ship’s anchor and an inflatable dinghy. Director Sarah Sharp was even invited to appear on the follow-up programme The Apprentice – You’re Fired. “For a family firm such as us, reputation is everything,” she says. “We use a simple anchor as our logo and sweatshirts for the staff, because branding does not have to be complicated when you have been around as long as we have.

“What does have an impact on how your brand is perceived is your level of customer service,” she adds. “If we do not have something in stock it reflects badly on us. Next-day ordering is vital, as is attention to detail and friendly and helpful staff, so that people come back again.”

One much younger FSB business taking its branding seriously is the You Image Consultancy. This company, which helps professional workers dress to impress, is run by Deborah Turner, who used to work in the male-dominated chartered surveyor sector.

“I was one of only a handful of women in the industry, so I used to be suited and booted to blend in. But I noticed I was not standing out and was hiding my own personal brand,” she says. “So I decided to ‘be myself’ more. I then started to get noticed and was offered a promotion. I realised I could do more to support people in improving their personal image in the workplace.”

Turner needed to get the branding of You Image Consultancy spot-on, and it helped that she understood her audience. She created a set of brand values that now focuses her mind when making any business decision. These are ‘unique’, ‘strength’, ‘genuine’, ‘congruent’, ‘energetic’ and ‘positive’.

“I also spoke to professional marketing agencies to decide on colours,” she says. “My branding is black and white, so it does not put off either men or women. You need to think about what your brand says about you and what makes you different.”

Set the right tone

One of FSB’s newest members is The Little Branding Company, based in Luton. It is run by Jo Wareham, who helps other small firms improve their brand image. “Many companies do not have brand guidelines concerning the colours or tone of voice they use, while others are very strict,” she says. “Your brand needs to be consistent.” easyJet is a case of the latter category, she says – everything it does is in its famous orange colour.

The Little Branding Company supplies promotional merchandise, which includes everything from snow globes and Santa hats to coasters, mugs, diaries and smart conference folders. Ms Wareham works closely with a graphic designer to help her clients select the most appropriate items for their brand, and she can create bespoke products.

 “I act as a branding consultant,” she says. “I ask a client what it wants to achieve and whether it is looking for a corporate or novelty item. The quality of the promotional item you choose says a lot about you as a company, and what you think about the person or client you are giving it to.”

Sometimes a company’s own brand name can become secondary in awareness terms to the brand name of one of its products or services. For example, Claimaday.com helps event planners avoid a clash of dates that could have a negative impact on attendance figures and revenue. But it also launched the National Events Diary – a nationwide list of events which has, arguably, become the stronger brand in customers’ eyes.

A strong brand will stick in the minds of potential clients or customers, so it is something that every business must take seriously, or it risks losing market share and sales. Small firms are no exception.

Need to know

  • Identify what you stand for and where you want to go
  • Don’t be afraid to speak to customers
  • Create a logo that is simple and reflects your values
  • Ensure branding is consistent across all communications
  • Make sure these values are reflected in how you operate
  • Use promotional merchandise but don’t appear to be ‘cheap’
  • Bring in external expertise where needed

STEVE HEMSLEY is a freelance business journalist

Branding in action at FSB

FSB has recently completed a major rebrand to ensure it continues to reflect the needs and aspirations of its members in a digital era

FSB has rebranded to ensure it remains front of members’ minds when they think of business support, particularly in a world where people see thousands of adverts every day.

Research carried out by FSB three years ago revealed that some members felt the organisation was old-fashioned and not always as responsive as it could be. There were plenty of positive views, too, including FSB being regarded as trusted and professional, although many felt it needed to be more confident, approachable and friendly.

FSB needed to become clearer about what it stands for, so it has devised a new set of brand values.

These are:

  • Essential
  • Credible
  • Professional
  • Knowledgeable
  • Influential
  • Confident

Each one is backed up with hard evidence and, together, they act as a set of beliefs that everyone within the organisation can relate to and be engaged with, whatever their role.

“We identified that in a digital world we needed to modernise and transform our brand,” says FSB Operations Director Dave Stallon. “We started by redesigning the website to make it more user- and mobile-friendly, and then we looked at how we communicate to our diverse audience through everything we do.”

FSB understands that smaller businesses are joined by a common mindset and ambition to make their business a success. So the rebrand had to convince existing and potential members that FSB can help them to grow, while reiterating to everyone that it is run by members, for members.

The rebrand will help to explain who FSB is, what it does and why it matters to various audiences. These include the ‘Lifestyle’ audience, who want their business to give them a better work-life balance; the ambitious ‘Challenger’ audience, who need help to grow; and the entrepreneurial ‘Gazelle’ audience, who want fast growth and are driven to be the best they can be.

“The perception of FSB needed to be addressed,” says Mr Stallon. “We have looked at our tone of voice and made sure the colour scheme for our new logo reflects our modern values. We had to strengthen our position in the market to meet the needs of all our members.”

All FSB-branded communication now explains clearly what is available to members. This includes the advice offered in areas such as tax; health and safety; energy

saving; financial assistance, which helps with business banking and fuel cards; and the broader membership support, including lobbying, networking events and the purchase of energy.

“Your brand is about everything you do as an organisation – it is reflected at every customer touch point,” says Mr Stallon. He adds that when any organisation or business rebrands, it is important to remind existing customers that the fundamentals of how it operates are not affected. “We are still there supporting small businesses up and down the country. That will never change.”

Developing the new FSB brand

Rebranding took the marketing team and senior stakeholders on a journey to define FSB’s distinctive value in the marketplace – one that members desire, pay for, engage with and recommend to others.

Branding can be a complex process. We took six practical steps to steer FSB’s brand in the right direction.

Communications and market review

We conducted a review of our competitive landscape, existing brand and marketing communications through insight from members, small business support websites and our own FSB site

Proposition development

We engaged with smaller businesses – both members and non-members – asking them what they wanted from a business service provider and what FSB should offer its members. We got a real sense of ambition as a key business unifier, and of FSB’s advice, support and financial benefits being key to members and desired by non-members.

Internal stakeholder feedback

We held a workshop to harness the innate brand, audience and industry knowledge in the senior FSB team, and took the senior team on a journey to review several pieces of FSB creative, to identify what works and what does not. We defined the key audiences and stakeholders that FSB needs to appeal to, and discussed how we can identify and organise outputs.

This process gave us a lens with which to develop the brand that emphasised three

key areas: policy, regions and membership

Creative development

Using the newly defined brand essence ‘Experts in Business’ and the core values, we developed a campaign that focused on pulling out the key member benefits and tapping into the mindset of the smaller business

Montage of creative

Creation of campaign creatives and development of the key messaging hierarchy and elevator pitch

Campaign strategy and implementation

We took time to consider the right channels through which to target the audience, and how we were going to maximise engagement with the brand across all internal and external stakeholders.

 An array of channels are being used to communicate the new brand. These include a new website, email, direct mail, content marketing, PR, social media, and both online and offline advertising business to give them a better work-life balance; the ambitious ‘Challenger’ audience, who need help to grow; and the entrepreneurial ‘Gazelle’ audience, who want fast growth and are driven to be the best they can be.