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Learn the secret to branding your business on a shoestring

By Nick Leech - April 22, 2014
Nick Leech

Nick Leech, group marketing director at 123-reg

How much time do you spend thinking about your brand? If you’re totally honest the answer will probably be “not enough”. Which is understandable – managing a growing business is a full-time job and it can be hard to focus on the bigger picture when so much of your time is taken up running the day to day basics.

You might not even be convinced of the need to think about your brand – especially if you have already established a successful business. However, regardless of your views on branding, you have one whether you like it or not.

If you’ve got customers, they’ll be talking about you. If you have a brand that is memorable, easy for them to describe and with values that can be summarised in just a sentence then those conversations will generate business for you. However, if your customers aren’t clear what you stand for, or find it hard to say what you’re good at or perhaps even struggle to remember the name of your company, then you’re hurting your business without even realising.

“Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon

At best, not thinking about your brand means you will be forgotten – at worst your firm will develop an undeserved bad reputation. Of course, Amazon has a huge amount of manpower and resources at its disposal – most businesses aren’t that lucky. Even so there are things you can do to ensure you’re making the best possible impression.

Set out your branding goals

Like anything in business, establishing a brand begins with setting out what you want to achieve. This is the process of deciding how you will present yourself to customers. Start by considering your goals as a company. So look at:

Your vision: What you want to achieve. This may well take the form of a big hairy audacious goal.

Your mission: How you’re going to achieve this goal.

Your values: If it’s just you, this will be limited to the way you do business, while if you have staff it will extend to the culture of your company and how you hire and promote people.

After doing this, you should be able to address the following issues – there’s no need to write an essay, our core brand guidelines take up roughly one side of A4 paper.

Your brand in a sentence – a summary of the company and what it has achieved.

Brand personality – the way in which you want the brand to be perceived by customers

Brand values – what do you offer your customers that others can’t? What is your unique selling point?

Brand responses – what do you want people to think about when they think of your brand?

Jeff Bezos of Amazon (Photo by Jurvetson)

Jeff Bezos of Amazon (Photo by Jurvetson)

Gathering feedback

If branding is what people say about you when you’re not around, then you need to understand what is they’re talking about. Establishing ways to gather feedback is vital regardless of whether you’re just starting a business or if you’ve been running one for a while.

In order to effectively gather feedback you can use the following tools:

Trust Pilot (and other review sites) – to gather honest opinions on your business

Google Consumer Surveys (£) – to gather feedback on potential logos/branding decisions

Google Formsto gather simple feedback from those visiting your website

Survey Monkey (£) – to gather in depth feedback from existing customers

Peek by User Testing to get an assessment of your website

You can then use this information to identify your strengths and weaknesses – and work out how you measure up against your aims and perceptions. This means measuring your performance in terms of classic brand values, namely:

  • Quality
  • Performance
  • Service
  • Value for money

One option is to use the net promoter system in order to get quick feedback about how you’re doing. The system isn’t flawless, but it lets you monitor customer’s perceptions of your company and take action if required. By identifying where things are going wrong, you’ll know which areas need to be address to ensure your brand is viewed positively.

Keeping it uniform

One of the biggest strengths of branding is familiarity – think of a big chain and you’ll understand what this means. A trip to McDonalds anywhere in the UK offers an experience that is fundamentally the same – you know what to expect and that puts the company at a huge advantage over less familiar fast food restaurants.You may not have multiple locations, but you can still use the principle of uniform branding to instil trust in your customers. Here’s what you need to do.

1) Get a logo (and use it). Investing in a logo from a quality designer is an investment you should seriously consider. It can help you brand your website, social media accounts, physical locations and even your packaging.

2) Be consistent with your copy and tone of voice. The words you use when communicating with existing and potential customers are as important as the product or service you’re trying to sell. Decide on how your customers will expect you to sound when you talk to them, then stick to it. This means that if you’re a mortgage broker who has been communicating with customers in a formal and authoritative manner, you shouldn’t suddenly start writing articles along the lines of “This man applied for a mortgage – you won’t believe what happened next”. The change in tone will seem incongruous to your audience and it will damage their perception of you.

3) Get personal. If you have a small team or are a sole trader then you have one huge advantage over bigger firms – the ability to put a personal touch on almost everything you do. Your customers should know who you are even before they’ve entered a business relationship with you. Include photos on your website, deal with as much as you can in person and tell your story.

Goody Good Stuff

Sweet company Goody Good Stuff is an excellent example of small business branding

Document and educate

There’s a lot to take in here and for that reason you need to spend some time documenting your brand values, even if you’re the only person who will look at the result. What you should end up with is a document that encapsulates your aims as a company, the commitments you make to your customers and how you will go about keeping these promises. You’ll also need a style guide – either as part of your branding document or as a standalone document.

These documents will help you in two ways – first it will help you educate existing and new members of staff about the company’s values and aims. Secondly, it will help you and your employees stick the rules. Even if you’re handling everything yourself, documentation is an excellent way to make sure you don’t inadvertently drift away from your goals. By regularly gathering feedback and monitoring it against your aims and guidelines, you’ll be able to see exactly how you’re shaping up.

Still not convinced?

Laying the groundwork for branding can seem like a lot of hard work and it is. However, the good news is that once you’ve worked on the basics you will continue to reap the benefits. Just look at Amazon. Whatever your goal, embracing branding in the manner Jeff Bezos did can help you achieve it.