Branding for SMEs: A Brand New Guide

Branding is something we leave to the marketing department. 

And if we don’t have a marketing department because we’re a small business focusing on our actual product, then we just keep focusing on the product, right? 

Branding is just about a logo after all, isn’t it?

How very wrong. 

But this is not an uncommon belief. 

Branding is underestimated, misunderstood and underutilised, especially in the SME sector. Having worked in branding for many years, in 2004 I founded my own branding business, Islandbridge Brand Development, where I’ve been privileged to work alongside extraordinary entrepreneurs and business leaders. We work with SME clients across a wide range of sectors to position them for growth in national and international markets. 

What’s really stood out for me, is the general lack of understanding of the potential that branding has for a business, and what branding really means (it’s not just a logo, by the way). 

It was with this in mind that I wrote: “Branding for SMEs: A Guide”. It’s published by the highly-regarded Chartered Accountants Ireland, who saw the value in the publication and have made it accessible to a wider audience as part of their Thought Leadership series. 

(A huge thank you to editor Michael Diviney of CAI, who saw the potential of this project and helped make it happen)

So what’s a brand, if not just a logo? And why is it important?

‘Brand’ can be defined in many ways: as a mark of origin or quality, as image or reputation, as a proposition or promise, and even as a badge of community or a shared belief system. 

But none of these is entirely satisfactory. 

While each definition says something true about what a brand is or can be, none captures the part a brand plays in choice.

A strong brand gives the business an advantage over its competitors by distinguishing itself from them in a way that matters to the customer, and influences their choices. 

The relationship between business and customer should be reciprocal: you provide them with something they need or want, and they provide your business with their custom and loyalty. Loyalty evolves through the connection and engagement with your brand. 

That two-way relationship can be viewed as a ‘bridge’. 

It’s what connects seller and buyer. A bridge spans a gap to overcome an obstacle, allowing a safe, quick and easy crossing. In the same way, a brand allows buyers and sellers to easily exchange benefits to overcome a key problem.

And the logo?

The brand is symbolised by a logo, name or mark; but the logo it isn’t the brand. 

The brand runs deeper, and the logo is a means of representing the brand and its values. 

It quickly identifies the ideals that your brand portrays. And those are what influence the purchasing choices of your customer in a world of overwhelming choice. 

This is the difference between commercial success and failure. It’s actually a simple tool, available to every business, but it’s severely underused, especially by small businesses. 

In the book, I break it down into its composite pieces and provide simple methods to put it into practice. 

Brand elements

A brand relationship has several dimensions, two of which are the practical and the social elements. 

The practical aspect meets a key problem faced by a customer, where the social aspect helps a customer feel that they are somehow contributing to their community or are a part of a community through a brand. When both the practical and social dimension are met, it gives customers a compelling reason to choose that brand. 

An example I use in the book is buying bottled water. 

It’s a hot day, you’re out and about, you’re thirsty. You normally carry a reusable bottle of water with you, but you end up being out longer than expected. The key practical problem is your need for water. The social aspect is how you, the customer, relate to others and their world-view. If your world-view is linked to environmental awareness and concern for limited natural resources, you’ll choose the water in a carbon-neutral recycled bottle over a single-use, non-recyclable container. The brand of choice will stand out for you as aligning with this aspect of your own world-view. The brand supports your world-view, and you will support that brand. 

A brand is a tool that influences choice by reflecting both the relationship between the buyer and the seller, and the value they exchange as a result. 

Again, I’ll use the bridge analogy. The two-way traffic on the brand bridge of give and take between buyer and seller suggests a partnership of equals, both of whom want something the other has and must agree on the value to be exchanged through the transaction before it can take place.

It’s not only money that the customer brings to the brand. 

More significantly perhaps, they bring repeat business and referrals of like-minded people. This links up again with the social aspect of the brand, that creates a brand community. 

Furthermore, the community aspect should belong to each and every stakeholder in a business. It’s not just the marketing department that ‘owns’ the brand. Everyone has a role to play in how the brand will be perceived to customers and potential customers. 

Here’s a scenario we’ve probably each experienced at some point. 

You’re in your favourite restaurant and the waiter’s surly and grumpy. It deeply affects your dining experience, and you’ll rethink your next visit. If your relationship with the brand is strong, a single bad experience is perhaps forgivable. On the other hand, if the wait staff goes a little above and beyond – it often doesn’t take much – it can cement that brand relationship in your mind as providing an outstanding experience, one to be repeated.

Your company has a brand, regardless of whether you’ve consciously developed it or not. Rather than leaving it to chance, approach it systematically and with care. 

In this book, I provide those practical steps and tools to develop and evolve your brand to help you achieve business success.

Download your complimentary copy here.